A Bright Star in the Family Constellation

When processing a collection of family papers, you never know who you might find in the family tree.  Sarah “Sallie” Holley is the first star that has shone forth from the Rudd and Holley Family Papers, a manuscript collection in process in the Research Center.  The Rudd and Holley families lived in Lakeville, Litchfield County, Connecticut and founded the Holley Manufacturing Company, which claimed to be the oldest manufacturer of pocket cutlery in the United States.  Alexander Hamilton Holley, who is also represented in this collection, was Governor of Connecticut and Sallie was his first cousin on his father’s side.

Sarah “Sallie” Holley, abolitionist and educator, was born to Myron and Sally House Holley in Canandaigua, New York on February 17, 1818. Her father was a minister and was a Canal Commissioner, working to create the Erie Canal. Myron Holley also holds the distinction of being the originator of the Liberty party, the first party to make anti-slavery a matter of partisan politics.  (In 1848 the Liberty Party changed into the Free Soil party and by 1856 it had evolved into the Republican Party.)  His antislavery beliefs and religious liberalism had a great impact on his daughter.

In 1847, Sallie was encouraged by a Unitarian minister and family friend to attend Oberlin College. He gave her $40 for expenses and she received a scholarship from the college.  After she had depleted her funds, like students today, she worked various jobs on campus. While at Oberlin, Sallie met Caroline Putnam and formed a friendship that would last a lifetime.

During her time at Oberlin, Sallie’s choice of career was influenced by hearing a lecture by Abby Keeley Foster, a Garrisonian abolitionist. After Sallie’s graduation in 1851, she began to work for the American Anti-Slavery Society. The Society was founded in 1833 by William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan and by 1838 it had 1,350 local chapters and approximately 250,000 members.  Notable members included Frederick Douglass, Lydia Maria Child, Lucretia Mott, and Wendell Phillips. Headquartered in New York City, it published a weekly newspaper, The National Anti-Slavery Standard from 1840 – 1870.

In addition to her work with the Society, she lectured regularly and wrote for Garrison’s Liberator. One of her journals includes a list of places where she lectured in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maine, and Delaware.


Two pages from the c.1851 journal in which Sallie Holley records the places she has lectured in support of abolition.

Sallie Holley, Caroline Putnam and the staff and students of the Holley School, Lottsburg, VA, circa 1870-1890.

Sallie Holley, Caroline Putnam and the staff and students of the Holley School, Lottsburg, VA, circa 1890.

Tucked into another journal was a priceless photograph…Sallie and her friend from Oberlin, Caroline Putnam, and the students and staff of the Holley School, in Lottsburg, VA. Caroline Putnam founded the school in 1868 to educate former slaves on land purchased by Sallie to support her friend. Sallie joined her at the school in 1870 and, working without pay, remained until her death in 1893.  In a letter dated August 3, 1875, Sallie describes their home, pictured in a  watercolor sketch tucked into the back of her journal. She states:

Undated watercolor sketch of the Teacher's House at Holley School, Lottsburg, VA, by an unknown artist.  Captioned on the back, in what is believed to be Caroline Putnam's handwriting, "Miss Holley's House".

Undated watercolor sketch of the Teacher’s House at Holley School, Lottsburg, VA, by an unknown artist. Captioned on the back, in what is believed to be Caroline Putnam’s handwriting, “Miss Holley’s House”.

“…we have succeeded in building a cheerful Teacher’s Home, and a spacious, airy, pleasant new schoolhouse.  We have made flower-borders, strawberry-beds, melon-patches, grape-arbours, and fruit trees to blossom and flourish, to the admiration of all around us.”

A biography of Sallie Holley was written in 1899 and is titled A Life for Liberty: Anti-slavery and Other Letters of Sallie Holley.  The book includes copies of her correspondence and is available online.  It is an inspirational story of an amazing woman from a time when women were beginning to boldly step forward to create inspirational lives outside of the traditional confines of home and hearth.  What a thrilling star to find within the Rudd and Holley Family Papers.

VivianLea Solek is an intern in the CHS Archives, a student at Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and is processing the Rudd and Holley Family Papers.


5 thoughts on “A Bright Star in the Family Constellation

  1. Hello Friends! I’ve been enjoying all of the CHS blogs–and I’m impressed by the number you churn out! Just FYI, the correct date for the photograph that you’ve dated c. 1870-1890 is actually more like c. 1895-1900. The woman on the far left has a very fashionable silhouette!

    I hope to see at least some of you at the next CLHO meeting!

    All best, Lynne

    • Hi Lynn, Thanks for your kind words – glad you’re enjoying the blog! I can narrow the date to 1890-1893, but Sallie passed in 1893…so it can’t be any later than that since she is in the photo. I will look forward to seeing you at CLHO next Monday!
      All the best,

  2. Thanks for this article about Sallie HOLLEY. While researching my family tree, I just found out that Sallie is my maternal 3rd cousin,4XR.

    Can I copy the photos for my online tree at Ancestry.com?

  3. I will be giving a lecture on Duxbury, MA’s role in the abolition movement and will be using this wonderful image of Sallie Holley’s journal page (with proper credit given). A letter in our Bradford Family Collection mentions Sallie staying at the Bradford’s house when she was lecturing in the area. Thanks!
    Carolyn Ravenscroft
    Duxbury Rural & Historical Society

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