In 1936, Ruth Huntington Sessions finished her memoir, “Sixty Odd”. The book tells of Ruth’s childhood in Boston, Syracuse, and most importantly, at the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Home. At the time of publication, Ruth was 77 years old, living in her home now known as the Sessions House at Smith College. She opened up the home at the turn of the 20th century for students, soon to become a loved and respected house-mother for her boarders. Her work in Hadley and Northampton encapsulated much of who Ruth was: a woman deeply concerned with the care and well-being of those around her.
On November 3rd, 1859, Ruth was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts to Frederic Dan Huntington and Hannah Dane Sargent. An early aptitude and love for music likely stemmed from her parents; Hannah Dane often played piano in the church and at home for the family, and hymnals were never in short supply with Frederic Dan working as a pastor at Emmanuel Church in Boston. Ruth was the Huntington’s second youngest child, but this did not limit her excellent opportunities for education and travel. She attended private academies in her younger years, and in 1880, began her three year stretch studying piano with Clara Schumann in Germany.
Ruth married Archibald Sessions in 1887 and moved to New York City shortly thereafter, eventually becoming a mother to three children. She became actively involved in social reform at this time. As one of the original founders of the Consumer’s League, she was a leading force behind advocacy of improved factory conditions and child labor laws in the city. As an educated and thoughtful individual, she took time to write during these years as well. As an editor, poet, and author of several short stories and editorial pieces, she often left her publications signed only with her initials, “R.G.H”, as a way of never revealing her gender.
In 1893, Frederic Dan passed Phelps Farm onto Ruth after purchasing it from his cousins. The home became a well-loved summer retreat for Ruth just as the original Porter-Phelps-Huntington home was for much of the family. Her time was spent between Northampton and Hadley for the remainder of her life, where she founded the Children’s Home Association and worked with the Hampshire Bookshop. On December 2nd, 1946, Ruth died at 87 years old. Her legacy is easily found within the museum today, whether by her letters and publications, or pieces of the collection like her Kodak camera.
To learn more about Ruth’s story, please visit the Porter-Phelps-Huntington online finding aid at https://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/amherst/ma30_odd.html. In addition to online resources, many of her publications, letters, and related documents can be found at Amherst College Special Collections, the W.E.B DuBois Library at UMass, or at Smith College. As always, we suggest a tour at the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum to capture a glimpse firsthand of life at Forty Acres, just as Ruth experienced it a century ago.