She was born in Farmington, Connecticut to Rev. Noah Porter (1781-1866) and his wife, Mehitable "Hetty" Meigs Porter (1786-1874). She was educated at Farmington Academy, and, uncharacteristically for women of the time, studied privately with Yale College professors. She taught in Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, and returned to Connecticut in 1847 to found a female counterpart to Simeon Hart's Academy for Boys. Initially she had only 25 students, but because of the school's expansive curriculum, including the sciences as well as the humanities, the daughters of the affluent soon made it their school of choice, and the school quickly expanded.
She was an opponent of women's suffrage but promoted other legal reforms for women.
Her older brother, Noah Porter, was President of Yale College from 1871 to 1886.
SarahPorter, unlike most women of her time, received a classical education from Yale professors who were willing to teach women "after hours." At the age of 30, in 1843, she established her own school but was unable to support herself, so she left to teach in Buffalo.
By 1885, SarahPorter had bought the original schoolhouse and surrounding land, as well as the Union Hotel on Main Street, to accommodate increasing numbers of students.
Though Porter was not in favor of women's suffrage, she did support reforms in divorce and property laws which had disadvantaged women.
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