Sophia Snow: The Journey

We have been engaged in a journey at Sophia Snow Place to learn more about the history of our generous benefactor and namesake Sophia Joanna Snow. This expedition into the past has generated much interest and energy, and some remarkable facts about the Snow family and its connection to the Roxbury Home for Aged Women (RHAW). The best part of our quest to learn more about the life and legacy of Sophia Joanna Snow is what it has taught us about ourselves and our friends here at Sophia Snow Place.

Our research began with the information unearthed in 2006 by the same group of Board members who had the vision to convert what was a small home to a modern facility able to support many older adults. Their purpose in collecting the history was to celebrate the 150 year anniversary in 2006 of the incorporation of the Roxbury Home for Children and Aged Women (name was later changed to RHAW). This special anniversary included the construction of an exciting new living opportunity for older adults in the form of the sixty-six (66) Independent Living apartments, and thirty-six (36) supportive living studio units that we now enjoy.

The inspiration to press further into the legacy of Sophia Joanna Snow was encouraged by the efforts of resident and Sophia Snow Legacy Society member Marie Gall. Marie’s efforts which date back to 2008, among other wonderful discoveries, found that Sophia and her sister Salome donated some valuable artifacts to other Boston institutions including the Museum of Fine Arts. This dimension of the Snow Sisters, as traveled and worldly, along with what we knew to be their generous spirit began to allow her person to take shape. Along with the contribution of what Marie learned, she planted the seed of further discovery in the capable hands of her daughters Suzanne Gall Marsh and Vicky Gall.

What started as short conversations with the “Gall Girls” and me exposing our collective love of history has ballooned into a full-fledged research project, with our finding giving foundation to our branding and our mission at Sophia Snow Place. The curiosity of our residents continues to motivate the search for our roots and legacy, and our discussions in the Bistro to help to answer the question: Who was Sophia Snow? Interest is her qualities of hospitality and generosity, and her perspective and actions which were way-before-her-time continue to define our community at Sophia Snow Place.

Thank you to all who have been part of this effort, especially Marie, Suzanne and Vicky; Mary Smoyer, the co-founder of the Boston’s Women’s Heritage Trail; and, Bud Hanson, former member of our Board of Directors and current Chair of our Advisory Board.

Sophia Snow: The Story

Sophia J. Snow was born in 1825 to Captain Nathaniel and Sophia Harding Snow and grew up in Roxbury, Massachusetts. She was the youngest of five children, Susan Gross Snow, Nathaniel Snow, and Salome Harding Snow. In her young teens, she was a very active member of the
First Church in Roxbury, where from 1842 to 1877 her family owned pew 43 on the lower floor. Sophia’s work with the Church eventually brought her to the Ladies Religious Charitable Society in Roxbury, where she continued to cultivate her generous and community-minded nature.

Captain Snow was an importer of burlaps, striped bagging, hop sacking, and Dundee goods (a form of jute imported from Dundee, Scotland), a business located on Federal Street in Boston. Sophia Harding Snow was originally from Brunswick, Maine, and her family home played a prominent place in Sophia J. Snow’s childhood and throughout her life. With her brother, than Captain Nathaniel Snow, passing in France in 1862, Sophia and her sister Salome inherited much from their brother’s estate, including passing the Harding Farm to the female line of the family. Their older sister Susan Gross Snow was the only from among the children to marry and have offspring. From their parents and their brother, the sisters enjoyed much wealth and prosperity. They were well-traveled, and their estates held valuable artifacts from around the world.

Harding Farm was a 100 acre piece of land that extended from New Meadows, Maine to the Androscoggin River. The farm saw many improvements under the care of sisters, including the expansion of the property, additions and modern improvements to the house, coachmen and fancy carriages, and a nearby trotting park with a grandstand to highlight the Farm’s thoroughbreds. In addition, a railroad station was constructed to service the private railroad car that carried many guests for elaborate weekend visits from family and friends to the Farm. They also rebuilt and enlarged the local schoolhouse. The sisters would both spend their final days in residence at the Farm, although they were interred in Forest Hills Cemetary.

In the winter the sisters lived at the Tremont House in Boston, which stood on the corner of Tremont and Beacon Streets. It was the first hotel to feature indoor plumbing and running water, and was among the first hotels to offer women-only dining rooms as it was considered socially unacceptable for women to dine alone in the public rooms of such urban establishments. The building was demolished in 1895.

In her Last Will and Testament Sophia Joanna Snow bequeathed $10,000 to the Roxbury Home for Aged Women, a sum in current value that would be well over two-million dollars. Her generous gifts also included the equal amount of $10,000 to the “Old Colored Women’s Home,” and many other charitable groups serving women and children. She also remembered Massachusetts General Hospital and the Roxbury Athenaeum. The Museum of Fine Arts holds her textiles from China’s Qing dynasty, and jewel box which was a gift from Napoleon to his wife Josephine in their current collection.

Sophia Snow: The Legacy

Our legacy is kindled by the spirit of Sophia Snow who was renowned in her day for her many acts of charity and kindness. Her generous spirit was matched by an equally vibrant community spirit, and her welcoming hospitality recognized by many in Roxbury, Boston and in Brunswick, Maine. Sophia Snow’s special touch extended beyond conventional society and reached many of the community’s most destitute and forgotten. There were no boundaries to her generous embrace, and the record shows that she promoted the dignity of all despite issues of race, age, gender or economics.

Our residents walk in the shadow of Sophia Snow’s history, often exemplifying what was best in her life as they live their own. Ours is a diverse population whose welcoming energy and commitment to community echo the spirit that was Sophia Snow. Her gift to the Roxbury Home for Aged Women (RHAW) has grown in value as it is enriched by the actions of all of those affiliated with our organization, whether it is our residents, their families, the staff, volunteers, or members of the Board of Directors and Advisory Board.