Who is Sarah Kidder?

Mrs. Sarah Kidder

Sarah Kidder became the first woman Railroad President in the world in 1901, adding to the historic nature of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Sarah Kidder was born in the Midwestern Territories as Sarah Ann Clark circa 18421 to parents Joshua and Hannah A. Rood Clark. She moved West to Oregon with her family around 1864. In Washington County Oregon, she met and married civil engineer John Flint Kidder in 1870 while he was building the Tacoma-Kalama section of the Northern Pacific Railroad in Washington Territory. In 1873, John and Sarah Kidder moved to California.

John Kidder’s extensive work with railroad surveying brought them to Grass Valley, California in 1875, where he became chief engineer, responsible for the construction of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad (NCNGRR), running from Nevada City, California, through Grass Valley, to Colfax, California, where it connected with the Central Pacific Railway. Construction was completed in 1876 and Kidder became the railroad’s General Superintendent by 1877. He went on to become the railroad’s President in 1884, along with serving as Secretary and Treasurer.

John Kidder was considered Nevada County’s most valued citizen, while Sarah Kidder assumed the role of a gracious hostess and socialite. They oversaw the design and construction of a 28-room mansion adjacent to the NCNGRR, where senators, dignitaries and celebrities were entertained, including Mark Twain and boxer John L. Sullivan.

Sarah Kidder did volunteer work with orphanages, and adopted her niece Beatrice in 1884. Beatrice went on to marry Harvard University graduate Howard Ridgely Ward, and had three children. Sarah Kidder reportedly accompanied her husband on service calls along the railroad, and was
acquainted with railroad operations. When John Kidder fell ill and passed on April 10, 1901, Sarah Kidder became the majority stockholder. As a highly resourceful and respected individual, on May 7, 1901, at the annual board of directors meeting, Sarah Kidder was elected President of the Narrow Gauge Railroad by a majority vote of 2,345 shares out of 2,502. With this vote, Sarah Kidder became the first woman Railroad President in the world.

Sarah Kidder ran the Narrow Gauge Railroad for twelve golden years, during which time, all back debts were cleared, shareholders were paid dividends (both for current and past years) and the Railroad enjoyed both profits and popularity. She was known and respected among businessmen for her acumen and ability to accept recommendations and welcome the changes deemed necessary to keep pace with a fast-growing region.

The Narrow Gauge Railroad attracted numerous prospective buyers due to its location and success. Sarah Kidder shrewdly negotiated, selling her shares and resigning as president in April 1913. Upon her resignation, the entire Board of Directors also resigned. The value of her Narrow Gauge Railroad shares was around $500,000, a comparable value today of approximately $14 million dollars.

Sarah Kidder had run the Narrow Gauge well, clearing the Kidder name of all outstanding business and litigation. She retired to a private life in San Francisco and died there in 1933, at the age of 91.

In honor of Sarah, John, and Beatrice Kidder, the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus planted three trees in Grass Valley’s Clamper Square. Plaques mentioning Kidder are located at either end of the railroad. The Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum added a ‘Kidder Wing’ exhibit in 2021 and its railbus is named after Sarah Kidder.

Odd factoids:
Sarah Kidder ran the NCNG Railroad from 1901 to 1913. These are known as “the twelve golden years.”

Sarah Kidder did not support women’s right to vote believing a woman’s place was at home.

Sarah Kidder’s father was a farmer.

Sarah Kidder’s mother was a housekeeper/homemaker.

Sarah and John Kidder’s remains rest in the San Francisco Columbarium.

Both Sarah and John Kidder were active in service clubs, such as the Mason and Odd Fellows.

John Kidder studied engineering, but did not graduate.

Sarah had seven siblings, including two sisters, Angeline and Jane Charity.

Sarah Kidder’s funeral announcement was published statewide due to her stature and importance in the
railroad business.

Sarah Kidder assumed management of the railroad to clear the Kidder name of any debt or litigation.

  1. Davis County, Iowa 1860 Census records show Sarah Kidder born in Davis County Iowa and living with
    her family in Iowa with Sarah’s age listed as 16. Other historians note her birthplace as Ohio. Her funeral
    record shows her at age 91 in 1933 at the time of her death. This document was prepared using census
    records, newspaper articles and written accounts of Sarah Kidder.

Who is Sarah Kidder? Events

Join the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum in celebrating Women’s History Month with a series of events recognizing Sarah Kidder, who was the first woman Railroad President in the world in 1901.

March 4, 2023
11:30 am
Women in History Talk with Associate Professor of Women’s History at Sierra College, Megan White

12:30 pm
Who Is Sarah Kidder Video Premier
A 10-minute game show introduction to “Who Is Sarah Kidder?” produced by the Nevada Union High School Broadcast Club in collaboration with Nevada County Media

12:45 – 3:00 pm
Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum Railbus tours

March 18, 2023
11:30 am
Join Nevada County Landmarks Commissioners Elinor Barnes and Bernie Zimmerman for a presentation on Sarah Kidder and other prominent women in Nevada County’s storied history.

March 25, 2023
11:30 am
Speaker Presentation and book signing with “Iron Women” New York Times best-selling author, Chris Enss.

Saturdays from March 11 to June 17, 2023
Enjoy the Kidder Wing Exhibit and a self-discovery 10-minute game show introduction to “Who Is Sarah Kidder?” along with Railbus tours from 9:40 am to 2:40 pm.

All events are at the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, 5 Kidder Ct, Nevada City, CA 95959, 530-470-0902 Visit https://ncngrrmuseum.org/ for details

All events are free and open to the public. Donations to Nevada County Historical Society, a non-profit 501c organization, are appreciated.

“Who Is Sarah Kidder?” is made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit www.calhum.org. Special thanks to Nevada Union

High School, Nevada County Historical Society, Nevada County Media, Nevada County Landmarks Commission and the many community members who are supporting these events.