Minister Waitstill Hastings Sharp (May 1902–1984) and Martha Ingham Dickie Sharp (25 April 1905–1999), 1939, Copyright www.yadvashem.org, Use consistent with fair use doctrine
Waitstill Sharp was born in Boston, the son of naturalist author and professor Dallas Lore Sharp and Grace Sharp, and a descendant of Thomas Sharp, a prominent immigrant to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Waitstill graduated Boston University in 1923, earned a degree from Harvard Law School in 1926, and earned a master’s degree from Harvard in 1931.
Martha Ingham Dickie was a first-generation American, the child of English immigrants to Rhode Island. Sadly, her parents’ marriage was unhappy, and her mother had a medical condition impacting her ability to raise children, so Martha was adopted and raised by relatives. She graduated from Pembroke College (the now-defunct women’s auxiliary of Brown University) in 1926 and then studied social work at Northwestern University. She eventually earned the position of Director of Girls’ Work, and served over 500 girls.
Martha and Waitstill married in 1927. The next year, Waitstill entered a master’s program at Harvard Divinity School, and Martha entered a master’s program in literature at the now-defunct Radcliffe College. Waitstill was ordained a Unitarian minister in 1933. They initially served a church in Meadville, Pennsylvania, then moved to Wellesley, Massachusetts.
View over Práha (Prague)’s Staré Město (Old Town)
The Sharps were very concerned about the events unfolding in Europe, and started an International Relations Club. Because of their work and interests, they were recruited to go to the former Czechoslovakia in 1939, to work with what would soon become the Unitarian Service Committee. They had to leave their two children, ages seven and two, in the care of friends.
Once in Czechoslovakia, the Sharps worked with the American Friends Service Committee to issue visas to Great Britain and other places willing and able to take all the refugees desperately trying to escape ahead of the Nazis. They also administered a relief programme. Once, Martha personally escorted 35 refugees to Great Britain. She also arranged for children to escape to Great Britain under legal loopholes. Martha only stopped her work in August 1939, after learning she faced arrest for continuing after the Gestapo had closed their offices.
In May 1940, the Sharps were asked to go to France as ambassadors, but their plans for a Paris office were cancelled after the Nazi invasion. The Sharps instead opened an office in neutral Lisbon. From Lisbon, they helped many people to escape Vichy France. Among the people they saved was historical novelist Lion Feuchtwanger, a fugitive whose discovery would’ve meant their deaths. They also assisted Czech soldiers trapped in France and trying to escape by sea. When their European post ended in 1940, Martha escorted 10 adults and 27 children to the U.S.
In May 1943, Martha founded Children for Palestine, an effort which was supported by Hadassah (a large, venerable Jewish women’s organisation). Together, they raised money for orphans to start new lives in Palestine (the name applied to Israel till 1948, contrary to what modern-day historical revisionists want to claim). In 1944, Martha returned to Lisbon, as Associate European Director of the Unitarian Service Committee, and gained the release of some Spanish refugees imprisoned in Portugal.
Sadly, in the 1950s, Martha and Waitstill divorced, feeling the strains and struggles of the war years had taken too big of a toll on their marriage. Martha later remarried a man with the surname Cogan.
On 13 June 2006, Martha and Waitstill became only the second and third people from the U.S. to be honoured as Righteous Among the Nations, after Varian Fry.