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Alice Howland Macomber

Photo credit: Reynolds Printing

Determined to step outside the norms of her era and model daring independence, Alice Howland Macomber (1874-1961) first traveled alone to Europe at the age of 20 stating, “I travel alone and try anything once.” Her popular travel lectures documented all she experienced during her far-flung adventures.

Imagine wanting to travel abroad alone as your male ancestors had . . . Alice Howland Macomber (1874-1961) is a study in women’s determination to step outside the norms of time and model what learning, independence and daring look like. She traveled alone at age 20 in 1894 to Europe stating, “I travel alone and try anything once.”

Alice was the only child of Arthur E. Howland and Mary Emma Cornell. Arthur was a seafaring man and it would have been his stories of adventure and disaster that were the foundation for Alice’s passion for travel. After the tragic fire aboard the New York Mail Steamship SS Bienville in 1872 off San Salvador, Arthur farmed and operated a successful milk business in Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

Always precocious, Alice wrote her first newspaper article “Costume of County” at age 12. She had an innate ability to see, recall and show sketches of costumes from various countries. At age 14 she lectured on “African Flora + Fauna.” She graduated from New Bedford High School in 1891.

Alice married Charles Albert Macomber on August 10, 1900 at a Society of Friends Ceremony. They had two children, Alice Marian Macomber and Russell Howland Macomber.

As Supervisor of Domestic Science of Dartmouth Public Schools, Alice created a more “work-man” or professional atmosphere by having the students make and wear “Cookery Uniforms.” Alice was an advocate of women’s rights and wanted to have the independence of male travelers. On her first solo trip she travelled to Holland, Germany and France. In 1912 she applied for her first passport.

Before each trip she wrote to, among others, embassies, missionary friends, YMCAs, government ministers, ambassadors, consulates, and commissaries. She made contacts with many of the people she knew of from her father’s travels. She became a journalist, writing for The Journal of Home Economics, Top-Notch magazine, and The League of American Pen.

By 1928, Alice’s lectures had become popular. She lectured in a series at the Boston Public Library, “Holland Humoresques: A Personal Holland Illustrated and Costumed.” She became an active member, joining and lecturing, at the Women’s Club of New Bedford, the Garden Federation of Massachusetts, Quota International, and The Society of Women Geographers. Her lecture topics expanded to the locales of her far-flung adventures, including Turkey, Alaska, Holland, South America, West Indies, China, and Africa. Her book I Travel Alone and Try Anything Once was published in 1951.

She had a keen sense of observation and carefully documented all she saw. She modeled her collection of country costumery for photographs; ate the local produce; used various daring modes of transport; and stayed with many of the locals, in their homes.

Alice died on November 29, 1961 and is buried in South Dartmouth.

Ivy MacMahon and Ann O’Leary

Information from

  • Emery, William M. The Howland Heirs: Being the Story of a Family and a Fortune and the Inheritance of a Trust Established for Mrs. Hetty H. R. Green. E. Anthony & Sons, 1919.

  • Macomber, Alice Howland. “Cookery Uniforms in Elementary School.” The Journal of Home Economics, vol. 8, no. 4, 1916, pp. 205-206.

  • Macomber, Alice Howland. I Travel Alone and Try Anything Once. Reynolds Printing, 1951.

  • “New Travels.” Annals of the Wing Family of America Incorporated, vol. 31, 1946, p. 7.

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