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Cary, Alice (1820–1871)

Cary, Alice (1820–1871)

American poet and short story writer who hosted a popular New York literary salon for 15 years. Name variations: Patty Lee. Born Alice Patty Lee Cary on April 26, 1820, in Mount Healthy, near Cincinnati, Ohio; died on February 12, 1871, in New York, New York; daughter of Elizabeth (Jessup) and Robert Cary; sister of poet Phoebe Cary (1824–1871); educated at home; never married; no children.

Selected works:

Lyra (1852); Poems (1855); Ballads, Lyrics, Hymns (1866); Lover's Diary (1868); Clovernook Sketches (1987); Poetical Works of Alice and Phoebe Cary (1886).

Alice Cary was born in Mount Healthy, Ohio, in 1820, the fourth of Robert and Elizabeth Cary 's eight children. By 1836, she had lost her mother and three older siblings, including her closest companion Rhoda, and by age 17 was in charge of the Ohio farm house and her four younger brothers and sisters. The loss of her sister Rhoda, who had shared Alice's passion for stories and writing, made the demands of farm life even harder. Together the sisters had read and reread the family's six books (including a Bible and a cookbook). The largely self-educated Cary was further isolated when her father remarried and moved with his wife to a new house, leaving Alice to govern the family.

Cary began submitting her poetry to local papers, and "The Child of Sorrow" (1838) in Cincinnati's Universalist newspaper, Sentinel, was her first publication. For ten years, her work was widely printed and read locally, always without payment. Editors Rufus Griswold, an arbiter of American verse, and Gamahiel Bailey helped bring Cary and her poet sister Phoebe Cary to national readership in 1849; they also saw to it that the sisters began receiving payment for their work.

In the summer of 1850, Cary made her first trip East, visiting New York and Massachusetts. In November, she moved to Manhattan permanently. It is believed that she was drawn to the city in part by a romance with Griswold; however, Cary also knew New York as a literary hub. She rented a house on East 22nd Street, and in the spring of 1851 Phoebe and their younger sister Elmina joined her. Elmina's death in 1862 was another emotional blow for Cary. Although she had the weakest bond with Phoebe, the sister with whom she would remain the longest, the two worked together in what has been described as "unbroken partnership."

In 1868–69, Alice served as the earliest president of Sorosis, the first professional woman's club organized in New York. Cary began regular publication in magazines (National Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, National Era) and in anthologies that were sufficient to support the household. She bought the East 22nd Street home and began inviting a literary circle home for Sunday-evening gatherings. Her salon existed for 15 years. Alice Cary always signed her pieces, an uncommon practice for women at the time. Her work includes prose sketches and novels, now almost forgotten, and volumes of verse; her lyrical poem Pictures of Memory was greatly admired by Edgar Allan Poe. In late 1869, Cary suffered an illness that left her paralyzed and in constant pain. Phoebe cared for her until Alice's death at home on February 12, 1871. She was buried at Greenwood Cemetery.

Crista Martin , Boston, Massachusetts

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