Sarah Lindsay Patton was born in Lindsay, Virginia, on May 9, 1906, to Jane Stringfellow Patton and Robert Williams Patton. Known by the nickname "Patty," she was educated at home and, because of undiagnosed dyslexia, did not learn to read until she became a teenager. She studied painting for six years at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. Her father was an Episcopal clergyman and a racial moderate who served for twenty years as the director of the American Church Institute for Negroes, which oversaw several black colleges, yet Boyle nonetheless developed a strong commitment to segregation during her childhood. In 1932, she married Eldridge Roger Boyle II, a drama instructor at the University of Virginia, with whom she had two sons: E. Roger Boyle III in 1939 and Patton Lindsay Boyle in 1943.
At the same time, Boyle began to write newspaper and magazine articles and letters to the editor calling for immediate integration and improved communication across race lines. Her commitment to civil rights continued, and late in 1954 she was one of the few white witnesses to appear before a committee of the General Assembly to denounce efforts to block the desegregation of the state's public schools under the Massive Resistance policy declared by U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. Her campaign attracted little attention in Charlottesville, however, until February 1955, when the Saturday Evening Post published one of her articles and changed her original title from "We Are Readier Than We Think" to the more incendiary "Southerners Will Like Integration." The purpose of the article had been to reassure other white southerners that segregation could be ended without animosity; yet the title, along with a photograph of Boyle standing next to two black male medical students, raised the specter of interracial sex in the minds of many white readers, and Boyle was soon deluged with hate mail and threatening phone calls. The social isolation she faced in Charlottesville at this time was dispiriting; local segregationists burned a cross in her yard and she became so depressed that, despite her previous idealism, she contemplated suicide.
In the mid-1950s, Boyle traveled extensively for the new Virginia Council on Human Relations, recruiting members throughout the state as the interracial organization's only field worker for three years. Boyle withdrew from active membership in the state council by 1960, as she had come to see it as a refuge for moderates. Subsequently, she joined the NAACP and early in the 1960s was appointed to the Virginia advisory committee of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. In 1963, Boyle participated in the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and in 1964, while taking part in a demonstration against hotel segregation in St. Augustine, Florida, she was arrested for the first time. Equally significant was her role in denominational politics as the only female member of a civil rights advisory committee of the National Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church and her receipt of the woman-of-the-year award in 1956 from the National Council of Negro Women.
In 1965, she divorced and moved to Arlington, further subdued by exhaustion caused from ideological shifts within the movement. She retired from race politics in 1967. Nonetheless, her compassion for the underrepresented continued and in 1983 she published a third book, The Desert Blooms: A Personal Adventure in Growing Old Creatively, which focused on age discrimination. On February 20, 1994, Boyle died at her home in Arlington due to complications stemming from her battle with Alzheimer's disease.
- The Desegregated Heart: A Virginianian's Stand in Time of Transition (1962)
- For Human Beings Only (1964)
- The Desert Blooms: A Personal Adventure in Growing Old Creatively (1983)
May 9, 1906 - Sarah Patton Boyle is born in Lindsay, Virginia.
December 26, 1932 - Sarah Patton Boyle marries Eldridge Roger Boyle II.
February 1955 - Sarah Patton Boyle authors an article for the Saturday Evening Post titled "Southerners Will Like Integration," earning her fame but also an intense backlash. A cross is burned on her Charlottesville front yard.
1962 - The Desegregated Heart: A Virginian's Stand in Time of Transition by influential white civil rights activist Sarah Patton Boyle is published.
August 23, 1963 - Influential white civil rights activist Sarah Patton Boyle participates in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
1964 - For Human Beings Only, an etiquette manual by influential white civil rights activist Sarah Patton Boyle, is published. Boyle is also arrested for the first time for demonstrating against segregation.
1967 - Sarah Patton Boyle retires from civil rights activism due to personal exhaustion and ideological shifts within the movement.
1983 - Focusing her attention on age discrimination, former civil rights activist Sarah Lindsay Patton Boyle publishes The Desert Blooms: A Personal Adventure in Growing Old Creatively.
February 20, 1994 - Sarah Patton Boyle dies at her home in Arlington.
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First published: February 10, 2009 | Last modified: April 26, 2011