Sarah Elizabeth Doyle

Inducted: 2005
Born: 1830
Died: 1922

Doyle, Sarah Elizabeth, 1830-1922

Sarah Elizabeth Doyle (1830-1922) was a lifelong resident of Rhode Island who participated in the social reform ferment that engulfed the state during the Gilded Age. Despite the conservative political nature of local thinking, she successfully pioneered educational opportunities for women at the highest level.

She entered Providence High School during its initial enrollment in 1843 and would later teach there from 1856 to 1892. During that time she helped nurture other women in the field of education while searching for institutional ways to solidify academic gains. She participated on a host of committees and commissions that dealt with such issues as female suffrage, prison reform, kindergarten classes, and higher education for women.

Miss Doyle particularly used the female club movement as a vehicle of reform in that era. She founded the Rhode Island Women’s Club in 1876 as a social sorority to offer a variety of educational opportunities for women and to encourage political activism.

In her leadership capacity, Doyle helped found the Rhode Island School of Design in 1877, served on the board of the Providence Athenaeum, and was vice president of the Rhode Island Institute of Instruction. She achieved her greatest accomplishment by prying open the doors of Brown University to female students in the 1890s, but as offcampus adjuncts. To further the quest for greater equality in higher education, she served as president of the newly-formed Rhode Island Society for the Collegiate Education of Women from 1896 until 1919. The group raised $75,000 and constructed Pembroke Hall on the Brown University campus in 1897, the forerunner to Pembroke College.

Doyle earned unusual distinction in her own lifetime when a group of her students formed the Sarah E. Doyle Club in 1894 to provide literary sustenance to female teachers through extracurricular activities. In 1975 Brown University established the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center to provide services to female students of a different era, but with the same mission of improving education for women.

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