Narcissa Prentiss Whitman, born March 14, 1808, Prattsburg, Steuben County, New York and the third child of nine, was the daughter of Stephen and Clarissa Prentiss. As their eldest daughter, she helped with the upbringing of her younger siblings. Beyond assisting her mother with the large family and being active in church and social activities, Narcissa attended several terms at Prattsburg's Franklin Academy. The education she obtained there and at a female seminary (normal or teaching school) in Troy, New York, would be valuable in her profession as a teacher. Narcissa went on to teach at a district school in Prattsburg and spent time teaching kindergarten in Bath, New York. It was in Amity, New York, that she heard Reverend Samuel Parker speak of the need for missionaries. Narcissa entered her request to serve in December of 1834.
Dr. Marcus Whitman, who had also offered himself as a missionary, married Narcissa on February 18, 1836 and on February 19, 1836, they began the journey that took them west to a new home and a new life. Upon leaving New York, Narcissa never saw her family again and only spoke to them through the prolific letters of the next years.
The life of the Whitmans at the mission which they named Waiilatpu "place of rye grass" in the Oregon Territory was a busy but sometimes lonely one. They ministered to the local Cayuse and hosted fur trappers, early explorers and travelers. Narcissa and Marcus provided a home for several children including three children of fur trappers and the seven Sager children who had been orphaned on the Oregon Trail.
Narcissa gave birth on her 29th birthday, March 14, 1837, to her only natural child, Alice Clarissa Whitman. Alice was the joy of her mother's life, but tragedy struck when the small child drowned in the Walla Walla River on June 23, 1839. Deeply traumatized by the loss, Narcissa sank into a deep depression. It was not until the seven Sager orphans entered the Whitman's lives in 1844 that she found a new reason for joy in her life.