Stories Behind the Portraits: Sallie Rodes Rollins

In 1845, Dr. Anthony Wayne Rollins established a scholarship for young people from Boone County, Missouri, both men and women. What would cause a man of the 19th century to include such a stipulation in his will?  How could his perception of women have been so far ahead of his time? Could his wife, Sallie Rodes Rollins, be responsible?

Sarah Harris Rodes, who was always known as Sallie, was born on June 7, 1787, in Madison County, Kentucky, to Eliza Delaney (1759-1837) and Robert Rodes (1759-1818).  Each parent could trace their family histories to colonial Virginia and Maryland.

On April 18, 1811, when she was 23, Sallie married a self-made man reared in poverty in Pennsylvania, Dr. Anthony Wayne Rollins (1783-1845). A year and a day later, their first child, James Sidney Rollins (1812-1888), was born. They would have five more children.

Home built by Dr. A. W. Rollins in Richmond, Kentucky, in the 1820s, purchased by Irvine family in 1829 and now known as Irvinton House.

Dr. Rollins’ medical practice thrived. Sallie managed their two-story brick Federal-style home in Richmond, Kentucky, which still stands today.

In 1830, the Rollins family moved to Boone County, Missouri. When George Caleb Bingham and James Sidney Rollins became friends, it may be too presumptuous to say the Rollins family was nearly a second family to him, yet there was an unmistakable fondness.  Bingham painted Sallie four times, her husband three times, and their eldest son six times. He is also known to have painted daughters Eliza and Sarah.

Before his death on 9 October 1845, Dr. Anthony Wayne Rollins, wrote:

Having felt the great disadvantages of poverty in the acquisition of my own education, it is my will that my executors…raise the sum of $10,000 by the sale of lands, which sum… I desire may be set aside for the education of poor and indigent youths of Boone County, male and female, as are unable to educate themselves.[1]

To add “and female” at a time when women were barely more than possessions was nearly unheard of. What would cause an antebellum man to include such a stipulation in his will?  How could his perception of women have been so far ahead of his time? Ultimately, Sallie Rodes Rollins would be responsible.  To elicit such respect, she must have been kind and warm as well as intelligent and educated.  Those characteristics show in Bingham’s portraits of her.


Footnotes:
  1. Report to the Governor of the State of Missouri of the Forty-Sixth Missouri State University Catalogue, 1887-1888, 158[]

Patricia Moss is an art historian, or art detective if you will, who solves mysteries of 19th century American portraits.