Elizabeth Alice Munn was born in Staten Island New York at the Woodbine Cottage in the Rosebank section of the island in 1866. Shortly before her birth her father Edward Stopford Munn left the family leaving her mother Alice Cornell Austen to raise Elizabeth Alice on her own and forcing her to move to Cear Comfort at two Hylan boulevard and Edgewater street her grandparents home lesss than a mile from Woodbine Cottage.
Elizabeh Alice never used her birth name (Munn) instead using her grandfather’s last name Austen. In 1876 her uncle brought a camera back home from his travels and Alice had found a new love, it was Photography her uncle taught her how to use the camera and how to mix chemicals to develop the pictures.
Alice would take her bike to the ferry and ride into Manhattan to take pictures of real people in real life situations. She would carry upto fifty pounds of equipment at a time in a steamer trunk in her travels around the city and afar.
Alice found a companion in 1899 her name was Gertrude Amelia Tate (1871 – 1962) of Brooklyn New York, she moved in with Alice to Clear Comfort in 1917. Alice was surviving off her Grandfather’s inheritance and when the stock market crashed in 1929 she lost it all. Gertrude and Alice tried having a tea room on the grounds of Clear Comfort to raise money but that was unsuccessful.
Alice had to sell her beongings to make money to keep the house but by 1945 it proved to much and Alice moved to an apartment. Before she moved she called a friend at the Staten Island Historical Society to donate her glass ngatives before they were sold off or destroyed. In her lifetime she produced over 9000 photographs only about 3500 survived.
In 1950 Alice Austen was declaired a pauper and sent to the poorhouse. The same year a publisher was looking for information to include in a book that was on the history of the American women. The book raised enough funds to move her from the poorhouse back to a nursing home.
In October of 1951 Alice was The Guest of honor at a display of her photography at the Richmondtown musem in Staten Island, New York where over 300 guest celebrated the first Alice Austen Day.
Alice Austen died peacefully in her sleep June 9, 1952 and was buried in the Austen family plot at the Moravian cemetery in New Dorp, Staten Island.
On The Beat – Alice Austen House Museum, Courtesy of OnTheBeatTWC.