Dictionary of Virginia Biography


Sarah Archer Anderson (8 November 1862–20 October 1954), preservationist, was born in Richmond, the eldest of three daughters and second of seven children of Archer Anderson and Mary Anne Mason Anderson. Her elder brother died young. Her younger sister Mary Mason Anderson Williams was a preservationist and staunch opponent of woman suffrage early in the twentieth century. She was born and lived the first years of her life in the residence of her grandfather Joseph Reid Anderson, president of the Tredegar ironworks, the major producer of Confederate ordnance during the Civil War. Her father went to work at Tredegar just before the Civil War and in 1881 moved his family into a remodeled residence a block away from his eldest daughter's birthplace. She resided there, at 103 West Franklin Street in Richmond, for the remainder of her long life.

Anderson was christened on 25 December 1862 at Saint Paul's Episcopal Church, to which she belonged until her death. She grew up in a family dedicated to preserving the memory of the Civil War. The Anderson family regularly hosted former Confederate officers who visited Richmond, and during reunions the Anderson house became one of the social centers of the city. She listened to her father and his friends talk about the war while she entertained them, and at the dramatic unveiling of Richmond's Lee statue on 29 May 1890 she heard her father deliver the principal address.

Miss Sally Anderson, as she was known, accepted and propagated the Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War, which celebrated the heroism of the Confederate armies and extolled the Old South. She believed that the women of her generation had a "sacred duty" to "gather and to preserve the things which would keep alive the memory of the men who had died." Anderson first took an active part in the work of historic preservation through the Confederate Museum, which was located in the old White House of the Confederacy. Anderson's mother belonged as early as 1897 to the Confederate Memorial Literary Society that saved the house from destruction, and she served as a vice president in 1899. Sally Anderson joined the society in 1903 and in 1907 became chairman of the Life Membership Committee. In 1909 she was elected a society vice president, and in 1912 she became president.

Anderson led the society for forty years, working tirelessly to expand the collections and improve the library. Deeply committed to the mission of the museum and determined to succeed, she acted as spokeswoman for the institution, appearing at countless society-sponsored events, raising money, hosting dignitaries, guiding the development of the collections, and working with other women across the South to create an attractive facility of historic importance. When she retired as president in November 1952, the Museum of the Confederacy boasted one of the largest collections of Confederate items in the world, and its library's valuable research collection of rare books, personal papers, and other manuscripts pertaining to the war enjoyed a national reputation.

Anderson also helped found Richmond's Sheltering Arms Free Hospital, which opened in February 1889. She belonged to the Woman's Auxiliary of Saint Paul's Church and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, and for the last twelve years of her life she was an honorary president of the Virginia Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She was fondly remembered for continuing to use her horse-drawn carriage in the streets of Richmond long after automobiles and traffic lights had become the norm. Sally Archer Anderson died at her house in Richmond on 20 October 1954 and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery.


Sources Consulted:
Feature articles with portraits in Richmond Times-Dispatch, 4 Mar. 1946 and 16 Nov. 1952; Saint Paul's Church Registry, Richmond; Sally Archer Anderson Papers and Minute Book of Confederate Memorial Literary Society, Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond; presidential reports in Confederate Memorial Literary Society, Year Books, 1912–1952; Michael I. Shoop, "A History of the Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia, and Its Library" (master's thesis, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, 1983); obituaries in Richmond News Leader, 20 Oct. 1954, and Richmond Times-Dispatch, 21 Oct. 1954; editorial tribute in Richmond Times-Dispatch, 23 Oct. 1954.


Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Malinda Wyatt Collier and Tucker H. Hill.

How to cite this page:
Malinda Wyatt Collier and Tucker H. Hill,"Sarah Archer Anderson (1862–1954)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 1999, rev. 2018 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Anderson_Sarah_Archer, accessed [today's date]).


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