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 Sarah Wool Moore  (1846 - 1911)

About: Sarah Wool Moore


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Lived/Active: Nebraska/Pennsylvania      Known for: portrait and landscape painting, teaching

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
One of the earliest and most significant figures in the development of Nebraska's support of American and regional art, Sarah Moore came to Lincoln to the University of Nebraska in 1884. At that time, Lincoln had virtually no art culture, and she was determined to do something about that void.

She was born in Plattsburgh, New York. Her parents were Amasa Moore and Charlotte Moore, and she had five siblings. She was a graduate of Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, and also studied with August Eisenmenger at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts in Austria.

At the University of Nebraska, she was an asset in that she brought culture from the 'outside', having spent eight years studying abroad. In Lincoln, she taught painting and drawing and later was an instructor of art history and head of the University Art Department. She was an active political proponent of strengthening the department and wrote numerous letters to the University regents pleading for respectable teachers' salaries so that she was armed to attract good people and keep the ones already there.  Because of her, art class sizes increased greatly.

In 1888, Moore led the organizing the Haydon Art Club, the predecessor of the Nebraska Art Association, which has been the support organization for Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery. 

In 1892, Moore resigned from the University, having had major disagreements with Anna Hall, (Mrs. F.M. Hall), also a founder of the Haydon Art Club and leader of fund raising to pay Moore's University art-class salary. The exact nature of the problem with Hall seems unrecorded, but shortly after Mrs. Hall threatened to resign from the Haydon Art Club, Moore left, and Mrs. Hall remained as a leader of that organization. Minnie Ladd, historian of the Haydon Art Club and its successor, the Nebraska Art Association, wrote of Moore's departure: "Except that she moved to Florida, nothing has been heard from her since her leaving the University." (Pierson Dunbier)

However, there is much more to the story.  Her obituary in the New York Times states that she was the "Founder of Italian Society and Camp Schools at Pittsburg filtration plant, Ashokan Dam and Valhalla, and that she published an illustrated English-Italian Language Book in 1902, (republished in 1908) by D.C. Heath and Co., Boston.

Pursuing that lead, it is learned from The New York Times, October 6, 1907 that Sarah Moore became part of a project sponsored by the Society for Italian immigrants of night schools for teaching English to construction workers at water sites including the Erie Canal in New York and the Filtration Plant in Pittsburgh.  Each participant had to agree to pay a dollar amount to the school.  Known as "taking the school to the ditchdigger", it was described as being successful in Pittsburgh, the pilot project, where a "large gang of foreign laborers were employed just outside Pittsburgh.  . . .The Society provided the plan and the teacher, Miss Sarah Wool Moore of Mount Vernon.  She went to the construction camp and opened a night school in one of the shanties which the laborers lived. After one Winter, the character of the camp was so changed that the owners of the vacated residences were able to return to the homes." One of the residents, whose home had been threatened by the vandalous conditions, was an influential Pittsburgh Stock Exchange member who became the successful backer of the school movement to spread throughout Pennsylvania.

Of Miss Moore, it was written that "she had had much previous experience in teaching laborers as she had been connected with the Society for Italian Immigrants since its founding and took up the work after personal experience with the business methods of the padrone. In 1900 Miss Moore lived in Mount Vernon where droves of Italian diggers were working for the New York Central.  They were brought up in carloads from Ellis Island by the padrones. Miss Moore decided that the first step toward aiding these unfortunates was to teach them English", something she did after learning the language herself. Then she worked out a method to teach them English beginning with the English words for work tools pertinent to the men's occupations.

"Armed with this experience, Miss Moore started her work at the Pittsburg Filtration Company's camp.  The equipment consisted of the end compartment of a shanty, a few benches, and the teacher's platform. When her pupils filed in at night each brought with him his lantern" to light the schoolroom.  Many of the men said their motive for wanting the class was to become citizens and vote.  "At the end of the sessions some half-dozen of the men would escort their school mistress, 'Gentlissima Moore' back through the camp to her own cottage.  She declares the men are rough and brutal only when they cannot understand. . . .As the season wore on, music was added to the course of study, and at the close of each session, the pupils would chant "America" in their brand-new English." 

The school was so effective that many large companies added school of this type to their work sites, and the movement spread to New York and New Jersey. 

So it can be said that Sarah Wool Moore, who began the art department at the University of Nebraska continued her influence of bringing culture to Americans, but this time much farther to the east and in the area of verbal language rather than visual art. Portrait of a Girl by Moore is in that collection, and that painting as well as the Portrait of Charles Gere, founder of the Lincoln newspaper, are the only two paintings by Moore in Nebraska. The Gere portrait is at the state historical society.

It is known that Sarah Wool Moore died on May 19, 1911 in Valhalla, Pennsylvania.

Sharon Gustafson, Early Nebraska Women Artists
The New York Times
, October 6, 1907: (Archives)
Edward P. Bentley, Art Researcher, Greenville, Michigan, Obituary, New York Times, May 21, 1911, 1860 Federal Census
Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, Minnie Ladd's History Nebraska Art Association publication

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