Catharine Sargent Huntington was a prominent actress, activist, and Boston society member. The only daughter of George Putnam Huntington and Lilly St. Agnam Barrett Huntington to survive past infancy, Catharine was born on December 29, 1887 in Ashfield, Massachusetts and grew up in Hanover, New Hampshire. With the help of her donation of the North Garden, Catharine’s brother Dr. James Lincoln Huntington donated the house and grounds of Forty Acres to create the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Foundation.
As a young adult, Catharine lived at Cedar Square, Roxbury with her aunt Kate Sumner and attended private school in the Boston area. After graduating from Radcliffe College, Catharine went on to help found the Boston Stage Society. Catharine was associated with many theaters including the Peabody Playhouse, the Brattle Theater, the Tributary Theater, and the Poet's Theater.
While living in Boston, at the age of forty, Catharine was arrested for protesting the death-sentence of Sacco and Vanzetti. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian-born US anarchists who were wrongfully convicted and executed for the murder of a guard and a paymaster during the armed robbery of the Slater and Morrill Shoe Company in April1920. Catharine was one of the one-hundred-and-fifty-six people arrested for sauntering and loitering in August 1927 as part of the Sacco and Vanzetti “Death Watch.” Catharine appealed her $10 fine, which was double that of one-hundred other members of the “Death Watch.” A Boston Globe article from August 24, 1927 titled "Death Watch” To Make Test Case, includes the following:
“Miss Huntington, whose address is 66 Pickney St, said her family had been here for 300 years and read a statement maintaining she had a right to protest as she did.”
In December, Catharine went to trial with seven other members of the “Death Watch.” Among the other members prosecuted were American trade union organizer and Socialist Party leader Powers Hapgood, American poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay, and the great American novelist Jon Dos Passos.
After her involvement in the “Death Watch,” Catharine continued to surround herself with theatre and activism. In 1938, she founded the New England Repertory Theater on Joy Street in Boston. Catharine owned and operated the Provincetown Playhouse on the Wharf from 1940 to 1973. This structure replaced the original playhouse that existed from 1915 to 1924. In 1965, at the age of seventy-eight, Catharine was awarded the Rodgers and Hammerstein award for "having done the most in the Boston area for the American theater." On her 97th birthday, she was recognized by Gov. Michael Dukakis and the Massachusetts Legislature for her contributions to American theater. Catharine Sargent Huntington’s passionate life continues to influence and inspire those interested in theatre and justice in the Boston area and beyond.
For more information about Catharine Sargent Huntington, visit the Finding Aid to the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family Papers here, see a photograph of her wearing Elizabeth Pitkin Porter's wedding dress here, and read the articles from the 1927 Boston Globe below.