Sara Robinson, 1827-1911
The daughter of a prominent Massachusetts lawyer and distant relative of Amos Lawrence, a Boston industrialist and philanthropist, Sara Tappan Doolittle Lawrence was born in Belchertown, Massachusetts, on July 12, 1827. She received a classical education during her childhood and attended the New Salem Academy. “By the age of twelve,” wrote historian Don Wilson, “she was an excellent Latin scholar and could read German and French fluently.” In 1849, just before he left on an expedition to California, Sara Lawrence met and began seeing Dr. Charles Robinson. The couple married on October 30, 1851, soon after he returned and established a home in Fitchburg where Charles Robinson edited a newspaper and practiced some medicine.
When the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed in 1854, the Robinsons, both committed to the cause of abolitionism, quickly identified themselves with the activities of the New England Emigrant Aid Society. Charles Robinson traveled to Kansas Territory in July 1854 to pick a settlement site for the company, and then returned to Boston to lead the second party of emigrants back to Kansas in September; Sara Robinson followed her husband to Kansas in the spring of 1855. By that time he had been chosen president of the Lawrence Town Company and soon was recognized as the preeminent leader of the free-state movement in Kansas Territory.
Sara Robinson was not all that fond of life in Kansas during those early years,
and she spent many months visiting family and friends in the East. When Charles
Robinson was arrested for treason and detained for several months, however,
she did “eloquently report on the plight of her husband and the free-state
cause to sympathetic congressional leaders and to officers of the New England
Emigrant Aid Company.” Robinson also used her considerable literary skills
for the cause, publishing in October 1856 a book entitled Kansas: Its Interior
and Exterior Life that described in vivid detail the social and political situation
in Bleeding Kansas. Robinson described the violence that ravaged to the territory,
the corrupt and fraudulently elected territorial legislature, Governor Wilson
Shannon’s recognition of that “bogus” legislative body, his
predisposition toward and sympathy for the proslavery faction, the Wakarusa
War, Sheriff Samuel Jones’s sack of Lawrence, the Topeka Constitutional
Convention, her husband’s election as “governor” by free-state
partisans, and his subsequent arrest and incarceration. At the time, some considered
Robinson’s book second only to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in importance
to the anti-slavery cause.
In the wake of his single term as governor of Kansas and the Civil War, the Robinsons remained in Kansas and Lawrence for the rest of their lives. The governor died in 1894, and Sara Robinson lived at their Oak Ridge farm, a few miles north of Lawrence, until her death on November 15, 1911. Charles and Sara T.D. Robinson had no children and eventually contributed much of their estate to the University of Kansas, including most of the land that the main campus of the university now occupies.
Courtwright, Julie. “‘A Goblin That Drives Her Insane’: Sara Robinson and the History Wars of Kansas, 1894-1911.” Kansas History 25 (Summer 2002): 102-123.
Dary, David. Lawrence: An Informal History. Lawrence, Kans.: Allen Books, 1982.
Robinson, Sara Toppan Doolittle. Lawrence, Kansas: Its interior and exterior life. Boston: Crosby, Nichols and Company, 1956.