Irene Jones Carlisle (1908–2006)

Originally from Texas, Irene Carlisle lived much of her life in Fayetteville (Washington County), where she became a widely respected teacher, poet, and folklorist. Carlisle taught Latin and English at Springdale High School; published poetry in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and journals; published a well-received book of poetry; and collected folksongs and folklore in northwestern Arkansas.

Irene Jones was born to Stephen and Tela Jones on May 24, 1908. She married Jack Carlisle in 1929, and the couple moved to Fayetteville. She earned a BA from Texas Christian University in 1929. During World War II, her husband served in the U.S. Navy, and she worked as a welder in a California shipyard; she composed a popular poem, “Welder,” about those experiences. “Welder” was first published in the February 1945 issue of the Saturday Evening Post, and in 2000 it was used in the dedication ceremonies of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California.

Irene Carlisle published poetry for more than fifty years, and her poems appeared in Kaleidograph, Living Poetry Quarterly, Northwest Arkansas Times, Sun and Wind, Texas Christian, University Quarterly, Voices, and several other publications. At least fifteen of her poems appeared in the Saturday Evening Post between 1939 and 1953, and several of these—such as “Logrolling,” “Country Auction,” and “Fiddler by Lamplight”—make clear references to rural Arkansas society. The Dierkes Press of La Porte, Indiana, published Carlisle’s poetry collection, Music by Lamplight, in 1945. This collection contains thirty-five poems, several of which engage place-based cultural elements, such as fiddlers, country auctions, mules, berry picking, corn planting, poverty, tenant farms, and folklore. In Ozark Folklore: An Annotated Bibliography, Vance Randolph noted that Carlisle’s collection “is good verse, and the author knows the Ozarks scene.”

In 1952, Carlisle earned a master’s degree in English from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville, and her thesis was titled, “Fifty Ballads and Songs from Northwest Arkansas.” This thesis is a study of Ozarks folksongs that she collected from twenty-one folk singers in Carroll, Sebastian, and Washington counties, and Randolph later included several of these songs in his monumental four-volume collection Ozark Folksongs. Carlisle was also an active member of the Arkansas Folklore Society, and she published several articles about folk songs, weather signs, folk cures, and folktales in the Arkansas Gazette, Arkansas Folklore, and The Ozarks Mountaineer. One of Carlisle’s most extensive studies of Ozarks folksongs was “And Doors of Ivoree,” which appeared as a two-part series in the Arkansas Gazette in May 1942. Carlisle’s contributions to the study of Ozarks folksongs are referenced in numerous collections and studies of American folk music.

Her husband died in 1970, and she retired from teaching in 1972 and moved to California to be nearer to family members. During retirement, she traveled to Alaska, Europe, Asia, and Africa and spent time with her grandchildren. Irene Carlisle died in California on March 4, 2006, and is buried beside her husband in the Farmington Cemetery in Washington County.

For additional information:
Carlisle, Irene. “And Doors of Ivoree.” Arkansas Gazette, Magazine section, May 3 and 10, 1942, pp. 1–2, 12; 1, 2.

———. “Arkansas Folklore Is Fun for Everybody.” Arkansas Gazette, June 17, 1951, p. 1F.

———. “Booth Campbell.” Ozarks Mountaineer, July 1956, p. 18.

———. “Cures.” Arkansas Folklore 3 (March 1953): 3–5.

———. “Fifty Ballads and Songs from Northwest Arkansas.” MA thesis, University of Arkansas, 1952.

———. “I Wonder When I Shall be Married.” Arkansas Folklore 3 (March 20, 1953): 9.

———. Music by Lamplight. La Porte, IN: The Dierkes Press, 1945.

———. “The Three Fools.” Arkansas Folklore 2 (May 1952): 6–7.

———. “Weather Signs.” Arkansas Folklore 3 (March 1953) 5–6.

“Irene Carlisle.” Northwest Arkansas Times, May 19, 2006, p. 2A.

Randolph, Vance. Ozarks Folklore: An Annotated Bibliography. Vol. I. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987.

Phillip Howerton
Missouri State University

Last Updated: 11/08/2019