Born to a distinguished abolitionist family, Sarah Mapps Douglass was the only daughter of Robert Douglass, a baker, and Grace Bustill Douglass, a milliner. Like many educated women, Sarah Douglass became a teacher. She also was an active abolitionist and joined her mother as a founding member of the bi-racial Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. Over the years, Sarah served on its Board of Managers, fair committee, and as librarian and recording secretary.
The Douglass family forged social and political networks with both black and white abolitionists. Sarah Douglass maintained a long and close friendship with Sarah and Angelina Grimké, daughters of South Carolina slaveholders. The Grimkés joined the abolitionist movement within the Philadelphia Quaker community in the early 1830s. In her letters to Sarah Grimké, Douglass revealed the pain of encountering race prejudice among fellow Quakers. The Arch Street meeting, for example, required blacks and whites to sit on separate benches. Although her mother continued to attend the Arch Street Meeting, Sarah eventually stopped attending.
A passionate educator, she taught black children and adults in New York and Philadelphia and served as secretary of the Female Literary Association. In 1853, she took over the girls’ preparatory department at the Philadelphia Institute for Colored Youth, offering courses in literature, science and anatomy.
In 1855 she married the Rev. William Douglass, rector at St. Thomas Episcopal Church and a widower with nine children. Her marriage was short-lived and apparently unhappy. After William died in 1861, she referred to her marriage as “that School of bitter discipline, the old Parsonage of St. Thomas.”