Sarah Daft Home exists today because of the vision and determination of two women, founder Sarah Ann Daft and community activist Jennie Anderson Froiseth. Their biographies follow.
Born in Halifax, Yorkshire England, Sarah Ann Daft was one of the pioneers of Salt Lake City, arriving in 1856, at age 28. Sarah was a remarkable woman—for any era. Often called brilliant for her intuitive business sense, she continued as a keen entrepreneur, investor and real estate developer for over 20 years after her husband Alexander's passing.
Sarah was a major stock holder in the Independent Telephone Company and had significant investments in mining. Sarah's extensive real estate developments included the Daft Block on Main Street, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The majestic Daft Building at 128 S. Main Street features a Victorian Queen Anne façade and was designed by architect Elias L. T. Harrison in 1890.
Well-respected by the business community, Sarah also had a heart for those who were less fortunate. In early 1900s, there existed no housing in Utah for those described as the "indigent aged." Sarah was a true visionary when in 1904, she set aside funds in her will to establish and maintain a home for the "aged, infirm and blind of both sexes."
Sarah's niece, Mrs. C.E. Marks, spoke about her aunt in an undated article in The Salt Lake Evening Telegraph: "Oftentimes Auntie would remark that she wondered what she would do if she had not been so fortunate as to have means to provide for herself. This started her train of thought of providing for old folks who had no money or who might be left without support even though they had a home. 'I don't want it a poor house,' she would often say to me, 'Just a place where lonesome old people can go to live out their lives without worry where the next meal is coming from, or where they are going to get the winter's coal or necessary clothing.'"
Sarah passed away in 1906, at the age of 78. Surviving Sarah were her grandniece Eva Fleming Marks and her grandnephew Alex Stratton, both Utah residents.
In 1910, Salt Lake community activist Jennie Anderson Froiseth attended the opening of a new orphan's home. She mentioned to a friend that it was a shame there wasn't a similar place for the elderly. Jennie's friend told her of Sarah's bequest and how nothing had come of it. The money sat in the bank untouched. Three out of the four trustees named in Sarah's will supported the establishment of an old folks home but one of them refused to release the funds. Jennie picked up the cause running—and never looked back. She organized 75 of her women's club friends and formed the Sarah Daft Foundation in 1911. They rallied support to free the funds and took the case to court eventually winning after two years of litigation. After court costs, approximately $35,000 remained. Of this amount $8,000 was set aside for the grounds and $27,000 for the building.
The women of the Foundation led the efforts for the purchase of property, planning and construction of the stately Colonial Revival style home. The building was designed by architect William H. Lepper, who was also the architect for the chapel at Rowland Hall and St. John's Cathedral in Logan.
The Sarah Daft Home opened its doors in a temporary space on Third Avenue in 1912, moving into its grand permanent location in 1914. For a lifetime of perpetual care, residents were charged a one-time fee of $800.00. This fee was inclusive of all meals, medical attention, nursing, clothing, laundry, housekeeping and eventually, burial.
On November 2, 1913, The Salt Lake Herald Republican reported on the cornerstone laying ceremony, overseen by George H. Dern, grand master, Utah Masons. Justice Joseph E. Frick of the Utah Supreme Court spoke in high praise of the women who had succeeded, "in establishing a home such as has been needed here for some time and one which the state should assist in maintaining." Judge Frick called the site, "a most beautiful location for the old people to spend the evening of their lives." He said the home was not for the destitute but for those who wished to spend the last years of their lives in companionship of their kind. Mayor Samuel C. Park spoke along the same lines and said that it was the duty of the City of Salt Lake to see that the home was maintained. Mayor Park remarked, "We have met today to assist in the realization of a thought conceived in the mind of a noble woman. Agreeable to ancient custom, we lay the cornerstone of this building with ceremony and properly so, for it marks an epoch in the history of Salt Lake City."
The Sarah Daft Home remains one of the oldest nonprofit, continuously-operated assisted living facilities in the western United States. True to its original mission, "to provide affordable quality care in a homelike setting," it's still serving those whom Sarah Ann Daft had hoped to help more than 100 years ago.
Sarah's Journey from St. Louis to Utah
Sarah married fellow English immigrant, Alexander, when they arrived in St. Louis. The following excerpt is from the journal of Hannah Morrison Thatcher, who emigrated from England to New Orleans, Louisiana in 1853. Hannah eventually ended up in St. Louis, Missouri, where she met Sarah Daft.
In the spring of 1856, I had a chance to go to Utah with Mrs. Sarah Daft. I accepted it and left St. Louis in May, traveling by boat to Florence, Nebraska, where we camped seven weeks waiting for oxen to be brought. Some of the brethren traveled by land and bought them as they traveled along; then the oxen had to be "broken in" to the yoke. Some very amusing incidents occurred during the "breaking in" period. We got started about July 3rd and had not gone any miles until a wheel broke. Then two of the men had to go back to Council Bluffs to have it repaired.
Mrs. Daft, Jessie Field, one of the drivers and myself stayed all night in a lonely place, the main company having gone on. The two men returned the next day with the wheel and we started again but had not proceeded very far when an axle broke, which meant another lonely night. Fortunately, the company carried extra ones. Every day something happened to hinder our progress, slow as it was. As we neared Laramie, the Indians were numerous and came and stopped the wagon train. There were fifty-two wagons in the train, with a captain to each ten wagons. Each captain had to go among his company and see how much sugar, coffee, flour, rice, etc. could be spared for the Indians. By the time the Indians had received contributions from all the wagons they had quite a bunch of supplies and left us in peace.
After leaving the Missouri River, we could not get any supplies until we arrived at Fort Bridger. Soon after, we came into the buffalo country. At that time there were thousands of buffaloes. As far as we could see, the country was black with them. We had quite an experience with them. One afternoon there came up quite a wind and sand storm, which stampeded the buffaloes. They came towards us as hard as they could run, but when within about twenty rods of our train, they took a sudden turn and went another way. Some of the teamsters went to kill a buffalo but only succeeded in killing one of the men instead.
For two days we covered a stretch of country without water. The oxen became so wild when we began to near water they seemed to go crazy. One team ran away killing a ten year old boy who tried to stop them. We journeyed on until we arrived at the South Pass, where we were delayed two or three days by a violent snow storm. The cattle became crazed with the cold, stampeded and ran ten miles. The men had to round them up before we could make another start. We arrived at Immigration Canyon, where we were overtaken by the first company of hand carts that left Florence sometime after we did. We finally reached Salt Lake City the 3rd day of October 1856, but to tell all the incidents that happened would take volumes so I only mention a few.
—Hannah Morrison Thatcher
Photo credit: Utah State Historical Society
The Sarah Daft Home would not exist today without the diligent efforts of Jennie Anderson Froiseth, who tenaciously recruited 75 women to form the Sarah Daft Foundation in 1911. Jennie, along with her task force of determined women freed up Sarah's bequest and oversaw the property purchase, architectural planning and opening of the Sarah Daft Home.
Jennie Anderson Froiseth was an author, community activist and organizer. Feeling a bit displaced and longing for the intellectual privileges she enjoyed at her former home in England, Jennie formed a women's club in 1875. The club came to be known as, The Blue Tea. The name Blue Tea came from a group of 18h century intellectuals who met in London—the Blue Stockings. Jennie invited a few close friends with similar tastes, to meet weekly in her parlor for the purpose of reading and discussing their favorite books and authors. The Blue Tea evolved into an exclusive literary and cultural club with membership limited to 25 women.
Jennie was the mother of five children. Her daughters Ethylene Perkins and Dorothy Bracken inherited Jennie's passion for learning, becoming members of the Ladies' Literary Club—where each of them eventually served as its president. In recognition of her contributions to the women's club movement in Utah, Jennie was made an honorary member of the Ladies' Literary Club in 1927. With support from the Utah Heritage Foundation, The Blue Tea continues today, as part of an annual tradition celebrating the history and founding of the Ladies' Literary Club.
Jennie continued her life-long support of women, serving as vice president of the Utah Association for the Advancement of Women.