Skip to main content

Millis/Medway - Local Town Pages

March is Women’s History Month: Highlighting Kate Sanborn (1839-1917) of Holliston and Medway

Kate Sandborn at the door of Breezy Meadows. Source: Medway Historical Society.

By Theresa Knapp
In honor of Women’s History Month, we highlight Katherine Abbot Sanborn (1839-1917) who lived in Holliston and Medway in the late 1800s and early 1900s. 
Sanborn was an author, lecturer, farmer and tenant at Breezy Meadows in the Metcalf area of Holliston (Summer and Washington Streets, near the Metcalf railroad station) and later at a second Breezy Meadows just a short distance down Summer Street into Medway.
She was born in Hanover, NH. Her father, Edwin David Sanborn, taught Latin and English literature at Dartmouth College. Her mother was Mary Ann (Webster) Sanborn, a niece of Daniel Webster. 
She was educated at home by her father which gave her a solid foundation in language. At age 11, she made $3 for a story she wrote that her father sent to the child’s paper, and by age 17, she was supporting herself with her writing. 
Sanborn attended Smith College after which she began lecturing and holding book clubs in ladies’ parlors, the YWCA, and in churches. She also worked as a book reviewer and magazine writer.  
“She was an individual and potent factor in New York social and literary life. At Mary Elizabeth Wilson Sherwood’s [herself an author and socialite] —or in any place where wit and wisdom gathered—she was at home, unpretending, picturesque, humorous.” (Wikipedia) 
According to “From Gotham to Gooseville,” while Sanborn was visiting her friend Mrs. Mary Morrill near Metcalf railroad station in Holliston in 1888, she “heard that the old-fashioned farm-house just opposite” was for sale or lease; she rented it for $40 the first year then $50 each year thereafter from 1988 to 1894. That 25-acre farm was previously known as the “Belcher Place” and she renamed it “Breezy Meadows” (today, it is the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine at 101 Summer Street). This is where she wrote “Adopting an Abandoned Farm” (1891) in which she “explained her move from ‘Gotham’ (New York City) to ‘Gooseville’ (Metcalf, MA).” 
In 1894, she wrote “Abandoning an Adopted Farm (1894) which covered the end of her years in Holliston and her purchase of a larger 71-acre farm in Medway that she also renamed “Breezy Meadows.” 
Sanborn was described by a country neighbor as “a stout, buxom, red-headed woman, with hair all a-flying.” She furnished her home by attending auctions. “It was a novelty for the audiences to see a lady of her caliber bidding against the men” (Gotham, 1996). 
When trying to purchase animals for her farm, “The farmers and stable keepers were well aware of the inexperienced city-woman who was trying to set up her farm…they brought by their worthless animals for her inspection” (Gotham, 1996).
She often entertained at both of her farms all while maintaining her writing career. “She wrote in a helter-skelter manner; one thought reminded her of another. This trait, however, was a factor which contributed to the popularity of her farm books, for, at that time, very few female authors wrote so entertainingly” (Gotham, 1996). 
Sanborn wrote many books in her lifetime including Grandma’s Garden with Many Original Poems (1882), Wit of Women (1885), Vanity and Insanity of Genius (1886), Truthful Woman in Southern California (1894), Tact, and Other Essays (1899), Old Time Wall Papers (1905), and Educated Dogs of To-Day (1916). Many of these books can be found at the Holliston Public Library. The full collection of her papers can be found at Smith College. 
Sanborn died in 1917. Breezy Meadows was sold in 1918 but then suffered decades of neglect and vandalism and was eventually demolished in 1993. 
Sources for this story include “From Gotham to Gooseville” 1988-1917 Kate Sanborn (Authoress, Lecturer, Farmer) and Breezy Meadows Farms by Shirley M. Chipman (1996) provided by the Medway Historical Society, Adopting an Abandoned Farm by Kate Sanborn (1891), and