Alice Morse Earle and the Domestic History of Early America
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
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Despite her large readership and widespread popularity, little is actually known about Alice Morse Earle. As a young ceram-ics curator at a large history museum, I first encountered Earle through her book China Collecting in America, which I found to be reli-able but dated, and rich in anecdotal material. I came to appreciate her significance later in my career when, as a graduate student, I was required to reread Home Life in Colonial Days for a colonial history seminar, this ...
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During the twenty years I have been working on this book, many people have aided me, in terms of my research and writing as well as my personal well-being. For wise guidance in the earliest stages of this project at the University of Delaware, I thank David All-mendinger, Anne Boylan, Bernie Herman, and Richard Bushman. Thanks for your patienceâI know that some of you have been waiting a long time I received invaluable assistance from numerous research libraries and ...
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The author, collector, and historian Alice Morse Earle (1851â1911) was among the most influential writers of her day, but for contemporary readers she is surprisingly elusive. She operated within the context of a dramatic growth in popular history at the end of the nineteenth century. Between 1891 and 1904 Earle generated seven-teen books, as well as numerous articles, pamphlets, and speeches about the life, manners, customs, and material culture of colonial New England. ...
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In 1834 Alice Morse Earleâs father, Edwin Morse, left his family home in rural Vermont at the age of nineteen. He headed for New Eng-land Village, a textile-manufacturing center near Grafton, Massachu-setts. New England Village, with its proximity to Worcesterâone of the fastest-growing cities in the stateâcould offer an ambitious young man opportunities unavailable in the dying hill town of Andover. Within four-teen years, Edwin Morse had established himself as a machinist, moved to ...
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On the eve of her twenty-third birthday, Alice Morse (fig. 4) married Henry Earle, a New York City stockbroker with dis-tinguished roots and access to many useful business connections, but little money. The couple settled in Brooklyn Heights, where Henry was already living, and there they remained for the rest of their lives. For the newly married Mrs. Earle, the move to Brooklyn located her in an urban social environment that must have made Worcester seem placid by ...
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With her decision to enter the world of professional writing, Earle chose to disrupt the comfortable sanctuary of her home for a career that intruded on her social obliga-tions, sometimes put her at odds with her family, and even jeopardized her health. Earleâs early focus on her own ancestors and the instructive value of Puritan society suggests a mission that was both personal and progressive. Her club activities instilled in her a strong sense of obligation to improve ...
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The success of Alice Morse Earleâs first book, which sold more than ten thousand copies during its first year in print, and her growing popularity as a magazine writer led to the publica-tion of a rapid succession of books and articles. Increasingly Earleâs writ-ings began to focus on the material culture of early Americaâan emerg-ing trend. China Collecting in America, published in 1892, was her first attempt at categorization and contextualization of the artifacts of the past. ...
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In choosing to write about the history of domestic life, Alice Morse Earle was, in numerous ways, part of a broader literary tradition. Since the 1820s and 1830s, many writers had focused on the American domestic environment as an avenue to understanding the national char-acter.1 Earle built on the work of Washington Irving, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Lydia Maria Child, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Horace Bushnell, Catharine Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa May Alcott, William ...
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Writing history, for Alice Morse Earle, involved more than assembling carefully researched facts into an appealing narrative. Her emphasis on domestic life and its material cul-ture, both as historical evidence about the past and as agency for shap-ing the future, placed Earle at the cutting edge of historical scholarship. Her career coincided with the passing of the age of Francis Parkman and George Bancroft, when the first generation of academically trained his-...
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From the time she married and moved to Brooklyn Heights in 1874, where she soon established a garden of her own, Alice Morse Earle repeatedly used the metaphor of the garden as a means both of affirming her gender identity and of reconciling her ambivalence about urban life. A garden, Earle believed, was an essential component of âhome,â and thus an important female domain. Moreover, gardens, and especially âold-fashionedâ gardens, had the power to connect the present to the past in ...
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Despite her continued allegiance to the rural tradi-tions of New England, New York City was the backdrop against which Earle operated for most of her life. For at least nine months of every year, she and her family lived in an urban neighborhood, sur-rounded by unfathomable numbers of strangers. The Earle house in Brook-lyn Heights stood on a block of Henry Street amidst almost fifty other houses. That one block was a minuscule section of an enormous grid that ...
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Alice Morse Earleâs final book, Two Centuries of Costume in America, rounded out an illustrious career as a writer. She had written seventeen booksâall of which had been well received by the publicâas well as some forty-two articles, Moreover, she had accom-plished this enormous output in the space of only fourteen years. The body of work she produced created a lasting legacyâa new kind of democratized history of American life. Material culture, as Earle knew well, abounds ...
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After a prolific writing career that lasted fourteen years, Earle stopped writing in 1904. Though she lived until 1911, there is no sign that she felt any urgency to produce more books. The abruptness of this conclusion raises questions about Earleâs motives as a historian and an author. Was she driven by personal motives: the gratifica-tion of widespread acclaim, or perhaps the financial rewards of successful literary production, which, once achieved, no longer impelled her to con-...
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...studies at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts. Previously, she curated the collections of household accessories and tablewares at the Strong Museum in Rochester, New York, specializing in glass, ceramics, and silver. She received a PhD in the history of American civilization from the University of Delaware in 1992 and is the author ...
Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: Public History in Historical Perspective
Series Editor Byline: Marla Miller