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Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn

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Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn Facts:

Occupation: poet, writer
Known for: radical sentiments. She was a Christian socialist, a pacifist, an anti-vivisectionist, a vegetarian, and worked for women's suffrage, for prison reform, against lynching, against the death penalty, and against child labor.
Dates: 1876 - April 4, 1959
Also known as: Sarah N. Cleghorn, Sarah Cleghorn

Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn Biography:

Robert Frost famously pointed out that the people of Vermont were "taken care of by three great ladies. And one of these is wise and a novelist, one is mystic and an essayist and the third is saintly and a poet." Frost referred to Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Zephine Humphrey, and Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn. He also said of Cleghorn, "To a saint and a reformer like Sarah Cleghorn the great importance is not to get hold of both ends, but of the right end. She has to be partisan."

Born in Virginia in a hotel where her New England parents were visiting, Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn grew in Wisconsin and Minnesota until she was nine. When her mother died, the family moved back to the Northeast, to Vermont. She lived most of her years in Manchester, Vermont. Cleghorn was educated at a seminary in Manchester, Vermont, and studied at Radcliffe College.

Her circle of poet and writer friends included Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Robert Frost.

She called her earlier poems "sunbonnets" -- poems which characterized country life -- and her later poems "burning poems" -- poems that pointed to social injustices.

At 35, she joined the Socialist Party, though she later said that she had begun to "do some cogitating" on labor issues at age 16. She worked briefly in the Brookwood school.

In middle age, she moved to New York to find work -- not too successfullly. Over the years, forty of her poems were published in Atlantic Monthly. In 1937, she served briefly on the faculty of Wellesley College, as a substitute for Edith Hamilton, and she also substituted for a year at Vassar, both times in the English departments.

She moved to Philadelphia in 1943, where she continued her activism, defending peace during the Cold War as "an old Quaker."

Education:

  • Burr and Burton Seminary, of Manchester
  • Radcliffe, 1895-1906

Sarah Cleghorn died in Philadelphia in 1959.

Her best-known poem is actually a quatrain out of a larger work, "Through the Needle's Eye," 1916:

The golf links lie so near the mill
That almost every day
The laboring children can look out
And see the men at play.

Books:

  • A Turnpike Lady (novel), 1907.
  • Hillsboro People (poems), 1915.
  • Fellow Captains with Dorothy Canfield Fisher, 1916.
  • The Spinsters (novel), 1916.
  • Portraits and Protests (poems), 1917.
  • Ballad of Eugene Debs, 1928.
  • Miss Ross' Girls , 1931.
  • Ballad of Tuzulutlan, 1932.
  • Ballad of Joseph and Damien, 1934.
  • Threescore (autobiography), 1936. Robert Frost wrote the introduction.
  • Peace and Freedom (poems), 1945

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