Col. Benjamin Ruggles Woodbridge, builder in 1788 of the Georgian-style mansion known as Sycamores, was leader of a group which urged Abby Wright (1774-1842) to establish a school in South Hadley for young women where needlepoint would be a strong part of the curriculum.
Wright, who grew up in Pittsfield and attended Westfield Academy, began teaching in South Hadley in 1893, and the school was an instant success. It is not known where she learned to work elaborate silk embroideries or where she purchased her materials. There is no evidence to suggest that she ever visited a town larger than Springfield before she founded her school.
The precise number of extant embroideries from the Abby Wright School is not known, but because of their high quality they are now parts of collections of the National Museum of American History, the Smithsonian Institution, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Williamsburg, Va., and Old Sturbridge Village, as well as the Jones Library in Amherst and th American History, the Smithsonian Institution, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Williamsburg, Va., and Old Sturbridge Village, as well as the Jones Library in Amherst and the Amherst Historical Society.
The embroidery held at Sycamores was acquired at auction in 2012 from the collection of the late Betty Ring, the foremost authority on this type of schoolgirl art. In Sotheby’s catalog it is described as “Rare and Important Embroidered and Painted Silk Mourning picture, Sophia Morgan, Miss Abby Wright’s School, South Hadley.” The embroidery depicts two women
in mourning adjacent to a plinth bearing two urns. The Sotheby’s catalog states that Sophia dedicated the embroidery to her mother, Tryphena Smith Morgan, who died in 1792 and to her sister, Theodesia, who died in 1804. The side of the plinth, however, is inscribed “This worked by SOPHIA, another Daughter, who died Feb. 21 1807. Sophia, born June 1, 1784, was evidently attending school at the age of 21 or older.
Sycamores purchased the embroidery after consulting with Wendy Watson, curator of the Mount Holyoke College Museum of Art, with the concurrence of her colleague, Marla Miller of University of Massachusetts, an authority on schoolgirl embroideries.