Well, roughly 10 years after I first ran across her name in my former home’s property abstract, I know what Sarah Blackall looked like! It finally happened: I saw her face. My friend Sonja and I took a tour of the Susan B. Anthony House here in Rochester, where SBA worked nearly her whole life on getting women the right to vote. Since Sarah was a good friend, I figured they must have a picture of her somewhere.
So before our visit I called Ellen Wheeler, director of development and the museum’s PR contact, who passed word along to Mary Ellen Sweeney, their hardworking, full-time volunteer archivist. At the end of our tour, Ellen took us to the archives, where Mary Ellen proudly handed me a black-and-white photo in a protective plastic sleeve. I couldn’t believe I was finally looking at Sarah Blackall.
While Sonja asked our hosts more about Susan (primarily, did she have any fun? Answer: yes. Hint: Delmonico steak), I kept stealing glances at the photo resting in my hands. Roughly middle-aged when she sat for the portrait, Sarah was attractive with dark hair parted in the middle and gathered in back, maybe in a low bun. She had wide-set, dark eyes, a level, pleasant expression and the hint of a smile. She looked resolute – she had a firm, determined jaw – but softer than that, peaceful, even serene. I thought, Of course this is you. I felt like I already knew her.
Years ago, when the SBA House archives were less organized, I put in a similar request. They tried but found nothing. Guess Sarah didn’t want to be found until now. Funny, just a few days after seeing her photo, it’s already not enough. I want to see more! Gertrude, Frank, Sarah as an older woman, the way she would have looked when she had my old house built…