Eliza Gill Ward Follett was born in Albany, New York on September 17, 1801 to Daniel and Martha Ward. Her father died during the war of 1812, and her mother found it impossible to keep the children together, so Eliza lived with various relatives, and worked at household tasks, often feeling neglected and lonely. She married Oran Follett on November 22, 1832 in Fairport, New York. They moved to Sandusky in 1834.
Mrs. Follett was a highly respected member of the community. She was described as “active, unostentatious and faithful worker in this city, doing good, relieving the afflicted, encouraging the fearful, smoothing the pathway of those tempted to go astray, and yet never for a moment forgetting or neglecting the duties she owed her own family. From one end of our city to the other, in out of the way places, in hovel, in every abode of want, this patient, tireless and cheerful spirit was at hand helping and comforting and blessing those who but for her love would have no friends on earth…. If pecuniary assistance were not needed, some more gentle means of relief than the supplying of bodily necessities were sure to be extended by this friend of humanity. A bunch of flowers left in the sick room, a cheerful word of token, slight in itself, yet bearing golden fruit, was ready to witness of unselfish devotion to others. But it was peculiarly to the soldiers and their families during the dark days of the war that Mrs. Follett proved a friend and a comforter. From the opening day of the war to its close she gave herself up to the watchful care of the soldiers and their families. Rain and storm, cold could not keep her back from what she called her duty and loved to regard as a privilege, and today there is no man in this city whose death would be mourned as a personal loss by so many men, women, and children as will be the death of this unassuming woman, who went about doing good because she loved to do good.”
A neighbor said of her “Unless Mrs. Follett was going to church or to some social function, I never remember seeing her leave the house without carrying a bowl of soup. A plate of dainties, a basket of fruit or cooked food, or a bunch of flowers for some sick, needy or lonely person.”
She was generous to a fault. Her gifts of food, clothing and coal were so substantial and so numerous that they taxed the purse of her willing but more prudent husband. She was known to take garments off her back and leave them where she found distress.
A tender and skillful nurse, she never failed to minister at the bedsides of the sick, often spending days and nights away from home during critical illnesses. During a small-pox epidemic, she walked unscathed through the danger of contagion and fearlessly nursed cholera patients with her husband’s help, when doctors and nurses could not be procured, thus saving many lives. Her granddaughter said that she led a charmed life, that she was so selfless, so absorbed in others that no ill befell her.
She felt strongly against slavery and helped countless slaves on their journey to freedom, clothing, feeding and warming them on their way to Lake Erie and Canada. Her husband, Oran Follett also sympathized with the slaves, however he would remonstrate her with “Wife, it is against the law” and she would say “Husband, there is a higher law.”
During the war, she emptied the parlors of furniture and local women met there to pick lint and make bandages which were shipped off to hospitals at the front.
Her granddaughter wrote “I never shall forget going to market with—the walk down Columbus Avenue was like a triumphal progress. It took a long time to make the day’s purchases, because people crowded around her for a smile or word of greeting, or to answer inquiries regarding their well-being and that of their families."
Eliza Follett died April 29, 1876 in Sandusky. Her funeral at the Presbyterian Church was crowded to standing room only, and there were hundreds more people lined up outside in their carriages, having come from all over northern Ohio to pay their silent tribute.
(The Follett family pew in the Presbyterian Church, decorated as a memorial to Eliza Follett.)