About The Sister Project

LIKE AN UNPLANNED late-life baby, The Sister Project wasn’t meant to happen. What was intended was a book, co-authored by me (50-something Margaret Roach) and my younger sister, memoir-writing teacher Marion Roach Smith. While Marion was writing away diligently in 2008, I was over at my house carrying on a torrid a late-night romance with internet 2.0, and with WordPress in particular. One love child of that romance was The Sister Project, a blog network or family of related blogs: sister blogs, you might say. For three years, until late summer 2011, four of us “sisters” blogged together here actively.

The more Marion and I delved into our book idea, a joint memoir that circles around “nature or nurture?” puzzle of our same-but-different realities, the more I got to thinking about the other sister experiences out there.

What means “sister?” as the index card on my TSP office corkboard asked in 2008. What, indeed?

So I starting asking other women I came into contact with. Sisterhood starts like that: with the people closest to you. Like 40-something Paige Smith Orloff, one of the earliest commenters on my first blog, A Way to Garden. Paige (a foodie type) lives just up the road, it turns out (so much for the worldwide web; it’s also the in-your-backyard web, apparently).  I was struck how Paige was deftly mentoring her little girl to be a good sister to her son, despite having no first-hand experience with genetic sisterhood herself. I was likewise struck by how many “sisters” Paige had chosen for herself: sister-friends.

I also asked my “What means sister?” question of twenty-something Anastasia Smith, who lived similarly close by, the daughter to friends of mine and sister to a brother. I knew Anastasia (who is now in grad school for fiction writing) had delved into gender studies in college, and that she always hears feminism in the word sister, a kind of universal or collective sisterhood—another take on things.

The conversation just kept going, and with my genetic sister, Marion, we soon found ourselves in my living room, brewing TSP. Paige Smith Orloff and Anastasia Smith and Marion Roach Smith therefore form our TSP family tree so far, with one caveat: Though there are a lot of Smiths in the original cast, none of them is related, at least not genetically. Don’t ask.

“The Smiths” and I white-boarded and push-pinned our way to some initial thoughts, and to a structure for The Sister Project, a three-part blend:

The Blogs tab is, well, the personal blogs, each of our takes on the subject of sisters;

The Sisterpedia tab is the reference section, the trivia trove of sisterhood;

The Galleries are where we’ll serve up curated “shows” to shine a light on creative works by and about the subject of sisterhood: fine arts and crafts, poetry and fiction.

The Smiths and I continue the thread of “What means sister?” daily by IM and Skype, email and phone. It’s been nice being a small family, but we intend to grow and diversify, and that’s where you come in.

Your entries, which for now take the form of comments on the Blogs, in Sisterpedia and the Galleries, helped yield a network that suits all shapes of sisters.  Fill in the blank: You know you’re a sister when________. Though we are currently taking a breather to focus on each of our individual projects at the moment, there’s a rich archive of articles to root around in for some possible answers. Enjoy. –Margaret Roach, November 2008 (updated October 2011)


We are grateful to Erica Berger, a sister-friend to Margaret for two decades, for being our staff photographer at TSP, and creating all the photos on this page. That’s me and Marion (on a stool behind me, getting her makeup and hair tweaked for our family photos); Paige and then Anna were shot at the same team meeting. Meantime, you can enjoy an album she put together about growing up as sister to a brother, playing now in the Galleries.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Michelle Handwerker April 16, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Hi Margaret,
Sat with you at Oriole 9 across from Susan Richards on Sat. at the WWF…wish I knew about this project and could’ve spoken with you then . Also very interested in your dual memoir effort as that was why my husband and I were there, we are writing a dual memoir. But the Sister Project is so close to my heart and my work in the past decade and a half. I don’t have any genetic sisters but I have always been intrigued by the special something that all women have in common. It’s the sense of a deeper presence that lies below the facade of the ego/personality….I’ve always sensed it and reached for it. I see women having a powerful responsibility to tap the incredible power that lies in this place of sisterhood. I have been in the practice of Wholistic Health for over 30 years now and I see a powerful potential healing force in the authentic coming together of women. I have practice this in the form of circle gatherings and your idea of the blog is one powerful aspect of these gatherings i.e. hearing each other into speech. I write this now from our home in south Florida, I would love to invite you to share circle when I’m up at our Bearsville home early this summer.

warmest regards and sisterly hugs,

2 Janice Siverling Matthews September 7, 2011 at 8:20 pm

I am the youngest of four. I had two older sisters and a brother. I was nicknamed” the kid” due to our parents sending me along to observe them and tell; I’d watch them like a hawk but I never told or disagreed w/ what they told my parents. Nance never told anyone my name to her dates. I was “the kid”. Nance passed sept.23 2003.
This kid misses her. Sharon is 2 years older ;born w/cerebal palsy ,legally blind and mental challenged. She calls me her big little sister and she always will be my happy little big sister. We are in a race to save Sharon’s house in Hubbard ,Ohio. It was our childhood home . I moved away to Houston ,Texas in 1980 at age 20. Sharon graduated from Ohio school for the blind in 1983 and returned home to live w/ my parents; who passed in 1989 and 1998. The estate has been in litigation since 1998.So I am on a crusade to help my happy big sister fix her house and finalize the probate mess that she ; as a mentally challenged sister cannot.Our theme song is sisters by Irving berlin and love /the weather sisters ;songs from white christmas 1954.Sharon loves musicals and I hope any and all sisters out there would come meet us; the last week in sept /oct. at 6844 chestnut ridge rd(44425) to pray, work and love.We need sister hands,minds and go!!!!
get er done….sister style…Thanks to my sisters …I am who I am.Love ya all.”the kid” aka Janice Matthews

3 Jen @ Paisley Print Shoes October 20, 2011 at 12:06 pm

This is so neat!! My sister and I actually started a blog together this summer. We are polar opposites but blog about things we like because we think all women will like them! :) It has been a joy to work alongside my sister and I am so thankful for her. You ladies have a fabulous blog here!

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