Mrs. Russell Sage

Mrs. Russell Sage

Women's Activism and Philanthropy in Gilded Age and Progressive Era America
Ruth Crocker
Distribution: World
Publication date: 07/30/2008
Format: Paperback 28 b&w photos, 1 index
ISBN: 978-0-253-22045-5
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This is the biography of a ruling-class woman who created a new identity for herself in Gilded Age and Progressive Era America. A wife who derived her social standing from her robber-baron husband, Olivia Sage managed to fashion an image of benevolence that made possible her public career. In her husband’s shadow for 37 years, she took on the Victorian mantle of active, reforming womanhood. When Russell Sage died in 1906, he left her a vast fortune. An advocate for the rights of women and the responsibilities of wealth, for moral reform and material betterment, she took the money and put it to her own uses. Spending replaced volunteer work; suffrage bazaars and fundraising fêtes gave way to large donations to favorite causes. As a widow, Olivia Sage moved in public with authority. She used her wealth to fund a wide spectrum of progressive reforms that had a lasting impact on American life, including her most significant philanthropy, the Russell Sage Foundation.

Author Bio

Ruth Crocker is Professor of History at Auburn University and author of Social Work and Social Order: The Settlement Movement in Two Industrial Cities, 1889–1930.


“In this age of towering figures like Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, it is illuminating to examine the life of a woman who, a century ago, became one of the most noted philanthropists of her day. . . . Ruth Crocker's sensitive, richly documented, and beautifully written biography brings Sage and her times alive, reminding us that there is, indeed, value in visiting the neglected 'upstairs' of women's history.”
 — Sonya Michel, Director, Nathan and Jeanette Miller Center for Historical Studies, University of Maryland.

“Through this engaging biography of one of the most intriguing women of the Gilded Age, Mrs. Russell Sage, Ruth Crocker illuminates the critical role that female philanthropy and philanthropists played in the advancement of women in the twentieth century. Mrs. Russell Sage is a wonderful read and a major contribution to the literature on class and gender in American history.”
 — Nancy Hewitt, Professor of History and Women's Studies, Director, Institute for Research on Women, Rutgers Univers

“This is a model biography. Mixing empathy with historical acumen, Ruth Crocker has uncovered the life of a woman who left few personal papers and hid behind her husband's name, but managed to emerge in her old age as one of the most influential philanthropists of the 20th century. . . . Here is finally the other side of the street, the upstairs long missing from a women's history long focused on the downstairs. . . . . Most impressive is Crocker's ability to fuse big historical themes with an individual story. The best discussion yet of Emma Willard's feminism of difference.”
 — Eileen Boris, Hull Professor of Women's Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

“A major accomplishment . . . Prof. Crocker has done what many of us who studied the Russell Sage Foundation thought was impossible—to find untapped manuscript sources that reveal the active and crucial role played by Olivia Sage (a.k.a. Mrs. Russell Sage) in the creation and early management of America's first social welfare philanthropic foundation. . . . This is a story of strength and intentionality, and it is exceptionally well-told. Finally, we understand who Olivia Sage, the first important American philanthropist, was!”
 — Stanley N. Katz, Director, Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University

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Table of Contents

A Note on Sources


Part I. A Liminal Place: 1828<N>1869
1. Slocums, Jermains, Piersons—and a Sage
2. "Distinctly a class privilege": Troy Female Seminary, 1846-1847
3. "I do enjoy my independence": 1847-1858
4. A Bankruptcy, Three Funerals, and a Wedding: 1858-1869
Part II. Becoming Mrs. Russell Sage: 1869-1906
5. The Work of Benevolence? Mrs. Russell Sage, the Carlisle School, and Indian Reform
6. "I live for that work": Negotiating Identities at the New-York Woman's Hospital
7. "Some aggressive work": The Emma Willard Association and Educated Womanhood, 1891-1898
8. Converted! Parlor Suffrage and After
9. "Wiping her tears with the flag": Mrs. Russell Sage, Patriot, 1897-1906
Part III. "Just beginning to live": 1906-1918
10. "A kind of old age freedom"
11. Inventing the Russell Sage Foundation: 1907
12. "Women and education—there is the key"
13. "Nothing more for men's colleges": E. Lilian Todd and the Origins of Russell Sage College
14. "Splendid donation"
15. "Send what Miss Todd thinks best"


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