Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Ruth Sabine


Ruth Sabine (July 8, 1906–October 23, 1922) and her family lived at my address when it was a single-family home, between 1909 and 1950. This photo was taken when she was 12. She died at home after an illness at the age of 16. Happy 109th birthday, Ruth. You are not forgotten in the house where you grew up.

Ruth's mother, Jane Downes Kelly Sabine, was a Mayflower descendent and had a long career as a doctor. One of her special interests was the effect of physical exercise on girls' health. She continued practicing medicine after she married and had her daughters Janet and Ruth, which was quite unusual at the turn of the 20th century. Her office was on the first floor of our building and she also practiced at the New England Hospital for Women and Children (staffed and managed almost entirely by women). 

Ruth's father, Wallace Clement Sabine, was a Harvard professor of physics, best known as the founder of the modern science of architectural acoustics and the designer of the acoustics for Symphony Hall — the first building ever constructed using acoustic formulas, and one of the three best concert halls in the world. He was also an inventor, a beloved teacher, a loving family man, a gentleman in every sense of the word, and a hero in the Great War, although he never formally joined the armed services. Instead he worked for all of them, and for all of the Allied countries.

I've been spending a great deal of time reading about and doing online research on this family. While there's a fine biography of Professor Sabine, who died at age 50 in 1919, there's a lot missing to his story (as there is to every life story). I am equally (if not more) interested in his wife and daughters, and how their lives revolved around their brilliant, adoring, but often-absent father. (Ruth and Janet even spent a long stretch of World War I in Paris, living with a French governess, while their parents did volunteer service in other countries.) 

To try to reconstruct and understand the Sabines' lives, I am often left to my imagination, but the biography contains some letters. Here are a few excerpts, written 105 years ago today:

To Ruth from her father (Boston, July 8, 1910):
My Dearest Ruth: Four years ago today, a very dear little girl with blue eyes came to join Janet in making mama and me the happiest of people. This dear baby we promptly named "Ruth," knowing that she would be a sweet, simple, steadfast girl and woman.
    When we leaned over the basket in which she lay, and put a finger near her hand, she clasped it tightly, and we prayed that the little girl, as she grew up, would always hold fast to us, keep close to us, and share with us her every thought. Dear Ruth, you do not yet know, sometime you will, how much we loved you, and how much we struggled with you through your every baby ache and pain.
     During these four years you have been all we dared anticipate or hope, all of sweet happiness, all of responsive love, all and more, far more.

To Janet from her father (Boston, July 8, 1910):
I wonder if you can recollect — you were almost three years old then — how, four years ago today, little Ruth came to live with us; how she looked in the basket in the front room at 481 Beacon Street [their first home]; how her little hand clasped round your finger; how you hovered over her; how gently you cared for her and for mama? During these four years you have been a sweet older sister. You have shared with Ruth in your play and in your lessons, and Ruth in return has loved you and longed for you. More we could not ask.
    Your birthday will come in October, and we shall all be together again in each other's arms. Will not that be a happy time? Mama, Janet, Ruth. I shall have you all.

From Wallace Clement Sabine: A Study in Achievement, by William Dana Orcutt (1933)

Letters to two little girls, aged 4 and 7, summering with their mother far from Boston while their father worked hard on his scientific projects, which he constantly did. (He may have written those letters in what is now my apartment, I have to add... or the apartment upstairs.) You might imagine that Sabine's words were beyond a three-year-old's understanding. But I'm pretty sure you'd be wrong; they were extraordinarily precocious children. 

More to come.

1 comment:

  1. Paul Darby again - I note that her mother's preface to "Fugitive Pieces" was written from 348 Marlborough St.

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