Two Women from Different Childhood Backgrounds;
In Later Life They Were Bookends
Two women who were born in Mendon in the 1800's grew up in different backgrounds, yet in later
years, they shared a common bond that would affect the people of their community for many years to
come. As children, they were from drastically diverse circumstances in terms of wealth and education,
but as adults, they both had been inspired by beloved family members who influenced their lives in
meaningful ways. To honor their memories, they donated gifts that contributed significantly to the
cultural well-being of the town.
Susan Lee's childhood was devastating and sad. Her father, Ephraim Lee, was a shoemaker, and her
mother, Abigail "Nabby" (Benson) Taft Lee, was a widow with a previous child. Nabby died when
Susan was four months old, and her father died when she was four years old. The orphaned little girl
was sent to live with her uncle and aunt: Jared and Sally Taft Benson. They lived on a farm in the
Chestnut Hill section of Mendon. Her half brother, William Putnam Taft, was sent to Worcester.
Rosa George was from a family of privilege. She grew up in the federal farmhouse at 28 Main Street.
Her family was well educated and wealthy. She and her sisters graduated from Wellesley College. Her
father and grandfather had degrees from Brown University, and her brothers were graduates of
Harvard. One of her sisters taught at MIT, another at Wellesley, and the other was school
superintendent in Mendon. The Georges were successful educators, businessmen, town officials, and
It would seem that Susan and Rosa had very little in common. It was not until later in their lives, that
there appeared to be common links. Susan married William Huston in 1847 at the age of 23. They
moved to Providence, and she became a seamstress. Rosa married Arthur R. Taft of Uxbridge in
1889. He was a prominent banker and public official. Though they were from different financial and
educational backgrounds, their common links were that they shared an avid interest in literature, and
that Susan, Rosa, and Arthur had family ties to Robert and Sarah Taft of Mendon.
William Putnam Taft had been a literary inspiration to his younger half-sister, Susan. Living in
Worcester, he did not get to visit with her often, but his visits generally involved the discussion of
books. In his later years, in 1872, he was in the process of donating $3,000 for the creation of a library
for the town of his boyhood home. However, he died suddenly, and instead, the money was inherited
by Susan and her two siblings. She used her share to fulfill her brother's dream. She donated $1,000
for the establishment of a library, with one of the stipulations being that it be named in memory of her
brother. The new Taft Public Library opened in 1881. It was located at 3 Main Street at the brick
building that had been used previously as Seth Hastings' bank, a law office, a private school, a
residence, and a place to store town documents.
Arthur R. Taft, besides being a successful banker, businessman, and public official, was a life trustee
of the Uxbridge Public Library and an avid reader. He died in 1914, just about the same time that the
congregation of the Evangelical Union Chapel had dwindled to the point where the building was rarely
used. It coincidently was a time in which the volumes of books at the library had exceeded the confines
of the limited space provided by the brick building. Taking the opportunity to honor her husband and to
help out the town, she purchased the building in 1919 and donated it to the people of Mendon. She
also donated a substantial sum for its renovation and maintenance. Arthur's devotion to literature, like
that of his cousin William, would be acknowledged and memorialized.
Susan Lee Huston and Rosa George Taft paid tribute to two beloved members of Mendon's highly
respected Taft family. A love of reading and a devotion to cherished family members brought about a
common bond that created and expanded the Taft Public Library. Though from diverse childhood
experiences, Susan and Rosa shared a unified virtue of philanthropy and created opportunities for
future generations to share their love of reading.
June 5, 2012