Pratt family papers  1854-1935 (bulk 1865-1895)
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Biography

Emma Louise Pratt (b. 1864) was the daughter of William J. and Emeline (Proctor) Pratt of Revere, Mass. Throughout her life, she maintained a series of close, even intense, relationships with the members of her family and with female friends. In many ways, Emma became the stable center of a far-flung orbit of family and friends that took in every corner of the nation.

Although her immediate family was small, consisting only of her parents and one brother, Willie, Emma was tightly integrated into an extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins that retained an integrity even across continental distances. As solid members of the white middle class, her relatives were anxious to take advantage of what they felt America had to offer, and used geographic mobility as a means to their ends. Emma saw several of her relatives and friends leave Revere for better prospects during the years following the Civil War. Her cousins, the Proctors, moved onto a farm in Wisconsin, and later a few of them immigrated even further, to Montana and Washington territories. Her aunt and uncle Homans, Olive and William, settled in Missouri, where they farmed and kept school, and other cousins, the Rentons, ran a lodging house in East Gloucester, Mass. For her childhood friends, too, Emma became an important center of stability as they grew older, married, and dispersed.

As a result, separation became a minor theme in Emma's life. Her family, for example, took in a young cousin, Emma Proctor, after her mother's death, only to see her return to Wisconsin when her father, Alfred, remarried. As an adult, in a pattern typical of the family, Emma Proctor herself traveled widely across the west, eventually ending up settling in Montana with a brother who had moved there previously. Similarly, Emma Pratt's close girlhood friends, Lola Jefferds and Claribel Tilton, moved away from Revere, though less far afield than the Proctors. Most traumatically, Emma lost her beloved brother in a drowning accident in 1888, and two years later lost one of her favorite aunts, Augusta Renton. It may be significant that after allowing herself a vacation in 1891 to visit Lola, Emma was beset with worries about being away from home and was troubled with feelings of guilt for taking a holiday at all.

Emma continued to live in Revere until at least the late 1890s, living with her parents. As a teenager, she struggled with complex feelings of dependency on her parents and a sense that she was a financial burden for not holding regular employment. At one point, she hoped to become a dressmaker, but apparently never received the necessary training, and she resisted the idea of marrying, preferring female friendships, instead. In the late 1890s, when she was well into her thirties, Emma may have been courted by a young man, Oscar W. Grover, but there is no definite record of their marriage.

Laura W. Stebbins, originally from Springfield, Mass., bears an uncertain relationship to the Pratt and Proctor families. She seems to have been a rare individual who received the admiration of many of those who knew her through her sincerity and devotion to helping others through her career in education. As early as 1852, Stebbins may have had an affiliation with the well-known Maplewood Female Seminary in Pittsfield, Mass., as either a teacher or student, and by the mid-1850s, she was accepting pupils of her own in Springfield. Throughout the decade, she maintained a correspondence with friends and former pupils teaching in various parts of the country, sharing information on education and their teaching experiences. One of Stebbins' colleagues, identified only as Jennie, taught at Jessamine Hills Seminary in Mississippi in 1855, where Stebbins herself may have taught briefly.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Stebbins responded to the pressing need for experienced educators to assist in the task of teaching freedmen. Between 1865 and 1869, at least, she worked as a teacher and volunteer worker in Virginia and the District of Columbia, joined in her efforts by Eugene Stebbins, probably a brother, who worked for the shipyard in Norfolk, Va., and, after August, 1865, for the Freedman's Bureau.