Alfred Harcourt (1881-1954) was the first president of the historic Zeta Chapter of Delphic at New Paltz, NY. His family was one of the first to settle in the small town in Ulster County. Harcourt was the son of Gertrude M. Elting and Charles M. Harcourt. Alfred grew up in the same stone house his family lived in since 1720. Harcourt's father was a fruit farmer who earned his living by selling his produce to local markets in the New York City area, about 90 miles south of New Paltz.
Alfred Harcourt was born on January 31, 1881. When he was nine years old, Alfred became ill and spent an entire year out of school. To help pass the time, his parents encouraged him to read books and magazines. He later attended the New Paltz Normal School.
Alfred became a member of the Kappa Delta Alpha Fraternity, which was founded in 1896. In 1899, KDA merged with another local fraternity on campus, Alpha Pi Nu, founded in 1889, to form the Zeta chapter of the statewide Delphic Fraternity. Harcourt was elected its first chapter president. The fraternity sponsored literary lectures, political and social debates, and other community activities.
After graduating from the New Paltz, Alfred Harcourt attended Columbia University where he met Donald Brace. The two went on to jobs in publishing firms and eventually co-founded their own: Harcourt Brace and Company. The publishing company became very successful over time, signing famous authors like Sinclair Lewis, Carl Sandburg, George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, and E.E. Cummings. Soon Harcourt Brace and Company became a publishing powerhouse representing some of the world's most recognized writers of the time. Harcourt was president of Harcourt Brace from its founding in 1919 through 1942 when he retired due to illness.
Alfred Harcourt died on June 20, 1954, at the age of 73. His second wife Ellen Knowles Harcourt founded the Alfred Harcourt Foundation in 1962. The foundation provides college scholarships to deserving students at various colleges and universities across the country. Harcourt remained on the board of directors of Harcourt Brace and Company until his death.
The tributes to Alfred Harcourt recognized him as one of the great publishers of the 20th century. For many years the company he founded was known to others in the publishing industry simply by the name "Harcourt."
Harcourt's legacy lives on today within the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.