Sarah Caswell Angell

Sarah Swoope Caswell Angell was born July 25th, 1831 in Providence, Rhode Island to Rev. Dr. Alexis Caswell and Esther Lois Thompson. From her earliest years, her life was intertwined with both religion and university administration. Not only was her father President of Brown University, he was also a clergyman of the local Baptist Church and regularly entertained foreign missionaries. Among these was the famous Adoniram Judson, a Congregationalist/Baptist missionary to Burma noted for translating the Bible into Burmese.[1]

Besides being fascinated with the foreign missionaries who visited her home, Sarah Caswell developed a keen interest in genealogy and American history. At one point, she traced her mother’s ancestry to the first missionary sent to Massachusetts from the “Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.” Besides that, her maternal great-grandfather was Colonel Michael Swoope, who commanded a regiment in the Revolutionary War. It was her proven relation to this man which gained her admission into the Colonial Dames Society of Rhode Island, and later the Daughters of the Revolution. [2]

Sarah Caswell attended prestigious private schools in her youth, but did not end up going to university. She ended up marrying a faculty member of her father’s University, then Professor of Modern Languages James Burrill Angell. When James was offered a position as President of the University of Vermont, they moved to the State, settling there long enough to begin raising their three children. Yet just six years after arrival Sarah’s husband was offered a new position as the President of the University of Michigan, at which point the family packed up and relocated states once again. These constant moves away from family and friends were “very hard” on Sarah, who confessed in a letter to her father in September 1871 that she was “so miserably lonely and homesick,” and joking that she was “just like a cat in more ways than one and when I get moved into a place it is like pulling my teeth.”[3]

Despite the trials of moving, Sarah used her famous “generous heart” to establish roots in Michigan. She pursued her interests and, in so doing, became an essential part of the local community. In something of a reversal from Judson’s conversion from Congregationalist to Baptist, Sarah Caswell Angell began attending her husband’s Congregationalist church meetings. Though she “remained a Baptist at heart” she “identified herself with the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society in the First Congregational Church.” She was its president for 26 years as well as acting as Vice President of the National Woman’s Board of Missions of the Congregational Churches. She lent aid to the Women’s League and the College Sorosis of the University of Michigan, was part of the Ladies’ Library Association in Ann Arbor, and was an active supporter of the University Musical Society.[4] In fact, she was such a fan of the university’s musical performances that, despite a suffering from a raging fever and the cold winter air, she listened to a performance of Beethoven at the School of Music just a week before her death. Indeed, she was so involved in local affairs that it was said that “[n]o social assembly was complete without the grace of her presence. No interest of the student community was alien to her thought.”[5]

And no organization benefited more from Sarah Angell’s focused devotion than the Daughters of the American Revolution. She founded the Ann Arbor chapter in 1896, became its regent, and held the first meetings in her own home. There the members of the organization presented papers on American history, hosted expert speakers, collected valuable manuscripts and artifacts of colonial history, and performed services for veterans, such as sewing slippers for the soldiers in hospital at Detroit in 1900.[6]

Among Sarah Caswell Angell’s most notable activities in Daughters of the Revolution was acting as “one of the most efficient members” of the Woman’s Board of the 1893 Columbian Exposition at Chicago. Among her tasks were to purchase space, souvenirs, and colonial artwork for exhibition in the Woman’s Building. This task she performed with talent and precision, even though she was grieving the loss of her brother’s family at the same time she was performing this work.[7] It was only in 1897 that Sarah had to temporarily cease acting as Regent of Daughters of the Revolution, due to her husband’s appointment as Minister of Turkey. By 1902, her failing health necessitated her to retire as Regent, whereupon she became Emeritus Regent of the chapter.[8] She died the following year, on December 17th, 1903, of bronchial pneumonia.[9] Because of her significant and active involvement in community and university affairs, she was honored with a house name in Alice Lloyd Hall.

  1. “A Sketch of Mrs. James B. Angell” The Inlander: A Monthly Magazine by the Students of the University of Michigan (1895) 6: 287-289.
  2. “The Society of Colonial Dames Rhode Island Notice of Welcome to New Members, 1897,” Sarah Caswell Angell Papers.
  3. Sara Caswell Angell to [?], September 24th, 1871, Sarah Caswell Angell Papers.
  4. “A Sketch of Mrs. James B. Angell” The Inlander, 287-289.
  5. Obituary of Sarah Caswell Angell, Sarah Caswell Angell Papers.
  6. Minutes of November 1, 1900 meeting,  Box 1, Daughters of the American Revolution: Sarah Caswell Angell Chapter Records.
  7. Mary Lockwood to [?], October 14, 1894, Sarah Caswell Angell Papers.
  8. Minutes of 1902 meeting, Box 1, Daughters of the American Revolution: Sarah Caswell Angell Chapter Records.
  9. “Mrs Angell Dead,” The Michigan Daily, December 18, 1903.
Image credit:

“Sarah Caswell Angell and the meeting of the Browning Club,” James B. Angell Papers.