Lawrence history through the archives

Julia Stringfellow

(lawrence archives)

There have been numerous
marriages at Lawrence throughout
its history. In honor of Valentine’s
Day, this article looks at the
marriage of Emma Peabody and
William Harper that almost didn’t
happen.
Emma Peabody was the daughter
of George Peabody, a businessman
active in the Appleton community
and a Lawrence trustee. He
was the owner of the department
store Pettibone-Peabody and lived
in a house located where the Mudd
Library is today.
George was a widower whose
one daughter, Emma, served as the
keeper of the house and was active
in the arts in both Appleton and
Lawrence. Though she was only
in her late twenties, in the early
1900s she was considered a spinster,
and it was assumed that she
would never marry and continue
to live in her father’s house for the
rest of her life.
William Harper arrived at
Lawrence in 1908 to serve as the
new dean of the Conservatory.
Music classes were held in Main
Hall and Stephenson Hall of
Science; there wasn’t a building
designated as the home of the
Conservatory.
William met Emma, and they
quickly fell in love and wanted to
marry. Emma’s father forbade this:
William was divorced, something
that was considered quite scandalous
in those days, and he was
a musician. George did not think
William was worthy of his daughter
and did not believe William
could support her.
George learned he had inoperable
stomach cancer in early 1909,
and in September of that year,
nearing death, he drew up a new
will. He died a few days later on
Sunday morning, September 12,
1909, a few hours after his sixtieth
birthday. He was buried two days
later at Riverside Cemetery. A week
to the day after he died, Emma and
William were married by Lawrence
president Samuel Plantz, who was
also a Methodist minister.
A few days later, the contents
of George Peabody’s new will were
opened and read. The will included
a modest income for Emma since
George was determined William
would not live in any luxury off the
Peabody name. George wrote in the
will that if Emma remained single,
she would receive the bulk of the
inheritance. If she married Harper,
she would receive much less.
Emma was saddened when she
heard the news of the will, but
given that she and William had a
long and happy marriage, it seems
that she knew she made the right
decision.
Emma’s health was always very
frail, and William and she left
Lawrence and moved to southern
California in 1913. They lived there
until William passed away in 1947.
William’s body was brought
back to Appleton and buried
at Riverside Cemetery near his
father-in-law. Before Emma died
in 1954, her attorney sent a letter
to Riverside Cemetery stating
that Emma wanted to be buried
between her father and husband.
After her death, she was buried as
she had requested.
Both George and Emma contributed
money for a building to
house the Conservatory that was
built in 1910. When the Music-
Drama Center was built in 1959,
a wing of the building was named
in honor of Peabody while the
music hall was named in honor of
William, ensuring that Lawrence
would continue to remember
George, his daughter, and her husband.

(lawrence archives)

(lawrence archives)

(lawrence archives)

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