Sarah Esther Ball — “Sadie” to her friends — was born on Nov. 9 in East Troy, Wisconsin in 1953 to Edward Hyde Ball and his wife, Sarah Eusilia Cobb. Edward was the owner of a grocery business.
Originally from New York, the Balls moved to Wisconsin — then a territory — in 1846. They had deep roots in the East Coast. Sarah traced her lineage back to William Bradford, a passenger of the first voyage of the Mayflower and signer of the Mayflower Compact.
Edward Hyde Ball was a devout man who believed in civic engagement and education. Sarah followed in his footsteps.
In 1877, Sarah married Charles Allis — the son of Edward Phelps Allis and Margret Watson. Charles worked for his father’s company the Edward P. Allis Company which later became the Allis-Chalmers Company.
The newlyweds first home was in Milwaukee’s Yankee Hill neighborhood. Then, like many of America’s rapidly growing upper class, Sarah and Charles took up residence in a luxury hotel where there was an extensive, built-in staff to care for their needs. For several decades the pair resided in Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel where they began accumulating their vast art collection.
Sarah and Charles were art lovers through-and-through. Together, they traveled the U.S. and Europe accumulation works they admired —delicate, carved coral from New Zealand, hand-painted porcelain from Japan, intricate prayer rugs from the Middle East, bronzes from Europe. Charles served as the first president of the Milwaukee Art Society and a trustee of the Layton Art Gallery. Sarah was an active member of the Women’s Club of Wisconsin which supported the arts and culture in Milwaukee in addition to its other various political efforts.
As their collection grew, Sarah and Charles contemplated the best way to display it, desiring to not simply keep it for themselves but to share it with their beloved city. The couple commissioned Alexander Eschweiler to design and build them a home on Milwaukee’s “Gold Coast” with the intention of one day converting the space to a museum for the community. They purchased a plot on Prospect Avenue in Sarah’s name, next door to Mary Ball Camp (Sarah’s sister).
After Charles' death in 1918, Sarah continued to travel and add to their art collection, instilling in her nieces a love for the world and art. In 1945, Sarah Ball Allis passed away, bequeathing the home and massive art collection she had built with her husband to Milwaukee along with a trust for its upkeep, asking the institution be named in her beloved husband’s memory. It was her hope that their art collection would “delight, educate and inspire” others as it had her.
Today, we continue to uphold the Allis’ legacy working to support the Milwaukee community through the arts and culture at the Allis.