Edward Everett Hale

Edward Everett Hale, a great-nephew of Nathan Hale, the patriot, was the descendent of an old New England family. He was the only one of his siblings to marry. He and his wife Emily, a niece of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher, nurtured and supported their extended family throughout their lives. They had nine children together, seven of whom survived to adulthood and spent considerable time in Matunuck. After Roxbury, Matunuck was their second home. Edward, his sister Susan, and all of his children thrived here, bathing in the ocean, hiking the hills, and canoeing in Wash Pond. In one of Hale’s letters written enroute from Matunuck, he shared that “Matunuck is for me a sort of temple consecrated to Nature and when I’m called away…it makes me unhappy.”

Widely recognized as one of the most popular authors of the 19th century, Hale became a devoted summer resident here in 1873 and returned nearly every season until his death in 1909. A Bostonian who knew little of Rhode Island except Providence and Newport, Hale discovered Matunuck through his close friendship with William Babcock Weeden, who inherited Willow Dell and a large piece of Matunuck property. Weeden, in an act of great generosity, built what became known as “the Red House” in 1873 for Hale to enjoy throughout his lifetime. It was in Matunuck that Hale found relief from his complicated life as a Unitarian clergyman, active social and political reformer, and public lecturer. It was in Matunuck that he did some of his best writing. And, it was in Matunuck that he gathered together his large family and network of friends to create a vibrant community of talkers, thinkers, and artists.

The Hales were Boston Brahmins. Literary members of the Hale family, they often went to Matunuck to write. The Red House, as the Hale House was known, became a family retreat for the large Hale clan—Edward, his wife Emily, their children, their many relatives, and innumerable friends.

Edward Everett Hale at writing table
Edward Everett Hale at Hale House, ca1890s
Edward Everett Hale at Desk
Photo provided by Woodcock Collection

Emily Baldwin Hale

Edward’s wife, Emily Baldwin Hale, a granddaughter of Lyman Beecher and niece of Harriet Beecher Stowe, frequently accompanied the family but came to prefer other vacation sites, possibly because of the burden of managing a summer house that attracted large numbers of guests who had to be fed and cared for. Around 1886, Edward came to an understanding with his younger sister Susan, a literary lady and painter with abundant social skills, for her to run the Matunuck House every summer. Her chatty letters written about the house provide considerable detail about the house and its numerous guests.

Hale Family and Friends at Wash Pont
Hale family and friends on Wash Pond, ca.1871 (Hale House Collection)

Susan Hale

Susan Hale was an artist, a writer, and a lecturer who spent summers in Matunuck from the mid-1880s until her death in 1910. Sister of Edward Everett Hale, and aunt of artists Ellen Day Hale and Philip Leslie Hale, and poet Robert Beverly Hale, she managed the Hales’ large summer home, caring for active family and playing hostess to guests and boarders alike. Susan wrote prolifically: travel books, literary history and criticism, lectures, plays, monologues, children’s books, and poetry. She also wrote thousands of letters that were lively and descriptive, correspondence to friends and family, documented day-to-day activities, the natural world, her observations and opinions of neighbors and local events, national events, and current literature.

A keen observer and spirited writer, Susan Hale left a remarkable record of her own life and the world around her- from breakfast on the porch on the Red House in Matunuck to dinner with politicians. It is Susan’s letters in particular which offer the best lens through which to view the house and its occupancy. Susan was an artist and writer in her own right, having taught watercolor painting in Boston, written a number of books, and a lecturer in frequent demand on the topic of 18th century English novels.

From 1885 until her death in 1910, Susan was “the mistress of Matunuck,” serving as housekeeper and hostess for her brother and his children. She managed most of the activities of the household, directing the resident and day staff and serving as hostess in the absence of her sister-in-law. In addition, she wrote the Family Flight series of travel books (co-authored with Edward), children’s poetry, literary criticism, and history, both as sole author and in collaboration with Edward and other family members. Her friends included Margaret Marquand, who later married Susan’s nephew Herbert; the Frederick Churches; Charles Dudley Warner; Oliver Wendell Holmes; and Caroline Atkinson, among many others. It is through Susan’s letters to these and others that we witness the morning swims in Wash Pond, the peripatetic meals (following the sun or shade from piazza to piazza), marathon writing sessions on deadline, and the comings and goings of family, friends, neighbors, and staff.

Susan Hale
Susan Hale at Hale House, ca.1895

Hale's Children

Hale and his wife Emily had nine children, three of whom died in childhood. In 1873, the first year of the Hales’ residency, the surviving children ranged in age from four to nineteen, and they took full advantage of all the summer activities available to them: hiking, boating, picnicking, and swimming in both Wash Pond, directly behind the house, and the ocean two miles away. Inevitably, the summers spent in Matunuck during their formative years had an impact on each of these young people, instilling an appreciation of independence, the outdoors, creative and artistic expression, and the opportunity for true recreation. Of this generation, Ellen Day Hale and Philip Leslie Hale became painters of considerable reputation.

Alexander, Charles, and Henry died in childhood.

Ellen Day Hale, known in the family as Nellie, was a painter and etcher, born February 18, 1855, in Worcester, MA. She was the oldest child and only daughter of Edward and Emily. Inclined to drawing from an early age, Ellen likely had lessons with her aunt Susan Hale. At the age of 18, she began intermittent study with the noted sculptor and anatomy teacher William Rimmer and then with painter William Morris Hunt and his assistant, instructor Helen Knowlton. At Hunt’s suggestion, Hale attended classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) in 1878-1879. She began obtaining portrait commissions, which were influenced by Hunt’s French Barbizon-inspired style. Hale was actively working, traveling, and networking with other women artists well into her eighties. She died in Brookline, MA in 1940 on her 85th birthday.

Sketch of Ellen Day painting near Hale House

Arthur Hale worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and the American Railway Association.

Edward E. Hale, Jr., a writer and biographer, taught literature at Union College.

Philip Leslie Hale, the sixth child, was born in May 1865 in Boston. Philip’s life was a curious blend of progressive and conservative values. He was an artist and critic associated with the Boston School of Painting and long-time instructor at the city’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts. While attending both Boston and Roxbury Latin Schools, Hale expressed his desire to pursue his career as an artist. He studied at the Boston Museum School under Edmund Tarbell, privately with William Merritt Chase, and at the Art Students League under J. Alden Weir. He left for Paris in 1887, attending the Académie Julian and spent the summers of 1888-9 and 1892 in the artists’ colony of Giverny. Philip painted many important works in Matunuck after his return from studying art in Paris. He opened his short-lived art school in Matunuck in 1892. He died of acute appendicitis in February 1931.

Herbert Dudley Hale became an architect of distinction.

Robert Beverly Hale was a promising poet and author, published in many of the literary and popular journals of the day. He died suddenly in 1895, a tragedy that shook Hale’s contented life. To commemorate the young man, friends raised money and constructed a library, the Robert Beverly Hale Library designed by Herbert Dudley Hale, which was dedicated in 1897 and is located adjacent to the Hale House. It was later transferred to the Town of South Kingstown and is a branch of the South Kingstown Public Library, serving the community of Matunuck and its summer population.

Hale family group at Hale House, ca.1900
Hale family group at Hale House, ca.1900. (Hale Family Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College)