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: ix ; Preface D espite her large readership and widespread popularity,little is actually known about Alice Morse Earle. As a young ceramics curator at a large history museum, I first encountered Earle through her book China Collecting in America, which I found to be reliable 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 time with a far more critical eye. The analysis and assumptions that underlay the research narrative intrigued me, and I realized that Earle’s work offered an important avenue into the world of late nineteenth-century American culture, particularly that of women. I initially approached this project with the intention of discovering how Earle’s private history had shaped her published work—her public history. The most comprehensive biography of Earle, an article published in 1947 by the New England writer Esther Averill, laid out the essential details about her birth, family, and career, along with a tantalizing reference to “nearly fifty boxes of notes and material unearthed and partly used in her writings.”1 Averill’s research notes for that article, which have survived in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society,reveal that her sources included some family papers and photographs from the estate of Earle’s sister, Frances C. Morse. Unfortunately, the fifty boxes of research material seem to have disappeared. x ; Preface The quest for those fifty boxes, however, led me to pursue Earle in many different directions. I went to her house in Brooklyn Heights— only to find that it has been converted into condominiums. I canvassed many historical societies and archives in New York and New England— to no avail. Eventually I tracked down a great-grandson in Connecticut, who had family photographs and leads to other family members.I located a family compound of Earle’s descendants in Vermont, who had family artifacts that had belonged to her, as well as portions of her personal library, including her own annotated copies of her books. In keeping with family tradition (albeit unconsciously), her great-granddaughter was a literary agent and her great-grandson a publisher. Writing seems to run in the blood—but still no fifty boxes. The absence of a large body of personal papers forced me to begin my task of reconstructing Earle’s life and work with her published texts,which are full of assumptions, stories, pictures, and veiled but enticing personal references. Because historical writing was for Earle a vehicle of self-definition as well as a means of educating her audience, I found that close readings of her texts provided much in the way of autobiographical detail. Nothing that she wrote, however, was explicitly autobiographical; Earle was so ambivalent about publicity that she granted only one biographical interview during her entire writing career. Yet her desire to establish an emotional link with her readers, as well as confirm her authority, percolated beneath the surface of her many books and articles,yielding snippets of revelation about her own past and present. Genealogical investigation proved another path to evidence about Alice Morse Earle, especially because transmission of family experiences from generation to generation was a central issue in her work. I reconstructed both the Morse and Earle families back to the original emigrants—a task in which I was greatly assisted by an existing family genealogy, created by Earle’s daughter in the 1920s and built on Earle’s own genealogical research.2 Family letters going back three generations—especially those between Earle’s mother and father prior to their marriage—and assorted family photographs provided yet another set of clues to the family value system and the set of life experiences that Earle inherited, as well as those she wished to transmit to her own children. Only fragments have survived of the material environments in which Earle spent her childhood and lived and worked as an adult. Her parents’ : xi Preface home in Worcester, Massachusetts, which was subsequently occupied by her sister, Frances, was razed in 1934. Although there is no documentation of the house and its furnishings during the years when Earle lived there, several photographic illustrations in Frances Morse’s book Furniture of the Olden Times depict the interior of the house at the turn of the twentieth century.3 The house where Earle lived from the mid-1870s until she died in 1911 still...


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Subject Headings

  • Earle, Alice Morse, 1851-1911.
  • Historians -- United States -- Biography.
  • Women historians -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States -- Social life and customs -- To 1775 -- Historiography.
  • New England -- Social life and customs -- To 1775 -- Historiography.
  • Material culture -- United States -- Historiography.
  • Home economics -- United States -- Historiography.
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