1-S RobinsonLet me introduce you to Sarah, another great character who is featured in my forthcoming book Scandal, Salvation & Suffrage – the Amazing Women of The Temperance Movement (due out 28th March 2015).

Sarah overcame her physical disabilities to set up a Soldiers’ Institute in Portsmouth in 1874. You might have expected this to earn her some appreciation from the town folk but in fact she was often harangued because she spoke out about the appalling state of the town, especially when soldiers and sailors returned home with fat wage packets and squandered the money on beer & brothels rather than sending it home to their families. And, of course, the publicans of the town didn’t appreciate her efforts. But many soldiers did. They enjoyed the warm, cheerful surrounds of the Institute. Even if they weren’t particularly religious, they were prepared to listen to the occasional talk or hymn to take advantage of the facilities the Institute afforded when they were on shore.

Sarah had a great sense of humour and a real knack of sending herself up. She wrote 3 autobiographical books – the final one My Book in 1914 in her 80th year. In the preface to the book she said that “after writing one book to suit the publishers, I would write a second to please myself … In this one, the size, the type, the cover, and the many pictures, should be as I liked!” That’s quite a good advert for self-publishing, yet it was written some 100 years ago.

I’ll share some of Sarah’s stories with you over the coming weeks.

About rosblack

I am a freelance writer & author of 4 social history books, featuring female social reformers of the late 19th and early 20th century. In a previous life I managed a housing charity. I also give talks.
This entry was posted in Portsmouth, Sarah Robinson, Soldiers' Institute, Temperance, Victorian Do-Gooders, women's history and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Maria lawless says:

    I have a little book called ‘a little keepsake’ by Sarah robinson. Do you have any more info on it ?

    • rosblack says:

      Hi Maria
      This booklet was issued by Sarah on 1st August 1904 to mark her 70th birthday. In her 3rd autobiography My Book she describes it as “a tiny book with a choice text for each day of the year in facsimile of my handwriting; the preparation of this had occupied me for many months.” It also contained a vignette (photograph) of Sarah. The booklet was sent to all soldiers who applied for it.
      I would love to know the story of where you came across this. Did it belong to one of your ancestors, I wonder. I have never seen an actual copy of it. Ros

      • Maria says:

        It’s not a booklet it’s an actual miniature book, it has the 365 days off the year and an uplifting quote for each day, I will email you some pictures off it. I have been trying to find more info on it since 2006 when my father died and I found it amongst his belongings.

      • rosblack says:

        Thanks for the photos. It’s a real gem. I assume your father (or possibly his father/grandfather) was a soldier.
        He may have met Sarah. Or he may have heard of her work & written to request a copy of the book. Or he might have been given it by a friend, keen to encourage him in his faith.

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