Life and legacy of ‘Miss Fanny’

Published 7:18 pm Monday, July 3, 2023

Frances Lawrence Webb (Miss Fanny) was born on Dec. 16, 1868 – on a small farm which was part of the Lawrence estate in the South Quay community adjacent to the Blackwater River, just south of Franklin. It was there that she spent a good part of her childhood.

Her father, Louis Henry Webb (1827-1902) was born in North Carolina of New England parentage but was a devoted southerner at heart. Her mother, Gattie Anna Lawrence (1842-1910) was born at South Quay.

Throughout the Civil War years, he served as a captain in Company “A” of the 13th Battalion, North Carolina Artillery, Confederate States of America. One of his primary duties was to defend river crossings and guard railroads in this part of Virginia.

In 1963, at the age of 95, Miss Fanny wrote a book about her life experiences. The book, entitled “RECOLLECTIONS OF FRANKLIN and HISTORICAL SKETCHES OF SOUTHAMPTON COUNTY,” was edited by noted attorney and historian John C. Parker of Franklin. The book is available at the Ruth Camp Campbell Library, in Franklin, and at the Walter Cecil Rawls Library and Museum, in Courtland.

In the book, Miss Fanny told much of her story: “It was in the South Quay area that my father met and married my mother in 1864. My mother was born at South Quay. Army guards surrounded them during the marriage ceremony.” After the war, they spent the remainder of their lives in the South Quay area and Franklin.

“At South Quay, my sister (Celestia Goodrich Webb (1866-1948), two years my senior, and I spent the first few years of our early childhood in happy intercourse with nature around us, knowing nothing of the big world outside and caring less. Our own world was satisfying.” Years later, Sister Gattie Olivia Webb (1878-1959) was born.

“Twice weekly, we made a pleasing trip to the post office at South Quay, where the steamboat from Franklin brought the mail. It was exciting to watch the boat pull up into the little wharf, and load or unload any stray bit of freight that may have wandered in from outside, to watch the mail bag opened and to grasp eagerly for our share – usually letters from my father who was much in New York.”

Fanny was 8 years old when the family moved to Franklin. They resided in a very large federal style house at the very end of West First Avenue. Apparently, Captain Webb, in Virginia, was a merchant and, from time-to-time, a farmer. Before moving to Virginia, he and his father William G. Webb were both listed as general dealers in dry goods, groceries, and hardware in Richmond County, North Carolina.

In the book, Miss Fanny made reference to her early days in Franklin – and the education that she acquired there: “There were few schools available at that time, so we came to be taught entirely in the home. And I had the unique experience of becoming a teacher without ever having spent a day in a legitimate schoolroom. Guided and encouraged by my fatathr, a man of wider and more general information than any other I have known, and prodded continually by my far more intellectual sister, I collected a sort of miscellaneous education which has served me in irregular fashion through all these years.”

“At the advanced age of 16, I left home in Franklin to become a governess in the family of a relative in North Carolina. There, I collected material for a small private school, which gave me employment for seven years.”

“In Wilmington, N. C., I secured an appointment with the city schools. There, I lived with an aunt and taught for the next seven years. At my aunt’s death, I resigned my work in North Carolina and returned to Franklin – about the turn of the century.”

Back in Franklin, Miss Fanny resumed her educational career. “This necessarily gave me only a fragmentary life in Franklin and from going away until my return I was a stranger to the town. But I took up my residence here and, with a hopeful view of the future, established a small private boarding school – the Euphradian Institute.” It was named for a school in Rockingham County, N. C. where Capt. Webb’s mother was graduated. With Fanny as the principal, her sisters Celestia and Gattie, as teachers, joined with her in conducting the school – a co-educational institution in primary and intermediate grades as well as in high school and college preparatory work.

“After 30 years, I decided to give up this class of work and devote myself to teaching shorthand, typing, and business methods, and called my school the Webb School of Business and continued to the age of 87 or 88.

Miss Fanny was very much involved with the establishment and development of the Franklin Library; for a period of time during the 1940s, she served as the library board chairman. As a member of the Franklin Book Club, she was actively involved with that organization and was encouraged to write her book. In 1950, the Franklin Business and Professional Women’s Association awarded Miss Fanny with the organization’s First Citizen Award. In presenting the award, Malita Rawls Askew recognized Miss Fanny for her extraordinary contributions toward the educational and cultural development of the Franklin community.

Miss Fanny died in 1964 at the age of 96.

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is