Mrs. Dahlgren was born Sarah Madeleine Vinton in Gallipolis, Ohio, on July 13, 1825. Her father was Samuel Finley Vinton (1792-1862), a congressman and a leading figure in the national Whig party. Her mother was Romaine Madeleine Bureau. Mrs. Dahlgren was educated at Picot's boarding school in Philadelphia, and at the Convent of the Visitation in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. In June 1846, she married her first husband, Daniel Convers Goddard, a lawyer from Zanesville, Ohio. However, he died only five years later leaving his wife and two children, Vinton Augustine and Romaine, who married the Baron de Overbeck of Germany. On August 2, 1865, she married Admiral John Adolph Dahlgren (1809-1870), the famous naval officer and inventor of the Dahlgren gun. Together they had three children, Ulrica Mary Madeleine, Eric, and John Vinton.
Admiral Dahlgren had three sons from an earlier marriage to Mary Bunker (1839). Ulric Dahlgren (1842-1864) was a soldier in the army and would go down in history having been killed in an unsuccessful mission to liberate Federal prisoners in Libby Prison and Belle Isle, Richmond, Virginia. Another son, Paul, also in the army, died in 1874. Admiral Dahlgren's eldest son, Charles Bunker Dahlgren, was an engineer and captain in the navy. After his father's death, he would write and present many technical papers on military weaponry, including the Dahlgren gun.
John Vinton Dahlgren was a well-known lawyer, whose work as attorney of the New York Department of Buildings, culminated in his book, 'Dahlgren's Building-Law Manual' (1897). He was married to Elizabeth Drexel, the third daughter of Joseph W. Drexel of Philadelphia. His brother Eric Dahlgren married Lucy Drexel, Elizabeth's sister, and the second daughter. John Vinton and Eric are alumni of Georgetown University. The former graduated with an A.B. in 1889, an M.A. in 1891, LL.B. 1891, and LL.M. 1892. Eric entered in 1881 but did not graduate.
Always interested in writing, Mrs. Dahlgren took to authorship as a means of livelihood, after her first husband's death. She contributed many poems and short stories to the New York Tablet and other newspapers. A collection of her writings was eventually published using Mrs. Dahlgren's pseudonym, 'Corinne,' under the title of 'Idealities' (Lippincott, 1859). Well versed in several modern languages, Mrs. Dahlgren translated various foreign language works: 'Pius IX and France in 1849 and 1859' by Charles Forbes Rene de Tryon, Count of Montalembert (from French, 1861); 'Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism Considered in Their Fundamental Principles,' bu Juan Donoso Cortes, Marquis of Valdegamas (from Spanish, 1862); and 'The Executive Power in the United States: A Study of Constitutional Law,' by Charles Adolphe de Pineton, marquis of Chambrun (from French, 1874). Prose works by Mrs. Dahlgren include, 'Thoughts on Female Suffrage, and in Vindication of Woman's True Rights,' (1871); 'Memoir of Ulric Dahlgren,' a revision of a manuscript by her husband John A. Dahlgren (1872); 'Memoir of John A. Dahlgren, ' (1882, 1891); 'Etiquette of Social Life in Washington,' which went into five editions (1873-1881) with a final edition entitled, 'The Social-Official Etiquette of the United States' (1894); and 'Samuel Finley Vinton, a Biographical Sketch,' (1895).
As the foregoing titles testify, Mrs. Dahlgren was a recognized authority on social etiquette and was often to be cited in the newspapers as the 'social queen.' Moreover, she published frequently on such matters including the subject of early marriage. Mrs. Dahlgren was also an adamant anti-suffragist. In January 1878, she and Ellen Ewing Sherman (wife of William T. Sherman) among others, went before the U.S. Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections to lead an argument against a delegation proposing a sixteenth amendment to the Constitution that would allow women to vote. Many articles preserved in the scrapbooks in this collection publish the heated correspondence between Mrs. Dahlgren and the notable advocates of women's suffrage of the time, including Isabella Beecher Hooker and Virginia Louisa Minor. A fairly prolific novelist, Mrs. Dahlgren published numerous books including, 'South Sea Sketches' (1881); 'South Mountain Magic' (1882); 'A Washington Winter,' (1883), a caricature of Washington society, this was perhaps her best-known work; 'The Lost Name' (1886); 'Lights and Shadows of a Life' (1887); 'Divorced' (1887); 'Chim, his Washington Winter' (1892); 'The Secret Directory' (1896); and 'The Woodley Lane Ghost and Other Stories' (1899). Reviews and announcements of many of these are included in her scrapbooks. A complete listing of published works by Mrs. Dahlgren can be found in The National Union Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints.
In 1873, Mrs. Dahlgren founded the Washington Literary Society, for which she acted as vice-president. Meetings were generally held in her home at Thomas Circle, Washington, D.C. A fair amount of its activities were followed by the press, as the many scrapbook newsclippings testify. Mrs. Dahlgren was also a president of the Ladies Catholic Missionary Society. Mrs. Dahlgren died on May 28, 1889. She was buried on South Mountain, Maryland.