Harcourt was born in New Paltz, New York to a fruit farmer and attended the New Paltz Normal School. While at the normal school Harcourt became a member of the Delphic Fraternity. An illness at age 9 lead to his love for books and reading.
Harcourt's second wife, Ellen Knowles, founded the Alfred Harcourt Foundation before her death in 1984.
- American Authors and Books: 1640 to Present Day Third Revised Edition, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York. (Original Editors W. J. Burke and Will D. Howe)
- In a Valley Fair: A History of the State University College of Education at New Paltz, by Elizabeth Lang and Robert Lang, New York, 1960.
- Alfred Harcourt
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