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Women Folklorists - Fanny Hardy Eckstorm

Fanny Hardy Eckstorm 1865 – 1946

Fannie Hardy was born in 1865, in Brewer, Maine. Her father, Manly Hardy, was a fur trader, and Eckstorm took numerous trips into the northern Maine woods with him. In these trips she first heard the folk tales and folk songs of the lumbermen, hunters, and Indians of the region.

Eckstorm’s interest in ballads was nurtured at Smith College. After graduation in 1888 she returned to Brewer, and wrote about the Maine woods and the game laws for publications such as Forest and Stream Magazine. Two of these articles have been recently reprinted in Tales from the Maine Woods, available from The Maine Folklife Center. She married Jacob Eckstorm, an Episcopal minister, in 1893.

Photo of Fannie Hardy Eckstorm

Maine Folklife Center Photo #340

Fannie Hardy Eckstorm acknowledged the difficulties that her gender posed in collecting the folksongs of male workers:

“The editors of this volume fully realized that collecting these songs was a man’s job. We knew very well that we could not go into lumber camps and the forecastles of coasting schooners, nor frequent mill boarding-houses and wharves and employment offices and even jails, where the unprinted, and too often unprintable, songs of the kind we must seek originate and flourish. Had a man competent to perform the task expressed an intention of preserving these songs, we should not have undertaken the work. But no man appeared steeped in balladry and versed in folk-music, understanding the hearts of the people and wise to interpret what he found in them. The old songs were fast vanishing. With them would be lost all they represented of the mental horizon of the pioneer, the cultures of the logger and river-driver, the hunter and trapper, the sailor and hand-line fisherman.”

Fannie Hardy Eckstorm and Mary Winslow Smyth, Minstrelsy of Maine:
Folk-songs and Ballads of the Woods and the Coast.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1927. Preface.

After the death of her husband in 1899, Eckstorm resumed researching and writing about Maine’s flora, fauna, and people. Unlike the other four women profiled in this exhibit, she apparently had no one moment when someone said, “why don’t you collect folksongs?” Eckstorm’s interest in the Maine folklore and folklife grew out of her childhood expeditions with her father. Her interest in the songs and stories of the people she met in childhood was similar to that of Joanna Colcord’s. For Colcord, this meant the “American sailorman,” for Eckstorm the woodsmen, river drivers, and Indians of the Maine woods. The first fruits of this interest were her 1904 and 1907 books:

  • Penobscot Man (1904)
  • David Libbey: Penobscot Woodsman and River Driver(1907)

Eckstorm began collaborating with Professor Mary Winslow Smyth of Elmira College in New York in 1925. Smyth combed the coastal areas while Eckstorm gathered woods songs. Two books resulted from these efforts:

  • Minstrelsy of Maine (1927)
  • British Ballads from Maine (1929)
Earlier photo of Fannie Hardy Eckstorm

When young Fannie Hardy traveled in the Maine woods with her father, she learned to live off what the land could provide. In this photo taken by her father in 1892, Fannie is holding one or more dead grouse. Maine Folklife Center Photo #342.

Although she continued to be interested in folk music until the end of her life, in the 1930s Eckstorm’s attention began to shift toward the language, history, and traditions of Maine’s Indians. This interest resulted in two books:

  • Indian Place-Names of the Penobscot Valley and the Maine Coast (1941)
  • Old John Neptune and Other Maine Indian Shamans (1945)

Title Page, Fannie Hardy Eckstorm and Mary Winslow Smyth, Minstrelsy of Maine: Folk-songs and Ballads of the Woods and the Coast. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1927.


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