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: 226 ; Conclusion • A fter 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 Earle’s motives as a historian and an author.Was she driven by personal motives: the gratification of widespread acclaim, or perhaps the financial rewards of successful literary production, which, once achieved, no longer impelled her to continue ? Or can her high rate of production be attributed to more idealistic motives: to a desire to reform her society, to provide a vision for the future constructed from a particular set of standards from the past? Alternatively, once her husband had died (1904), perhaps she felt free to travel and focus on her now married children and her grandchildren (fig. 39). There is no way to single out any one explanation as dominant. The significance of Earle’s work lies in its enduring impact. Her multiple messages , shaped by the intersecting realms of her personal context and her professional agenda, as well as the discrepancies between her social vision and the reality of her own everyday life and family experiences, continue to appeal to popular audiences. Earle envisioned colonial society as characterized generally by stability and traditional country values. In reality, the American past had not been a particularly stable place, as evidenced by the history of colonial New England, including that of Earle’s own ancestors. Her depictions of stability nevertheless generated widespread : 227 Conclusion popularity for her published work. In her own era of great social disruption , her reconstruction of colonial American society as a golden age tapped into a shared yearning for the values of honesty, simplicity, and self-sufficiency. It was the city, however, that furnished Earle’s country vision with much of its context and content. Earle’s parents had embraced the city of Worcester as a place of excitement and opportunity, and had moved there eagerly from the country in the 1830s and 1840s. Earle herself lived in Brooklyn Heights for her entire adult life and appreciated her urban setting as an important source of civilization. Urban settings in the past, too, represented for her the height of civilization. In colonial New York, Boston, and Philadelphia she found the ideal urban scale and degree of gentility, and she offered these societies to her modern readers as “a stick to beat the present.”1 Figure 39. Alice Morse Earle with her grandchildren, 1910. By that year she was almost sixty years old, had authored seventeen books and many magazine articles and book reviews, and was doubtless tired and ready to retire from the grind of historical writing. Collection of Donald J. Post Jr. 228 ; Conclusion Earle’s urban roots had molded not only her vision of the past but also her philosophy of social evolution. She learned strategies from her mother and father that enabled her,as it had them, to cope with the social cost of urban living. Especially in her books that focused on urban life, Colonial Days in Old New York and Diary of Anna Green Winslow: A Boston Schoolgirl of 1771, Earle carefully emphasized the importance of family as a civilizing agent, and particularly the importance of child rearing and education in an urban society. As a member of a generation that felt increasingly ambivalent about the impact of industrial capitalism, Earle embraced the quest for progressive solutions to the disorder of her present.That quest expressed itself in her books and articles as a search for a new history, one that would reject the harshness of Calvinist determinism and would endorse individualism and the power of the human spirit—even in Puritan New England. Earle rejected the theology of the Puritans but embraced their civilization, which she discovered in their material environments, family life, customs, and social institutions.She documented the existence of a culture of resistance to the ideology of determinism: Puritans were not passive, nor should her modern readers be so. As a historian, Earle operated within a newly professionalized intellectual context. Her work, however, was distinctive in its anthropological emphasis on the domestic lives of ordinary people, especially her reliance on material evidence. Like many of her professional colleagues, Earle viewed historical change as a social process rather than the result of a sequence of isolated individual actions. She saw history as the past of a culture, and her particular methodological slant devolved from her...


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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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