Sara Bard Field, 1882 – 1974
Sara Bard Field was born September 1, 1882 in Cincinnati, Ohio, to George Bard Field and Annie Jenkins; the family would eventually consist of five children. Her father was a staunch Baptist and imposed his iron will on his children; he refused to allow Sara to attend college because he feared it would endanger her faith.
At the age of eighteen Sara married Albert Ehrgott, a Baptist minister twice her age, and moved with him to Rangoon, Burma. There she viewed first-hand the evils of child labor, and the inequity that required women to work long hours for little compensation, what she later called the “slavery of greed.” When she and her husband returned home in 1902 she put her outrage at social injustice to work by establishing a soup kitchen and kindergarten in her husband’s parish. In 1910, she and her husband moved their family to Portland Oregon where, fueled by a further desire for social reform, she began to work for suffrage.
As her marriage began to flounder, Sara began working as the paid state organizer for the campaign that won suffrage in Oregon in 1912. She became a gifted speaker and a skilled field worker, adept at developing clever publicity for the movement. She worked closely with Mabel Vernon, Alva Belmont and Alice Paul, and it was Alice Paul who conceived of the dramatic publicity stunt of a cross-country drive. She asked Sara Bard Field to help her.
On September 16, 1915, Sara left San Francisco with two Swedish women who had volunteered to drive their car from California to Rhode Island to campaign for suffrage. Sara made speeches on street corners in dusty, small towns, delivered suffrage materials, and sought signatures on a petition calling for the passage of the 19th Amendment. In three months the trio traveled 5000 miles over rough, muddy roads, visited twenty states and 48 cities, and garnered 500,000 signatures on their petition. When they reached Washington DC on December 6th they were granted a private meeting with President Wilson who marveled at their achievement and promised to consider the matter “very carefully.”
For Sara the end of the trip merely marked the beginning of another campaign. With little time to rest she continued travelling, campaigning and working for suffrage. After her divorce from her first husband she established a home with Charles Erskine Scott Wood, a lawyer, writer, and advocate of liberal causes. In 1925, with suffrage safely won, she and Wood built a house in Los Gatos California that became a gathering place for writers and poets, and a place where she could indulge another of her loves, writing and reading poetry. She continued to advocate for social justice, establishing a birth-control clinic and working for equal rights for African-Americans. She died in 1974.
Sara Bard Field is remembered not just for her daring, cross-country trek for suffrage, but for her work for the underdog, for those who had no one to speak for them. She also continually sought to prove that women working together could achieve great things.
Happy Birthday, Sara Bard Field!