Julia Eastman was born on July 17, 1837 and Sarah Eastman on June 19, 1839, in Fulton, NY. The sisters grew up in poverty and hardship. Their father was a minister and their mother died when Julia was only six and Sarah four. In order to take care of the house, the sisters had to take turns going to school. Sarah graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1861 and Julia attended academies in Amherst, Monson, and Ipswich. Sarah taught at Western College in Oxford, OH, and Julia at Oswego Academy. In the 1860s and ’70s, Julia wrote books for boys and girls. Her best-known novel was Striking for the Right, published in 1873, and her publisher said that it was the best book for Sunday school libraries that he had ever seen. (Copies of Julia’s books are in the Dana Hall Archives.) Sarah was asked by Henry Fowle Durant to help with the organization of his new school, Wellesley College. When the school opened she was a professor in the history department and Julia taught a special course in essay writing. In 1880, Mr. Durant asked the
sisters to begin a preparatory school for Wellesley College in order to train women who were not academically ready for college-level work. They were initially reluctant and modestly thought they were not capable of heading a new school. Mr. Durant prevailed and they were an excellent choice to head the new school due to their impeccable gentility, high integrity and strong religious convictions. In 1881, the sisters rented the building at 66 Grove St. from Mr. Durant. The school was named Dana Hall in honor of the man whose property the school stood on, Charles Dana. It was “a school to
combine thorough scholarship with symmetrical womanly culture.”
By 1893 the enrollment increased to 116 students from the 18 students in 1881, necessitating an addition to the original building. The north wing was added and contained classrooms, recitation and music rooms, and a gymnasium. The Eastmans wanted as few rules as possible because Dana Hall was essentially a “Home School.” The government of the school was designed to “establish relations of mutual courtesy and honor between teachers and scholars” because “where self-respect and an ability for self-restraint on the part of the pupil are assured, reasonable regulations seldom fail to secure a loyal obedience.” Students went to church on Sunday and every morning and evening gathered in the school for prayers. Shot, the Eastmans’ water spaniel, was a regular visitor at morning prayers and he was the first of a memorable line of Dana Hall dogs. Katherine Lee Bates describes him at prayers as “sitting on his haunches, with his paw on Miss Sarah’s lap.” The faculty was expected to participate in all school activities. Dana had many loyal and fun-loving teachers such as Bates, Martha Bennett and Marie Louise Reuche. They enjoyed tobogganing with their students, taking part in skits, charades, and Halloween celebrations, and were always accessible for their students and the alumnae who returned for a visit.
On June 1899, the sisters relinquished their responsibilities as principals of Dana Hall and retired to live at 14 Denton Road. Their house was named the Orchard House after the apple orchard that was on their property. The house still stands today. They continued their interests in the Foreign Missions, the International Girls’ Institute in Madrid and the Peabody Home for Crippled Children in Newton, MA. They were members of the Board of Trustees of the school and spent several winters in Italy. After Miss Julia’s death on January 1, 1911, Miss Sarah continued to live in Orchard House surrounded by the lovely gardens and the apple orchard. Miss Sarah died on June 4, 1930. At the time of Miss Julia’s death, the sisters’ closest friend, Katherine Lee Bates, summed up the far-reaching influence of Miss Julia and Miss Sarah, “All their convictions and aspirations, too, they unconsciously transferred into the very being of the school through the medium of their own spirits — how finely fashioned,…how daintily and richly fulfilled in woman’s graces was known to the multitude who loved them.”