By Olive Tardiff
Alice Brown was born in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, about six miles from the sea and four miles from Exeter, where she got her high school education. Alice walked to and from Robinson Female Seminary each day during spring and fall; in the winter months, she boarded in Exeter.
Those long walks that Alice took, sometimes with schoolmates, sometimes alone, gave her plenty of time to observe the corner of New England that she was later to use in her short stories, novels, and plays.
Early Writing Talent
Even at the Seminary, Alice showed a talent for writing. Both students and faculty enjoyed her stories at the regular Friday afternoon "literary exercises."
After graduating from Robinson Seminary in 1876, Alice taught for a few years, "Hating it," she said, "more and more every minute." While she was teaching she began to write short stories. She left her teaching position in Chester, N.H., and moved to Boston where she continued to teach for a short time. Then she took a job in the offices of the publication The Christian Register.
Her first book was published in 1884, and in the following year she joined the staff of Youth's Companion, a popular magazine for young people. She described her editorial duties there as "grinding out stuff from the latest books and magazines."
Although Alice produced a book a year until 1935, she was not considered as effective as other regional writers of her day. Her greatest triumph was the winning of a $10,000 prize in 1914 for the play Children of the Earth. It was a critical success, but a box office failure. "There is only one happiness in writing," she once said, "the hourly enchantment of the writing itself, for then you are living in your dream."
Alice Brown's dreams included extensive travel. In 1886, she went to England for the first time, and in 1895 she and friend Louise Guiney, spent ten weeks walking through the English countryside. On their return, the two women formed an organization called the Women's Rest Tour Association, to encourage other women, they said, "to take their vacations with pack and stick in foreign lands."
Of greatest interest among Alice's books are her collections of dialect stories of New Hampshire people. The locale of Meadow Grass (1886) and Tiverton Tales (1899) appears to be either Hampton Falls or Exeter. By the time the latter was published, Alice may have lost her enthusiasm for this kind of writing. She said, "Since people have a liking for New England stories, you fall into the habit of writing them."
Alice made enough money from her writings, however, to maintain a summer home in Hill, N.H., as well as a house on Pinckney St. in Boston and one in Newburyport, Mass. A story is told that although Alice never had a driver's license, she continued to drive in Newburyport until she was more than eighty years old. The police politely turned their eyes the other way when she drove illegally by.
Alice was apparently not happy as a "spinster." One of her most popular books, The Prisoner (1916), compares the lot of an unmarried woman to that of a man in jail who is not free to enjoy home and family. In later years she turned to Catholic friends for comfort, even though she herself was what a friend called "an amorphous Unitarian."
Alice corresponded with Rev. Michael Earls of Holy Cross College and with Rev. Joseph Lelen of Falmouth, Kentucky, with whom she also exchanged poems. Yale University and Holy Cross now have the only sizable collections of her letters, since she ordered that most of her personal correspondence should be destroyed after her death.
Alice Brown has been described by one critic as having a "vigorous mind, fine perception, and poetic feeling.'' She gave much thought to the times in which she lived. "I am amazed," she once wrote, "at the human animal who has taken the good gifts of God in scientific discovery for use in havoc and ruin."
She died in her ninety-first year at Massachusetts General Hospital. The Hampton Falls Free Library owns her personal library, including most of her works as well as autographed copies old books written by others. The University of New Hampshire Library also has an extensive collection of works by Alice Brown. New Hampshire's most distinguished native spinster writer has not been forgotten.
From: "They Paved The Way - A History Of NH Women", Women for Women Weekly Press, 1980
Illustrations by Richard Donovan.
Reprinted by permission of the author
© 1997 SeacoastNH.com
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