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Alice Morse Earle

By

Dates:

April 27, 1853 (or 1851?) - February 16, 1911

Occupation:

writer, antiquarian, historian. Known for writing about Puritan and colonial American history, especially the customs of domestic life.

Also known as: Mary Alice Morse .

About Alice Morse Earle:

Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1853 (or 1851), Alice Morse Earle married Henry Earle in 1874. She lived after her marriage mostly in Brooklyn, New York, summering at her father's home in Worcester. She had four children, one of whom predeceased her. One daughter became a botanical artist.

Alice Morse Earle began writing in 1890 at her father's urging. She first wrote about Sabbath customs at the church of her ancestors in Vermont, for the magazine Youth's Companion, which she then expanded into a longer article for The Atlantic Monthly and later for a book, The Sabbath in Puritan New England.

She continued to document Puritan and colonial customs in eighteen books and more than thirty articles, published from 1892 through 1903. In documenting the customs and practices of everyday life, rather than writing of military battles, political events, or leading individuals, her work is a precursor of the later social history. Her emphasis on family and domestic life, and the lives of her generation's "great grand mothers," foreshadows the emphasis of the later field of women's history.

Her work can also be seen as part of the trend to establish an American identity as immigrants became a larger part of the country's public life.

Her work was well-researched, written in a friendly style, and quite popular. Today, her works are largely ignored by male historians, and her books found mostly in the children's section.

Alice Morse Earle worked for such Progressive causes as establishing free kindergartens, and she was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She was not a supporter of the suffrage movement or other more radical Progressive social reforms. She supported temperance, and found evidence for its value in colonial history.

She used themes from the new Darwinian theory to argue for the "survival of the fittest" among Puritan children who learned discipline, respect, and morality.

Alice Morse Earle's own moral judgments about Puritan and colonial history are fairly obvious in her work, and she found both positive and negative in the colonial culture. She documented slavery in New England, not glossing it over, and contrasted it unfavorably to what she saw as the Puritan impulse to establish a free society. She was critical of the Puritan pattern of marrying for property rather than love.

Alice Morse Earle traveled widely in Europe after her husband's derath. She lost her health in 1909 when a ship on which she was sailing to Egypt was wrecked off Nantucket, and she died in 1911 and was buried in Worcester, Massachusetts.

An example of her writing:

Books by Alice Morse Earle:

  • The Sabbath in Puritan New England. New York: Scribners, 1891; London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1892.
  • China Collecting in America. New York: Scribners, 1892.
  • Customs and Fashions in Old New England. New York: Scribners, 1893; London: Nutt, 1893.
  • Costume of Colonial Times. New York: Scribners, 1894.
  • Colonial Dames and Good Wives. Boston & New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1895.
  • A Monument to Prison Ship Martyrs. New York: American Historical Register, 1895.
  • Margaret Winthrop. New York: Scribners, 1895.
  • Colonial Days in Old New York. New York: Scribners, 1896.
  • Curious Punishments of Bygone Days. Chicago: Stone, 1896.
  • The Stadt Huys of New York. New York: Little, 1896.
  • In Old Narragansett: Romances and Realities. New York: Scribners, 1898.
  • Home Life in Colonial Days. New York & London: Macmillan, 1898.
  • Stage-Coach and Tavern Days. New York: Macmillan, 1900.
  • Child Life in Colonial Days. New York & London: Macmillan, 1900.
  • Old-Time Gardens, Newly Set Forth. New York & London: Macmillan, 1901.
  • Sun Dials and Roses of Yesterday. New York & London: Macmillan, 1902.
  • Two Centuries of Costume in America, 1620-1820. New York & London: Macmillan, 1903.

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