Monday, January 19, 2015

Frances A. McAlpin Pyle - A Strong Woman - 52 Ancestors: #3

For this week's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks writing challenge from blogger Amy Crow Johnson of No Story Too Small, I am using this week's optional theme of Tough Woman, which gives me a great opportunity to write about a great-grandmother of mine whom I know quite a bit about, but have not written about.

Frances Adelaide McAlpin was born on February 28, 1860, in New York City to David Hunter McAlpin and his first wife, Frances Adelaide Rose. Of their ten children, she was their seventh child and only daughter. I think that being the only girl helped to make her a strong woman. Her mother died when she was ten and a half, which probably resulted in her growing up faster than she otherwise might have.

In most records, I find she is referred to as Adelaide, perhaps to differentiate herself from her mother, who was likely known as Frances.

Adelaide is on the right in the picture below, which I believe was taken in about 1879.

Unknown woman on left
Frances Adelaide McAlpin on right

She married James Tolman Pyle, son of James Pyle, founder of Pyle's Pearline Soap, on February 12, 1884. The detailed description of their wedding, from the New York Daily Tribune, can be found here.

She gave birth to six children (some of whom I've written about previously):
James McAlpin Pyle (1884-1954)
David Hunter McAlpin Pyle (1886-1944)
Adelia McAlpin Pyle (1888-1968)
Sara McAlpin Pyle (1891-1978)
Charles McAlpin Pyle (1893-1966), my grandfather
Gordon McAlpin Pyle (1901-1943)

My first blog post was about the home that Adelaide and her husband, James, built in Morris County, New Jersey, called Hurstmont, which is where my grandfather grew up. See an aerial view of Hurstmont here. She came from a wealthy family and married into a wealthy family. She managed two households, one in New York City, and Hurstmont in New Jersey, raised six children, who each had their issues, and lost her husband when she was 51 years old.

When her husband, James Tolman Pyle, died, Adelaide Pyle became the sole heir to his estate. See a news story about it here. Although James Pyle & Son's dissolved (was sold to Proctor & Gamble), she managed the family's money very well, setting up trusts for her children so they couldn't spend their inheritance all at once (which some of them very well might have).

When I was researching her daughter, Adelia McAlpin Pyle (also known as Mary Pyle), I learned about a book entitled Padre Pio: The True Story, by C. Bernard Ruffin (1991). When the author was writing the chapter of the book about Mary Pyle, he interviewed several Pyle family members. Some of the quotes describing Adelaide McAlpin Pyle are fascinating:
"She is remembered as a small, sedate woman who loved "the grand style." She made many trips to Europe, accompanied by her beribboned lapdog and aspired to the lifestyle of the newly risen class of American millionaires, toward which she aspired to climb." (p. 210)
However, her estate was valued at less than one million dollars when she died in 1937.
"Adelaide McAlpin Pyle was a brilliant linguist who spoke several languages and strove to promote the teaching of foreign languages in the schools." (p. 210)
And the following, which defines her as a strong woman, though not in very nice terms:
"Adelaide Pyle had a darker side. One descendant has characterized her as an "irate...old biddy" who tended to fly into a rage at anyone who dared to cross her. Adelaide was bossy, domineering, and "hard as nails." She had a tendency to turn upon anyone who did not do things her way. Another descendant has drawn a verbal picture of a woman, possibly manic-depressive, given to "experimental religion," whose aggressive and dominating personality could suddenly give way to sullen withdrawal: "she was not normal or well-balanced." She would frequently "pull her children out of school according to her whims." On more than one occasion, she decided to leave her husband, ordered her servants to pack her trunks, and took her favorite daughter, Sara, with her to Europe, leaving Adelia and the boys home in New York with their father." (p. 211)
I don't know which descendants were quoted in this description, but perhaps one of my McAlpin-Pyle second cousins might know...

My great-grandmother, known to descendants as Granny Pyle, died on September 22, 1937, at the age of 77, in Noroton, Connecticut. All six of her children survived her.

I descend from Frances Adelaide McAlpin Pyle as follows:

Frances Adelaide McAlpin
Charles McAlpin Pyle
Charles McAlpin Pyle, Jr.


  1. First of all, I LOVE that photo! What an unusual portrait! And, I LOVE the quotes about Adelaide. It really tells a lot about her! Very interesting lady!

    1. I don't have many photos of Adelaide, and I think this is the one that best shows her. And it's neat to have these quotes from interviews which show the perception that descendants had of her.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. This is fascinating! I am the great great grand-daughter: Her son James McAlpin Pyle married Anita Merle-smith; their first daughter (Sara Van Santfoord Pyle) married George Hopkins Bond, Jr. and had my mother Sari Woodford Bond. She married Peter Carl Felsmann and lived in Caracas, Venezuela. My daughter's eyes (Andrea Isabella Lechin) resemble Adelaide's.

    1. Hello cousin! Thanks for contacting me. I look forward to compiling information about all of the descendants of James Tolman Pyle and Frances Adelaide McAlpin!

  3. Do you think you are related to the illustrator Howard Pyle? Thanks

    1. I believe I am related "on paper" but not genetically, as I have discovered that there is a non-paternal event between my second and third great-grandfathers.