Louisa E. Harris: Papers, 1840-1905 | MSS 89.1

Historical Sketch:

            Louisa E. Harris was born on November 5, 1823. A resident of Roxbury Massachusetts, she enrolled in the first class at Lexington Normal School on October 17, 1839 and stayed until 1840. After graduation, she returned to her hometown and took a teaching position at a local public school. After leaving that position, she privately tutored boys, became head assistant in the Dearborn School, taught at a private seminary in Somerville, and then returned to the Dearborn school. She completed her thirty-three years of teaching in East Boston in the 1870s.

            In addition to her professional duties, Harris found time to maintain a vast network of friends over the years. This network included many friends from her Normal School days, such as Sarah W. Wayman from Roxbury. Harris spent much of her free time attending lectures given by leading speakers from the time. These lectures covered topics such as religion, education, morals and ethics, politics and social issues, which were of interest to contemporary audiences.

            Harris attended the first meeting of her Lexington Normal School class in September 1850; the reunion celebrated their graduation ten years earlier. From then on, the class held annual meeting until 1865. The class met on an irregular basis until the last formal meeting in 1895. Harris faithfully attended all these meetings, highlighting her fondness for her Normal School days.

            Harris’ family – father, mother, two brothers, and sister, Laura – lived in Roxbury, Massachusetts until 1842, when they relocated to Canton, Massachusetts. Although Harris visited her family frequently, she remained in Roxbury and rented a room in a boarding house. For the rest of her life, she continued to live in boarding houses located close to her teaching positions and continued to visit her parents and siblings during her frequent school vacations.

            After her retirement from teaching, Harris turned her hand to writing both fiction and poetry. She died on April 30, 1906.


Scope and Content:

            The Papers of Louisa E. Harris consist of ten volumes of journals begun by Harris prior to her start at Lexington Normal School. The first two volumes describe her experiences at the Normal School as well as her early teaching experiences. The eight volumes after 1843 describe her feelings, social activities, and family news and contain little on the educational practices of the time. From the 1880s to 1905, Harris reread these journals and occasionally penciled remarks in the margins. Some volumes have pages removed or entries cut out. Descriptions of individual volumes follows.


Volume 1: 1840, 1905. Volume purchased from William J. Reynold, Bookseller and Binder, Washington Street, Roxbury. Discussion of classroom subjects; events of Lexington Normal School; lengthy description of “County Education Convention” at the Baptist Meeting House and debates at this meeting; names of her classmates; poems; description of work, friends, lectures, and curriculum. Annotated in 1905 “By an aged woman.”


Volume 2: 1842-1843. Volume discusses Harris’ time teaching in Roxbury; living with father, mother, aunt Betsey, and sister before the family moves to Canton; hearing lectures by Theodore Parker on slavery and James Freeman Clark on religion; a normal school reunion; and poems. Six pages containing the end of the entry for Sunday, March 20 to the beginning of April 3 torn out.


Volume 3: 1843-1844. Contains reflections on sermons; trips; and thoughts on poetry and books.


Volume 4: 1844-1846. Entries describe internal conflicts; discussions on women’s intellect; loss of family and roommate; philosophical thoughts.


Volume 5: 1848-1851. Volume purchased at J. T. Bicknell and Co., Roxbury. Contains entries about internal thoughts, friendships, travel, books read, normal school jubilee, school examinations, the completion of waterworks in Boston, the California gold rush, family news, and a class meeting.


Volume 6: 1851-1852. These entries record impressions and opinions; Harris’ work at Dearborn School; family move to Bangor, Maine, home of brother Elbridge. A page is cut out and the volume was annotated in 1902.


Volume 7: 1852-1854. Family news; impressions of lectures and books read; dinner conversations; content of sermons; lines from Milton; death of Daniel Webster; opening of Manchester Free Library; classmate Rebecca M. Pennell, the niece of Horace Mann, is appointed professor at Antioch College; Louisa asked to become a student at Antioch but cannot afford to do so; attends lecture by Margaret Fuller’s brother.


Volume 8: 1854-1855, 1857-1858. Heard lectures by Dr. Channing, John Freeman Clark; discussion of books read; family news including death of her father; class meeting. The entries in this volume are less frequent, and many pages are cut out or mutilated.


Volume 9: 1863-1865, 1876. Change of job; trip to Niagara Falls; tutoring assignment in Lenox, Massachusetts; death of mother; move to east Boston; travel; death of Abraham Lincoln; essays.


Volume 10: 1877, 1881. Journal entries; some fiction and poetry writing.


Provenance: Charles E. Eschenburg, M.D., 1989.

Amount: 10 volumes


Container List:

            B.1       v.1       September 1840 to December 1840; some penciled notes: 1905

                        v.2       February 1842 to January 1843

                        v.3       May 1843 to June 1844

                        v.4       August 1844 to July 1846

                        v.5       July 1848 to April 1851


B.2       v.6       July 1851 to August 1852

                        v.7       August 1852 to March 1854

                        v.8       April 1854 to May 1858

                        v.9       January 1863 to June 1866; 1876

                        v.10     July 1877 to 1881