Ella Fountain Pratt papers, circa 1850-2008

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Pratt, Ella Fountain
Ella Fountain Keesler Pratt (1914-2008) was a Duke University employee for almost thirty years. Ms. Pratt was also a patron of the arts and community organizer in Durham, North Carolina. This collection contains documents, records, photographs, and notes that document her life as a Duke employee and Durham arts organizer. Items include personal notebooks, photographs of family and events, art exhibition catalogs, and audio recordings of performances at Duke University. The collection materials range in date from circa 1850 to 2008.
18 Linear Feet
Material in English
Collection ID:
University Archives Record Group:
29 -- Papers of Faculty, Staff, and Associates
29 -- Papers of Faculty, Staff, and Associates > 02 -- Individuals


Scope and content:

The Ella Fountain Pratt Papers contain materials pertaining to Pratts's personal life and professional accomplishments. A majority of the collection is comprised of personal correspondence, records, and news clippings that document Ella's education, her participation in the Durham Arts scene, and her experiences as a longtime employee at Duke University. Newer accessions also include photographs (largely unidentified and undated) of both Ella and her husband as well as their sons and Mr. Pratt's family as well as genealogical information, Mr. Pratt's correspondence, and materials pertaining to his education and work at Duke University, in addition to his service in the U. S. Navy during World War II. Of note is a letter signed by Richard Nixon soon after he was defeated in the 1960 election. The collection also includes notable autographs of the various artists Ella Fountain Pratt encountered during her lifetime. Items in the collection range from circa 1850-2008, with the bulk from 1960-2000.

Biographical / historical:

Ella Fountain Keesler Pratt was born in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1914. After graduating from high school, she attended Mississippi State College for Women (now known as Mississippi University for Women) from 1932-1936, where she frequently took part in theatre, dancing, and art-related activities. After graduation, Ella studied dance in New York City and taught classes in Mississippi and at Sullins College in Bristol, Virginia. Ella married her sweetheart, Lanier W. Pratt, in 1938 and the couple moved to Durham, North Carolina in 1940 where Mr. Pratt was a graduate student at Duke University. Lanier taught in the Classics department after graduation, eventually rising to the rank of Professor and then Dean. Illness caused Mr. Pratt's untimely death in 1956. That same year, Duke University hired Ella Fountain to help develop an arts program for the recently formed Student Union.

From 1956 to 1984, Ella Fountain helped shaped the arts community at Duke University by expanding the Student Union's art collection, helping organize exhibitions and artist talks, as well as enticing world famous performers like Itzhak Perlman, Leontyne Price, and Jean-Pierre Rampal to perform as part of the Duke Artists Series. Upon her retirement from the University, hundreds of letters of love and support flooded in from Duke students, alumni, faculty members, and administrators. But Ella's work with the arts was not done.

Over time, Ms. Pratt became a vital member of the Durham arts scene, contributing her ideas and experience to the Durham Arts Council. During her tenure as a DAC executive, she managed a grant program for Emerging Artists, helped paved the way for the American Dance Festival's relocation to Durham, and made possible a host of memorable performances including many concerts a folk festival featuring Pete Seeger, and several performances by the Triangle Opera. In 2002, a grand gala was given to celebrate her life's work with the arts and her accomplishments as a member of the Duke and Durham communities.

Ella Fountain Pratt died in 2008 at the age of 94.

Acquisition information:
The Ella Fountain Pratt Papers were received by the University Archives as a gift in 2009, 2012, and 2023.
Processing information:

Processed by Rosemary K. J. Davis, March 2012; Kimberly Sims, February 2013

Encoded by Rosemary K. J. Davis, March 2012

Updated by Kimberly Sims, February 2013

Accessions UA2009-0041, UA2012-005, and UA2013-0002 are described in this finding aid.

Hanging mobile added to finding aid by Tracy M. Jackson, February 2015

Accession UA2023-0026 added by April Blevins, October 2023


The collection is in roughly chronological/biographical order when possible, though much of the material is undated.

Nitrate negatives contained within the collection are in cold storage offsite. Due to conservation concerns, the negatives are non-circulating. Many of these images have been scanned and are available on the DVDs stored onsite at the University Archives.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Click on terms below to find related finding aids on this site. For other related materials in the Duke University Libraries, search for these terms in the Catalog.

Durham Council for the Arts
Duke University. Museum of Art -- Exhibitions
Art -- North Carolina -- Durham
Duke University
Pratt, Ella Fountain
Durham (N.C.)


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Collection is open for research.

Terms of access:

Copyright for Official University records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Ella Fountain Pratt Papers, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.