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Earle, Alice Morse (1851–1911)

American writer and antiquarian . Born Mary Alice Morse in Worcester, Massachusetts, on April 27, 1851; died in Hempstead, Long Island, New York, on February 16, 1911; daughter of Edwin and Abigail Mason Clary Morse; educated at Worcester High School and at Dr. Gannett's boarding school, Boston; married Henry Earle, in April 1874; children: four.

Selected writings:

The Sabbath in Puritan New England (1891); China Collecting in America (1892); Customs and Fashions in Old New England (1893); Costumes of Colonial Times (1894); (editor) Diary of Anna Green Winslow: A Boston School Girl of 1771 (1894); Colonial Dames and Goodwives (1895); The Life of Margaret Winthrop (1895); Colonial Days in Old New York (1896); Curious Punishments of Bygone Days (1896); Historic New York (1897); Chap Book Essays (1897); Home Life in Colonial Days (1898); In Old Narragansett: Romances and Realities (1898); Child Life in Colonial Days (1899); Stage-Coach and Tavern Days (1900); Old Time Gardens (1901); Sun Dials and Roses of Yesterday (1902); Two Centuries of Costume in America, 1620–1820 (2 vols., 1903).

Alice Morse Earle, whose books on the customs and everyday life in colonial America are meticulously researched and lively in style, did not embark on a writing career until she was nearly 40 years old. In the 12 years that followed her first publication in 1891, she more than made up for lost time, authoring, editing, and contributing to the publication of 17 books and over 30 articles dealing with various aspects on American colonialism. Her books are considered valuable resources for discovering America's domestic past.

Earle was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, and grew up in a house described as "a veritable museum" of fine antiques. In 1874, she married Henry Earle and moved to his home in Brooklyn Heights, New York, where she would live until her death. Her early life was devoted to her husband and four children, with little thought to history or writing. It wasn't until after the death of her husband that her family, especially her father, began to encourage her to write professionally. Her first book, The Sabbath in Puritan New England, grew out of an article originally written for Youth's Companion and later published in expanded form by Atlantic Monthly. Her popularity increased with each of her subsequent publications, helped along by the celebration of the Revolutionary centennial in 1876, which rekindled an interest in early American history. Earle, however, never sacrificed scholarship or historical integrity to meet the demands of her public, although she was criticized for occasionally repeating material from one volume to the next. Her research was of the highest quality, conducted through various libraries and historical societies, and she utilized primary source material such as diaries, letters, wills, newspapers, journals, and court records.

Earle's particular interest in the importance of women in the settlement of the colonies is illustrated in Colonial Dames and Good Wives (1895), which concentrates on the roles of women in America from the first settlements to the American Revolution. Written at a time when little attention was paid to the presence of women in American history, the book recreates the domestic and social lives of colonial women, using diaries and journals written by women throughout the country. In several other works, such as Diary of Anna Green Winslow; A Boston School Girl of 1771 (1894) and The Life of Margaret Winthrop (1895), Earle focuses on specific personalities to reveal the economic and social circumstances of women of the era.

Earle's Home Life in Colonial Days (1898), perhaps the most widely read and referred to of her books, provides a comprehensive account of the ways in which colonists lived and raised their families. Beginning with the types of homes lived in by the early settlers and how these homes were constructed, Earle then devotes chapters to food, drink, clothing, gardens, and even the evolution of lighting in colonial homes from pine-knots to whale-oil lamps. Most of the book is devoted to the plethora of domestic tasks that were executed by colonial women.

Earle considered Two Centuries of Costume in America, 1620–1820 (1903) to be her finest work. The two volumes that comprise this study of American fashion, from the settlement of New England to the early years of the American republic, are invaluable to students of American history, design, and art history. Critics have praised the work for its glossary of terms and more than 350 illustrations. The most outstanding of these are the portraits Earle used to illustrate examples of the clothing worn by the colonists and to note the gradual changes in styles through the years.

Active in the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Society of Colonial Dames, Earle also supported the women's suffrage movement. In 1909, she nearly drowned when the ship on which she was sailing to Egypt was struck by another vessel and wrecked near the Nantucket lightship. Her health failed following the incident, and she died on February 16, 1911, on Long Island, New York.


Alice Morse Earle's papers are at the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts, and in the Sophia Smith College, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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