Mercy Street describes Emma Green as "an entitled Southern girl on the cusp of womanhood. Initially searching out news of her soldier beau, she rebelliously decides to minister to wounded Confederate soldiers in the Mansion House Hospital, the Union facility established on the site of her family’s luxury hotel."
Actress Hannah James describes her character Emma taking "a big journey almost immediately in the series. She begins as the sort of stereotype of a Southern belle — flirtatious and coy and gentle and kind — then quickly becomes an independent, strong woman. She’s very strong-minded, feisty and determined, and I think represents a lot of the women, or the young girls, who made that switch during that time, especially those who turned to nursing to give them a purpose in their lives. There's a huge contrast between her being a Southern belle and wanting to uphold that, but also having a very strong feeling towards the Confederacy. Her loyalty lies there, and it lies with Frank, and she has a real fire in her to show that.”
Emma Frances Green as she was in real life
In 1860, Emma Green was a daughter of Alexandria’s wealthiest man. James Green, 51, was a self-made man who had sailed to the United States with his father and family at the age of 16. It’s quite possible Emma inherited his drive and energy. She was also raised by her mother Jane as a devout and conscientious Christian – an active Episcopalian who worshiped with her family at St. Paul’s Church.
Emma was second-youngest of James’ and Jane’s fine family of nine children — six daughters and three sons. Her hard-working brothers lived in town and worked in the family’s hotel, furniture and farm businesses. Three older sisters were married to Virginia boys and had children of their own, as did her brothers John and, by 1860, Stephen. Two of Emma’s sisters had married Episcopalian ministers – as, one day, would Emma herself.
The extended Green family was also large, close, and rapidly expanding to include cousins, uncles, aunts, grandchildren, and in-laws from both sides. Jane Muir Green, Emma’s mother, was the daughter of another local furniture-making family originally from Scotland. The Greens were not snobs. Family members were mostly prosperous, but some members of the family were only modestly well-off. They all visited and enjoyed each other’s company.
Emma’s sisters Mary and Jane Eliza, “Jeanie,” had married into the Stringfellow family of Raccoon Ford, near Culpeper, Virginia. Emma must have known young Frank Stringfellow, a brother-in-law, since they were both children. By the time she was sixteen, “Frank and Emma” were a match.
Emma’s family, with its diverse businesses, was progressive and even North-facing. But through the years just before the war, and after U.S. troops marched into Alexandria and turned it into a garrison town, Emma and her English immigrant family transferred their loyalty from the Union to the Confederacy. Their identity had been influenced by earlier marriage ties to the Stringfellows, who were committed to a Southern view of the world compounded by the crisis over slavery and by the impact of the war that engulfed the Green family and all but destroyed the basis of their prosperity.
Frank Stringfellow, Emma’s sweetheart, was a loyalist of the South. Frank was a charming, enterprising young man – a surprising fellow because, at about five-foot-seven and slightly built, many people thought him much younger and tended to underestimate him: but not Emma! She and Frank had an understanding. They agreed between them to marry one day. James Green Sr., however, was withholding his consent: Frank, just a student, was too poor to marry Emma. After graduating from Episcopal High School, Frank went to Mississippi to teach Latin and Greek to plantation-owners’ daughters and to earn money to support a wife – Emma.
Emma’s brothers were pro-Union voters who supported the Opposition Party against the surging Democrats who were stirring the slavery issue. The family’s orientation and interests were directed toward trade and commerce and a national two-party system. Torn between her brothers and Frank, Emma would have felt the full force of the political storm that swirled around her.
The year before the war began was particularly traumatic for the Greens. For nearly two decades they’d had a dream run of increasing prosperity, a large, expanding, and thriving family with increasing social prominence. But in 1860 Alice, Emma’s younger sister, died after a seemingly sudden and unexpected illness. Other losses followed – loved cousins, aunts and uncles.
Emma had the benefit of a good education. In 1857, with her older sister Lydia and the daughters of other prominent Alexandria families, Emma was a day student at Mrs. Kingsford’s Seminary for Young Ladies at 460 West 9th Street in Washington D.C. She would have shared a classroom and perhaps friendships with girls from Washington – perhaps the very friends she would later visit in D.C., during the war, and where she and Frank could secretly meet.
In September, 1858 Emma and Alice started school in Alexandria. We don’t know for certain which of the town’s four female academies they attended but a likely school was the Wentworth Seminary for Young Ladies. The principal of Wentworth, Albert E. Bassford, was, like the Greens, a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The school’s rented premises were situated in the same block as the girls’ family’s furniture factory.
James Green owned a great deal of property in Alexandria. A decade earlier he had bought the grand Carlyle House mansion on North Fairfax Street, built in 1753 and fronting, in those days, the Potomac River bank. It was the most elegant residence in the city, but by 1860 it was almost surrounded by James’ expanded, and imposing, Mansion House Hotel.
In the chimera years before the War, Emma, her parents and sisters sometimes were in residence at the hotel or perhaps Carlyle House, or sometimes stayed in their country home, only three miles from town so within walking distance of school. Oak Grove –“The Grove” as the family called it – adjoined the Episcopal sites of Theological Seminary and Episcopal High School. It was a marvelous site, on a wide upland with a commanding view reaching to the U.S. Capitol across the Potomac and surrounded by a grove of magnificent oaks.
At the end of 1861, Emma was in Indiana with her sister Lydia, but she returned to Alexandria sometime in 1862. There, she probably would have lived with her parents in the Prince Street house; it is doubtful the military authorities allowed the family to remain at Carlyle House, next to Mansion House Hotel, now the federal army’s Mansion House Hospital.