Sophia Little was born in Newport in 1799, the daughter of Asher Robbins. Her father was a prominent Rhode Island politician who served as U.S. Attorney General for Rhode Island and then in the state legislature before serving as U.S. Senator from 1825 to 1839. Not much is known about Sophia’s early education other than she was educated in the local schools of Newport. She was raised as a member of the Society of Friends; later however, she joined the Moravian Church because of its emphasis on personal sacrifice and service to humanity. In life, her religious convictions guided her and influenced her strong commitment to performing good deeds. In June 1824, she married William Little Jr., a lawyer from Boston.
A gifted and prolific writer, Sophia wrote a number of poems along with several novels. In fact, though Sophia was a renowned poetess in her time, she wrote with reform in mind. Her poems usually had a moral tale to tell and her prose was equally full of social commentary.
Sophia’s writings reflected her interest in a number of social causes: she was actively involved in the anti-slavery, temperance and women’s suffrage movements; but unquestionably, prison reform was her main interest. Early in life, Sophia began to visit prisoners in the local Newport jail in order to provide them some solace.
In Rhode Island, with Sophia playing a leading role, a Prisoner’s Aid Association was incorporated in 1874. The association consisted of both men and women whose purpose it was to aid discharged prisoners by assisting them with making an honest livelihood and to adopt such measures that were conducive for the prevention of committing further crimes. In 1881 an auxiliary society, the Women’s Society for Aiding Released Female Prisoners was formed. To accommodate recently released women prisoners, a property called the Eldorado House was rented and aptly renamed the Sophia Little Home. Sophia was elected as this new auxiliary society’s first president. In was soon recognized that it was not practical to allow children to remain with their mothers for long periods in the industrial home. Therefore in 1886, led again by Sophia, a new home to care for such children was opened. Its name was the Rhode Island Nursery Association for Homeless Infants.
During Sophia’s life, the Sophia Little Home served as a halfway house assisting released women prisoners. But during the twentieth century, the home took on a newer and equally important mission; it became a sanctuary for unwed mothers.
Sophia died at Newport in 1893 after a life of serve to her fellow man.
Russell J. DeSimone