Longfellow National Historic Site

Longfellow National Historic Site


The house at 105 Brattle Street in Cambridge was witness to many significant events. It was here that George Washington took command of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. The first use in the United States of anesthesia for childbirth was administered to Fanny Longfellow at the house. Famous literary figures such as Charles Dickens and Nathaniel Hawthorne were visitors, as were politicians, actors, musicians, and others.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow filled the mansion with objects reflecting his interest in other cultures. European and Asian artwork, furniture, decorative objects and books are found throughout the house. The Longfellow house was truly a cosmopolitan home.

Alice Longfellow

Alice Mary Longfellow was born 22 September, 1850 as the eldest daughter of Henry Wadsworth and Frances Appleton Longfellow. Immortalized as "Grave Alice" in her father's poem "The Children's Hour", she led a life characterized by a love of travel and a strong interest in education and American history.

As a child, Alice Longfellow attended Miss C. S. Lyman's School, and later Professor Williston's School. In 1878, she served on a committee to consider the establishment of classes for women taught by Harvard professors. The Harvard Annex, later named the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women, formed in 1879 and Alice entered with the first class as a special student. Early commencements of the Society, eventually to become Radcliffe College, were held in the Craigie House library. Alice Longfellow's affiliation with the school continued throughout her life. She attended classes there until 1890, with a year long interlude spent at Newnham College in Cambridge, England, in 1883-1884. Alice functioned as a Radcliffe administrator by serving on the executive committee, the Board of Trustees, and as treasurer from 1883 to 1891.

Miss Longfellow's concern for education led to charitable and volunteer activities. Alice was a member of the Cambridge School Committee from 1887 to 1892. She provided scholarship funds for black and American Indian students at Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes. She also donated money and time to schools for the blind.

Alice traveled extensively throughout her life. She spent many summers camping and boating in Maine with family and friends. Her many European trips began with a grand tour taken by the extended Longfellow family in 1868 and 1869. Miss Longfellow returned often to Europe and was particularly fond of France and Italy. Received by Benito Mussolini in 1927, Alice presented him with a copy of her father's translation of Dante's The Divine Comedy. In 1900, Alice traveled to Ontario, Canada and was made an honorary member of the Ojibway Indian tribe.

Alice's interest in American history was perhaps sparked by the history of her own home, for Craigie House had served as headquarters for General George Washington from July 1775 to April 1776. Miss Longfellow was active in preservation efforts at Mount Vernon and served as Massachusetts vice-regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association for forty-eight years. She was well versed in the history of Craigie House, and often read a paper she had written on the subject to local historical societies.

Alice lived her entire life in Craigie House, where she was born. She passed away in 1928.

Ernest Longfellow

Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow was born November 23, 1845, the second son of Henry Wadsworth and Frances Appleton Longfellow. Ernest, or Erny, as he was called in his youth, was regarded by his parents as the less adventurous and more even tempered of their two boys. His mother once referred to him as "an angelic little child, so gentle & good always." In addition to his older brother, Ernest had three younger sisters, Alice, Edith, and Anne Allegra.

Having demonstrated some skill in mathematics and mechanical drawing, Ernest professed an interest in engineering and hoped to gain appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. When this proved unsuccessful, he entered the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard. At this time, his brother Charles was fighting in the Civil War as a cavalryman and Ernest hoped to follow him into the army and serve as a military engineer. The war ended before Ernest graduated in 1865 though, and he decided upon a career as an artist instead.

Ernest traveled to London and Paris to study before opening his own studio in Boston in 1866. Two years later, he married Harriet Spelman, an amateur artist herself, and the couple traveled to France and Italy where Ernest continued his studies with artists such as Leon Bonnat and G.P.A. Healy. A third trip to France from 1876-1878 enabled Ernest to study under Thomas Couture, after which he returned to Boston and was elected a vice-president of the Boston Art Club.

Ernest achieved some renown as a painter, being called "one of our rising young artists" by The Art Journal in July 1877. An exhibition of his work in 1876 resulted in the sale of over one hundred paintings. Many of his works of art hang in the Longfellow House, among them a portrait of his famous father painted in 1876 that the Longfellow family regarded as "the best portrait of him ever taken."

Ernest was not dependent upon his art for income, as in 1866 he inherited a sizable fortune left for him by his mother, who died in a tragic accident when he was fifteen. For much of the remainder of his life, Ernest and his wife Hattie continued to travel abroad, wintering in New York and spending summers in Massachusetts in the north shore community of Magnolia. They did not have any children, and Ernest died in 1921 in Boston. He willed his paintings and $200,000 to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Charles Longfellow

Born in 1844, "Charley" Longfellow was the beloved first child of Henry and Fanny Longfellow. As a young child he was keenly interested in the comings and goings on Brattle Street and his mother observed "[he] promises to be a man of action." From the age of 18 he spent most of his life traveling in distant places. He and his brother Ernest attended Miss Jennison's school at the corner of Garden and Mason Streets and both enjoyed drawing. His journals from his early travels include drawings he made to record his impressions.

Always a risk taker, Charley lost his left thumb after a gun accident at the age of 11. Seven years later in 1863, he ran off to enlist as a private in the Union Army during the Civil War, and eventually received a commission as a lieutenant in a cavalry regiment. Miraculously, he survived a bout with malaria and what could have been a mortal wound in his back, which he received while on campaign in Virginia.

After his wounding, Charley's doctors recommended a change of scenery, so he turned to yachting. His 1866 voyage to England on his uncle's yacht the "Alice" set a new record for a transatlantic crossing. Yachting and boats would remain one of Charley's passions for the rest of his life. From there he traveled on to Paris, and then to Russia and back.

A large family entourage acompanied brother Ernest to Europe on his honeymoon in 1868-1869. Charley soon lost interest in completing the Grand Tour with them, and accepted an invitation to go to India. He stayed there for 15 months, traveling around northern India and the Himalayas. He returned home via the newly opened Suez Canal. His Indian experiences are documented in some of the many photograph albums he assembled.

In 1871 Charley set off for Asia on what was to be his longest sojourn abroad. Japan held a particular fascination for Charley, and he lived in the Tokyo area for almost two years, regaling friends in a remodeled samurai dwelling and enjoying local diversions such as kabuki. He was part of an exploratory expedition through the interior of Hokkaido and Honshu that was organized by the American consul. Letters home to Cambridge indicate Charley accomplished this feat with stamina and courage, along with his ever-present sense of humor. The furniture, works of art, porcelain, textiles and books he sent back to 105 Brattle Street were early contributions to what became a "Japan Craze" in the United States.

From Japan, Charley went to China and also managed to visit the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand before returning home in 1874. Thereafter his trips tended to be shorter and were interspersed with many yachting voyages. Between 1875 and 1891 he went to Cuba, Mexico, Scotland, Ireland, the Canary Islands, Madeira, Italy, North Africa, Turkey, France, the West Indies, Egypt, Scandinavia, Spain, Portugal, Wales, Colombia, Australia, and returned several times to England and Japan.

Though his journals reveal a disregard for conventional spelling and punctuation, they do reveal a deep interest in the customs and beliefs of different cultures. Unlike other gentlemen travelers of his era, Charley wanted to experience his surroundings, rather than merely observe them.

Charley led a bachelor existence that perhaps was inspired by his peripatetic uncle, Thomas Gold Appleton. Charley never built a residence on the Brattle Street land he inherited, as did his brother Ernest and sisters Edith and Anne Allegra. He maintained an apartment on Beacon Hill in Boston to which he returned between journeys. The last months of his life, before his death of pneumonia in 1893, were spent in the Brattle Street house with his sister Alice. He is buried in the family plot at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.