Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn

Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn

Biographical Note

Cleghorn, Sarah Norcliffe, 1840-1959

Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn was born in Norfolk, Virginia on February 4, 1876. She was the daughter of John Dalton and Sarah Chestnut (Hawley) Cleghorn. Her father was a Scottish immigrant and investment broker. Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn became best-known as a poet, educator, and social reformer. She graduated from Burr and Burton Seminary in Manchester, Vermont in 1895. During her childhood in southern Vermont, Cleghorn came to know Dorothy Canfield Fisher, who would also become a noted writer and educator. The two women maintained a close relationship throughout their lifetimes and collaborated on a book of essays, Fellow Captains (1916), and Nothing Ever Happens and How It Does (1940). Sarah N. Cleghorn also wrote a dramatization of Fisher’s novel for children, Understood Betsy (1934).

Sarah N. Cleghorn’s first short story was published in the Philistine, just one year after receiving her bachelor’s degree in literature and philosophy. From Radcliffe College in 1896. In the following years she contributed short stories and poems to the country’s most popular magazines, including the Atlantic Monthly, Century, Scribner’s, Harper’s and Survey. She was also a contributing editor of the World Tomorrow. Sarah N. Cleghorn’s success in placing manuscripts waned, however, shortly before the start of World War I in 1914, because of her pacifist beliefs and socialist political views.

In the 1915 Sarah N. Cleghorn began her teaching career, working in schools affiliated with the workers education movement. She was a proponent of the Dalton and Montessori educational methods, of which the latter was introduced to the U.S. by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Sarah N. Cleghorn joined the staff of the Brookwood School in Katonah, N. Y. at its inception in 1920. Again, the school, established by William M. Fincke and his wife, was connected with the workers education movement. Two years later, she began teaching at the Manumit Farm in Pawling, N. Y. In 1924 the Fincke’s bought the Manumit Farm and established there another school for workers’ children, the Manumit School, where Sarah N. Cleghorn taught English and dramatics until 1929. She was a substitute associate professor of English at Vassar College the following year.

Among the social causes which Sarah N. Cleghorn actively supported were full suffrage for women, equal rights for Negroes, prison reform, packing-house reform, and the abolishment of child labor and vivisection. She was a member of the Vivisection Investigation League, League of Mutual Aid, Fellowship of Reconciliation, American League to Abolish Capital Punishment, War Resisters’ League, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Sarah N. Cleghorn’s poetic oeuvre reflects her New England upbringing and concern for the rural life of her youth, as well as her experience as a social reformer. Her poems display a mastery of versification. Her works include the novels A Turnpike Lady (1907), and The Spinster (1916); a book of poems Portraits and Protests (1917); an autobiography with an introduction by Robert Frost, Threescore (1936); books of essays Poems of Peace and Freedom (1945) and The Seamless Robe (1945); and the aforementioned volumes with Dorothy Canfield Fisher.

Sarah N. Cleghorn died in Philadelphia, Pa. On April 4, 1959.