There have been a number of outstanding ladies in the history of Richmond, several of whom have been included in Madison County history writings. However, there are some who were very significant leaders, but their contributions to this community have largely been forgotten.

One outstanding 19th century lady whose accomplishments have not been sufficiently honored was Mrs. Sarah Rollins Burnam. She was one of the original founders of the Pattie A. Clay Infirmary on Glyndon Avenue and a major supporter of that struggling little institution in its earliest days.

When Mrs. Burnam died at age 79 in 1904, she was described by the editor of the Climax newspaper as “the best known and most honored woman in Richmond’s history.”

A daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Anthony Wayne Rollins, she was born in Madison County in 1825. She grew up with many cultural and educational advantages. From her parents she learned the duty of being of service to those less fortunate than she was.

In 1845, Sarah married Maj. Curtis Field Burnam, that famous military, civic and financial leader who has been “written up” in Kentucky history books. There were eight children, all of whom lived to adulthood. Their sons were Anthony Rollins, Thompson S., Robert Rodes, James and E. Tut Burnam. In addition to Sarah, daughters were Mrs. Waller Bennett, Lucia and Sallie Burnam.

In 1892, Mrs. Burnam became one of the original members of the Pattie A. Clay Infirmary Association. She took that institution as her life’s work, and was at the time of her death president of that organization, as well as vice president of the infirmary’s board of directors.

So prominent in the city was Mrs. Burnam that her funeral was scheduled at 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning, with most churches canceling their morning worship services!

The Rev. Dr. Dodge conducted the service for the big crowd, assisted by another local minister and the Rev. E.H. Burnam of Virginia, brother of the 89-year-old surviving husband. In the next issue of the Climax, there were several columns of letters of grief and sympathy for the family. The officers of the association and the board of directors wrote that they wanted to “record our grief at the removal of this great cornerstone of charity, love and wisdom. Her heart ever throbbed in compassion for the infirmary and all there who sought relief within its walls.”

The entire board of directors attended the funeral as a group, and displayed a long rope of roses, carnations and sinilax tied with white tulle, which represented the long beautiful and useful life of Sarah Rollins Burnam. We need a lot more citizens like that wonderful lady!

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