Sarah B. Cochran

By Kimberly Hess | 2017

Once called America's only Coal Queen, Sarah B. Cochran was a coal industry leader and philanthropist in an era when American women couldn't universally vote or serve on juries. By choosing to go out into the world and do the unexpected, she was able to support women's suffrage and education, and was the first female trustee of Allegheny College.

Sarah Boyd Moore was born on April 22, 1857 in Fayette County, Pennsylvania to farmers of such humble means that they couldn't afford enough clothes for her to go to school every day. As a young adult, she became the maid in James Cochran's home.  James was a self-made coal industry leader who was the first to sell coal's byproduct, coke, commercially. Coke was a key ingredient in the steelmaking process, and the steel and coal industries were about to generate incredible levels of wealth in western Pennsylvania. 

James Cochran's son, Phillip, fell in love and married Cochran on September 25, 1879. On September 21, 1880, Cochran gave birth to their only child, James. When her father-in-law died in 1894, Phillip assumed control of the family business. He believed in Cochran's intellect and taught her the business. Five years later, he died suddenly of pneumonia as a forty-nine-year-old coal magnate. Their son was the expected representative of the family's estate, but died on March 5, 1901 while studying at the University of Pennsylvania.

Already a vice president in the company, Cochran assumed many of her husband's business responsibilities and board service roles. Among these were president of the Brown & Cochran Coke Company, Washington Coal & Coke Company, Juniata Coke Company, Dawson Bridge Company, and First National Bank of Dawson. She was a founder and stockholder of Cochran Coal & Coke Company of Morgantown, West Virginia and the First National Bank of Perryopolis. The companies did business in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia when Cochran assumed control. Under her leadership, the business grew threefold and expanded to sell coke in England, France, Germany and Mexico. At one point, Cochran was called “the nation's only coal queen.”

As a widow, Cochran spent eight years traveling in Europe and Asia. Visits to St. James's Park in London inspired her plans to build her own Tudor mansion, named Linden Hall at St. James' Park, Pennsylvania. The mansion was built in the vicinity of her childhood home between 1911 and 1913. When it was finished, it had over thirty rooms, its own railroad stop, and a three-panel Tiffany window designed by Agnes Northrop. When sixty Italian stone masons, who did all of the mansion's stonework, wanted to stay in the US, Cochran sponsored them for citizenship.

Cochran used her position to support women's suffrage. In 1915, she opened Linden Hall to host a suffrage tea. The fundraiser was advertised in newspapers and drew at least 500 men and women, who listened to Dr. Anna Howard Shaw speak about suffrage and democracy. 

Cochran actively supported education. Sometimes by quietly financing higher education for local men and women who expressed an interest in it. In other cases, her support was more public. For example, she funded construction of Cochran Hall, a men's dormitory at Allegheny College, and donated to Otterbein College, Washington & Jefferson College, and West Virginia University. Known as the “Lady-Elect of Allegheny,” she was Allegheny College's first female trustee, serving from 1908 until her death in 1936. She was also a member of the board of directors of American University in Washington, DC, and in 1921, the Bethany College Bulletin recorded her contribution for the Sarah B. Cochran Chair of Philosophy at that college. 

In 1900 Cochran dedicated a Methodist church in Dawson, Pennsylvania to the memory of her late husband. This church was later destroyed when she presented its congregation with plans for a new, Gothic style stone church. Named for her husband, the Philip G. Cochran Memorial United Methodist Church was officially dedicated on November 20, 1927.   

After Cochran died on October 27, 1936, a memorial service themed “The Ministry of Woman” was held at the Philip G. Cochran Memorial United Methodist Church. The service featured ministers speaking about female Biblical figures and Cochran's life. Since her death, both the church and Linden Hall were added to the National Register of Historic Places.