Reed, Sophronia Clinton
Born in Vienna in 1814, Sophronia S. Clinton Reed was the grand-daughter of Vienna’s first Justice of the Peace Samuel Clinton and the daughter of Dexter Clinton and his wife Lucy Flower. Her grandmother was Bathsheba Burr Foote Flower Thompson.
Sophronia married William Henry Reed, Jr., in 1835. Reed was born in Hartland, Connecticut, in December 1810. With his brothers Festus and Augustus M., he formed the Vienna Anti-Slavery Society in the late 1830s, as abolition and other reforms swept the Western Reserve. The three brothers’ names appear in Township poll books and on various documents.
Women’s names do not appear on Vienna’s poll books. Women could not hold public offices such as justice of the peace, or constable, or township trustee, though they joined the causes of abolition and temperance and women’s rights. The same ideas that would bring an end to slavery—the dignity of personhood, legal equality regardless of the color of one’s skin or the circumstances of one’s birth—were the same for the movement to endow women with equal rights.
Those rights would not come for American women for nearly another century. So, when we wish to write the history of the thoughts and lives of women in the early nineteenth century, we often need to find other sources. A gravestone is one form of evidence. The verses sometimes engraved in the marble tell us about the relationships between the departed and the living.
In the case of Sophronia Clinton Reed, though, we have other types of verses. These are found in her album, acquired by the Vienna Historical Society in 2011. Within the covers of this embossed album are verses that Sophronia requested of family members and friends. Many of the poems are signed, and they reveal her social circle: names such as Lavinia Clinton, her sister who would marry Urial Booth; her brother-in-law, Augustus M. Reed; Aurelia Birge, the sister of the Reverend Chester Birge, minister of the Vienna Presbyterian Church; and Maria Austin, of Hartford.
The earliest poem is dated 1834. After giving birth to a child named Clinton W., Sophronia died, on April 27, 1838.
Yet the poems continued. The friendship album was reinvented as a memorial album, and on several pages are verses written by Sophronia’s friend, Adelia Fuller. She wrote the following lines that appear on the last page of the album:
Written at Sophronia’s Grave.
I see thee still, as young and fair
I saw thee when a wedded bride,
And thou did’st stand in beauty there,
Thy husband’s only hope and pride.
O is it thus! dost thou here lie
Beneath this mound all pale and cold.
Thy lovely face and beaming eye
O are they with the dead enroll’d?
I saw thy pale and lovely brow,
As o’er it death had stamped its seal,
I saw then in the tomb laid low,
And heard the death dirge o’er thee peal.
‘Twas Nature wept around thy tomb,
A star from her bright sky was gone,
When thou in all thy youthful bloom
Thus ceased to rise where thou had’st shone.
William Henry Reed would marry twice more. He and his second wife Adelia Fuller—yes, the same Adelia Fuller who was Sophronia’s friend--moved to Iowa in the 1840s. They had three children. Upon her death he moved to Weeping Water, Cass County, Nebraska. Reed wed Nancy Watson in Nebraska, and they would produce three children. William Henry Reed helped to establish the First Congregational Church in Weeping Water and was elected to Nebraska’s Territorial Legislature in 1861. He died in 1883.
Sophronia’s only child, Clinton, returned to attend Oberlin College. He became a prominent attorney in Denver, Colorado.
The survival of women’s private records, such as diaries, letters, and journals—as all private records—depends on a variety of decisions made through time. Many individuals ordered their personal papers destroyed upon death. Family members may have cherished a member’s writings, only to have descendants decide these yellowing books and papers were clutter.
That Sophronia Clinton Reed’s album of poetical abstracts survived for almost two centuries and is now in Vienna is a testimony to its caretakers—family, friends, and strangers. Inserted in its pages is a bookmark cross-stitched with the words “Pensez a moi”: think of me.
Contributor: Shirley T. Wajda