Mary Alice Ford was born in 1864 on her father's farm in Lisbon, New Hampshire, the daughter of Samuel Perham and Jane Kelsea Ford. Her childhood was spent in Lisbon where she attended school. In early 1880 she graduated from Plymouth Normal School as a teacher.
Her first teaching assignment was in Centre Harbor and then in the Blue Schoolhouse near Sugar Hill. Through friends she heard of the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia and became interested in the plight of the newly freed slaves. She accepted a teaching position at Hampton in 1884. This was quite a decision for a girl of 21, who had hardly left her home town, but it is indicative of her personality, drive and commitment to a cause.
Following a year's leave of absence from Hampton for study at the University of Michigan, Mary Alice returned to Hampton to resume her duties. The following year, September 10, 1890, she married General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, President of Hampton, at the home of her cousin, Mrs. Martha Scoville in Montpelier, Vermont. Rev. G.W. Gallagher, pastor of the First Congregational Church, was assisted in the ceremony by Rev. H.P. Frissell, Chaplain of Hampton.
At Rev. Frissell's invitation, General and Mrs. Armstrong spent their honeymoon at Pinehurst Camps on the shores of Asquam just east of what was to become Deephaven. Rev. Frissell owned this early camp that was later purchased by Mr. C.C. Morris, who eventually owned all the land east of Deephaven through the Five Finger Points.
General Armstrong died in 1893 and left Mary Alice with two children, Margaret and Daniel. She continued to teach at Hampton until 1904. Miss Bacon invited her to come to Deephaven in 1900, and she and the children built their own cabin, now part of Brown Betty.
In 1900 Miss Bacon returned to Japan and asked Mrs. Armstrong to manage the camp for two years.
This experience proved to her that this was what she wanted to do. In 1901 Mrs. Armstrong bought 27 acres of land adjacent to Deephaven and began her own operation. In 1902 Rockywold was opened with two cottages, a dining room and a few tents along the shore.