Sunday, August 31, 2008

Lady of the House - Part 1

On December 26, 1928 , the Hannibal Courier-Post featured this headline:

Mrs. Laura Frazer--'Becky Thatcher' of Mark Twain's Stories and Sweetheart of His School Days Here--Dies at Age of 91

The headliner went on to read:

"The "Becky Thatcher" of the world's greatest books of humor and the childhood sweetheart of Mark Twain, their author, Mrs. Laura Frazer, died at 3:15 o'clock this morning at the age of 91 years. Her death came in the home of her son, Judge L. E. Frazer on North Fifth street, less than four blocks from the site of the little private school where she and Sam Clemens attended more than eighty years ago.

Mrs. Frazer was widely know as the inspiration for one of the most lovable characters in Mark Twain's books, little Becky Thatcher, and the famous writer often referred to her as the original."

The sketch above used in the headliner was an artist's drawing
made during the 1920's for a feature story
written earlier in the decade.

While much had been written for the character Becky Thatcher, there is remarkably little written about Laura (Hawkins) Frazer, the person.

Perhaps such could be attributed to Laura's era when women were not considered substantive figures in their communities as much as men were - or perhaps women themselves preferred a more anonymous existence, agreeable to societal expectations of female modesty. But then, this was not the era where all could look forward to receiving their "15 minutes of fame".

Here are some things that are known about Laura Hawkins:
-She was born in 1837 to Elijah and Sophia Hawkins in Georgetown, Kentucky.
-She was only a few years old when her family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, where they lived in a two-story frame house on Hill Street, across from the Clemenses.

The childhood home of Laura Hawkins at Hill Street between
3rd and Main. The house is currently undergoing
massive restoration. Photo courtesy of Wikepedia.

-She attended Van Rensselaer Presbyterial Academy in Rensselaer, Missouri (about 7 miles east of Hannibal).
-In 1859, she married James W. Frazer (1833–1875), a physician, with whom she had two sons - Judge L. E. Frazer of Hannibal and Ben Frazer who settled in Shreveport, LA.

Laura Hawkins in 1856 at age 19.
Courtesy of Mark Twain Museum archives.

- She became the matron of a Hannibal home for orphans and the indigent (Home of the Friendless) in 1895.
- Samuel Clemens visited with her in Hannibal in 1902 and in Redding, Connecticut, in 1908. He had left Hannibal in 1853 and went on to a literary career, portraying Laura Hawkins as Becky Thatcher in Tom Sawyer (1876) and Huckleberry Finn (1884), and used her name for one of the principal characters in The Gilded Age (1873).

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Bits and pieces of the personal side of Laura Hawkins have been immortalized in long-ago written memoirs and in the memories of the very few left who knew of her.

So, what was Laura like? Much that was original to this house clue us in to her life. Yet much has eroded or disappeared the way others' memories have.

We're grappling with restoring the house to showcase some of Laura's tastes and preferences during the latter part of her life. Any speculations or suggestions, readers?

MRS. LAURA FRAZER (LAURA HAWKINS)-"Becky Thatcher" serving tea in the Mark Twain home, Hannibal, Missouri, November 30, 1915, in memory of the author's birthday - Photo from The Mentor magazine, May 1924


Yo said...

Me costó entender un poco, no leo mucho inglés, pero al final pude comprender algo; no tenía idea de todo eso, muy buena la información. ¡Gracias!

I don't speak a good english; but i could understand some of the words, thank you very much for your information, I had no idea about this lady.

Chuck said...

I know you wrote this a while ago, but I wanted to leave a note. I'm so glad people are coming to Hannibal and rebuilding. I went to high school at St. Thomas Seminary - 245 N. Levering. It was (originally, I believe) Laura Hawkins's Home for the Friendless. My dormitory was actually where her office and living quarters had been. In our lobby we had a photo of Mrs. Hawkins with Samuel Clemens, probably from when he visited her in 1902. You may be able to contact some people to find it or get a copy. Carol Orscheln or Fr. Marion Makarewicz would probably know where it is!