Sweet Alice

Don’t You Remember Sweet Alice? was the subtitle of a song called Ben Bolt. Originally published as a poem in the 1840s, it immediately became a hit when it was put to music. By the 1870s, it became very popular and remained so through at least the 1930s, when it was featured in movies like Svengali and Gone with the Wind.

Alice seems to be the idealized version of a woman at the turn of the century. Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter Alice was very popular and designers even marketed her favorite color as “Alice blue” and her fashion choices set the trends for the Western world.

Alice Roosevelt in 1890

Alice Roosevelt in 1902


Alice Roosevelt in 1906, on the day she married Nick Longworth


This version of the song was recorded in 1912 and featured vocals by Eleonora de Cisneros. At the time, she was one of the most celebrated singers in the world.

Ben Bolt (Don’t You Remember Sweet Alice?)

Oh don’t you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt?
Sweet Alice whose hair was so brown?
Who wept with delight when you gave her a smile
And trembled with fear at your frown?

In the old church yard in the valley, Ben Bolt,
In a corner obscure and alone,
They have fitted a slab of granite so gray
And sweet Alice lies under the stone.

And don’t you remember the school, Ben Bolt,
And the master so kind and so true?
And the little nook by the clear running brook,
Where we gathered the flowers as they grew?

On the masters grave grows the grass, Ben Bolt,
And the running little brook is now dry,
And of all the friends who were schoolmates then,
There remain, Ben, but you and I.

Oh don’t you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt?
Sweet Alice with hair so brown?
She wept with delight when you gave her a smile
And she trembled with fear at your frown.

Alice Burdick was one of the people I wrote about in Cold Heart. Her friends called her Sweet Alice when she was young. That seems to be a case where the persona and the actual person were a real mismatch!  (Cold Heart on Amazon)

The photographer Frank Eugene called this piece Sweet Alice. Has the standard of feminine beauty changed very much?

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