Elizabeth Sprague Pitcher was born in 1791 in a modest house on a small lane connecting Main and South Streets in Marion village. Daughter of Theophilus Pitcher and his wife, Sarah, she had five brothers and one sister. From the start, she hungered for an education, attending every village schoolhouse, and eventually becoming a teacher.
In 1824 she married Stephen Taber, an Acushnet clock maker, and they had three children, all of whom died before the age of five. Her grief was compounded by the deaths of her five brothers, who were all lost at sea or died of illness. A few years later, her husband, Stephen, died, too. He had successfully invested in whaling ships and railroads, and Elizabeth, shrewd with money herself, continued to amass a sizable fortune.
Eight years after losing her husband, Elizabeth picked up her black skirts, put on her bonnet, and decided to move back to Marion. She began her plan “for the improvement and embellishment of my native place, lovely Marion, village by the sea.” She had no heirs, except for one distant cousin named John Foster. He drove her every day back and forth by horse and buggy from her stately home in New Bedford on dusty roads to Marion, while she designed and supervised her various projects.
First, she built a library and a Natural History Museum. She paved roads, put in stone walls, and planted trees. After sea captains built the Congregational church, she donated an organ and constructed the chapel across the road for a Sunday School for children.
Believing in education for the girls and boys of Marion, she founded Tabor Academy in 1876 (naming it for Mt. Tabor in Palestine rather than for herself.) She also built a home for Tabor’s first headmaster, Clark P. Howland, and then she moved into two rooms upstairs. She died there in 1888 at the age of 97.
In her will, Elizabeth left funds for a Music Hall for lectures and concerts, as well as numerous endowment funds for future maintenance of all her creations. Although she kept very much alone, she had many friends and townsfolk revere her for her courage, her boundless generosity, and her persistent vision for her town’s future.
To honor this extraordinary woman and all of her achievements, an independent committee, chaired by Judith Rosbe, treasurer of the Historical Society, has been formed to raise funds to build a life-sized bronze statue of Elizabeth Taber. It was decided to coordinate with the Lighting the Way project in New Bedford, which is celebrating significant accomplishments of over 60 women of the South Coast in conjunction with the 100th anniversary in 2020 of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote.
The Selectmen of Marion have given the project their hearty endorsement, and have agreed upon the chosen site in the Bicentennial Park. A selection committee has commissioned Erik Durant, a New Bedford sculptor, to create her life-size statue, which will be unveiled in the summer of 2020. He is already hard at work on this exciting project!
The Sippican Historical Society (SHS) has agreed to assist with donations so as to allow for tax deductions for donors. SHS has also donated $50,000 for the statue, and Tabor Academy generously contributed a lead gift of $10,000 to help kick off the project. The Celebrate Elizabeth Taber Committee encourages Marion residents to donate to the project by sending a check to the Sippican Historical Society at P.O. Box 541. For more information or to make a donation online, please visit sippicanhistoricalsociety.org. The goal is to raise $200,000, which will include lighting and landscaping the statue, as well as providing a maintenance fund to care for the statue in the future.
In the year ahead, there will be numerous chances to learn more about the Celebrate Elizabeth Taber project and to participate in her journey back to her native home by the sea. She is even coming to our Fourth of July Parade, pipe and all!