Prettyman, E. Barrett (Elijah Barrett), 1891-1971

Alternative names
Birth 1891-08-23
Death 1971-08-04

Biographical notes:


From the description of Papers of E. Barrett Prettyman, 1901-1971 (bulk 1945-1965). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 71060869

Katherine Anne Porter once wrote that knowing Elijah Barrett Prettyman, Jr., during the last years of her life made those years worth living. Prettyman, a Washington, D. C., attorney, became her lawyer and friend in 1966 and continued his professional and personal relationship with her until her death in 1980.

E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr., was born on June 1, 1925, in Washington, D. C., to Lucy Courtney Hill and Elijah Barrett Prettyman, a prominent U. S. Court of Appeals judge. He earned a B.A. from Yale University in 1949 and an LL.B. from the University of Virginia in 1953. He was married twice and has two children from his first marriage.

From 1953 to 1955, Prettyman served as a law clerk to U. S. Supreme Court justices Robert H. Jackson, Felix Frankfurter, and John M. Harlan. He was admitted to the bar in 1954 and within three years argued a case before the Supreme Court, the first of nineteen cases he would present before the court by 1995. He became an associate with the law firm of Hogan and Hartson in 1955 and was named a partner in 1964. In 1963, Prettyman served as special assistant to U. S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and was an aide to presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1963 to 1964. He was also the first president of the District of Columbia Bar Association.

Prettyman's first contact with Katherine Anne Porter came in 1962, when he called her after reading Ship of Fools ; they met the next day. In April 1962, he wrote to request that she autograph his copy of that book, and she fulfilled his request.

Prettyman greatly admired Porter and her writings, in part because he was a writer himself. In 1961, he published Death and the Supreme Court, which won two awards: the Mystery Writers of America Award for the best fact-crime book of the year and the Scribes Award for the best expression for the lay reader of the aims and purposes of the legal profession.

In 1963, Prettyman invited Porter to participate in a symposium on classic literature at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., but she was unable to accept. In May 1966, she contacted Prettyman seeking his professional advice on her will. That contact led to both a professional relationship and an intimate friendship. Porter characterized Prettyman as the last love of her life, though, according to Prettyman, she "loved to dramatize things." He felt affection and admiration for her as well; however, he had a clear understanding of the nature of their relationship:

It was greatly embellished in her own mind, for her own purposes, and I was happy to go along with it up to a point. She was lonely, and had no one else with whom she could get along for very long or whom she felt she could trust. For my part, while I certainly cared for and respected her, my primary goal was to keep her out of trouble (E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr., to Joan Givner, 22 November 1982).

Porter required considerable legal advice on such matters as her will, contracts with publishers, financial matters, and her relationship with the University of Maryland. Prettyman also made time for social occasions with her despite the heavy demands of his own professional, civic, and personal obligations.

Prettyman remained Porter's friend and lawyer until 1977, when her health deteriorated and the court appointed someone to look after her affairs. Prettyman continues to live in the Washington area and is active in cultural and professional activities.

From the guide to the E. Barrett Prettyman papers, 1962-1984, 1967-1980, (Literature and Rare Books)


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  • Insanity (Law)
  • Lawyers--Washington (D.C.)--Correspondence
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  • Washington (D.C.) (as recorded)
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