Alice French was born in Andover, Massachusetts, on March 19, 1850, the eldest daughter of George Henry French and Frances Wood Morton French, both of whom could trace their lineage back to the earliest settlement of Massachusetts in the 1630s. The family left its New England roots in 1856, however, and moved to Davenport, Iowa, where George Henry French became a successful businessman and civic leader.
From 1856 until 1866 Alice French attended public schools in Davenport, but from 1866 to 1868, she attended private schools in the East. Returning to Davenport after graduation, she entered a life of midwestern gentility and began to write occasional short stories and essays. Her first work published in a national periodical was a short story about railroad strikers entitled "Communists and Capitalists: A Sketch from Life," which appeared in Lippincott's in October 1878. This story is also important because it was the first to appear under the pseudonym "Octave Thanet." According to later interviews, French chose "Octave" because of a former roommate's name, Octavia, and because she liked the fact that it could be taken as either male or female; "Thanet" supposedly derived from some printing on the side of a boxcar that French once saw. Her first short story to gain national critical attention was "The Bishop's Vagabond," published in the Atlantic Monthly in January 1884. From this point until the end of the century, editors of the leading national magazines and managers of the major newspaper syndicates frequently solicited contributions from her, and she was among the highest-paid authors of the period.
An important turning point in French's life came in 1883. In this year she accompanied Jane Allen Crawford, a longtime friend and recent widow, to a