Alice Mary Longfellow was born 22 September 1850 as the eldest daughter of Henry Wadsworth and Frances Appleton Longfellow. Immortalized as "Grave Alice" in her father's poem "The Children's Hour," she led a life characterized by a love of travel and a strong interest in education and American history.
As a child, Alice Longfellow attended Miss C. S. Lyman's School, and later Professor Williston's School. In 1878, she served on a committee to consider the establishment of classes for women taught by Harvard professors. The Harvard Annex, later named the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women, formed in 1879 and Alice entered with the first class as a special student. Early commencements of the Society, eventually to become Radcliffe College, were held in the Craigie House library. Alice Longfellow's affiliation with the school continued throughout her life. She attended classes there until 1890, with a year long interlude spent at Newnham College in Cambridge, England, in 1883-1884. Alice functioned as a Radcliffe administrator by serving on the executive committee, the Board of Trustees, and as treasurer from 1883 to 1891.