Ella Wheeler Wilcox

On this date in 1850, popular poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox was born in Johnstown in Rock County, Wisconsin. She skyrocketed to fame when a Chicago firm refused to publish a collection of her love poems, calling them immoral. As a result, when Poems of Passion was published in 1883, it sold 60,000 copies in two years. Although well-known for her moral and temperance poems collected in Drops of Water, Wilcox had a theatrical bent, veiled herself in unorthodoxy and enjoyed life as a famous socialite. Her poem “The Queen’s Last Ride,” about attending the funeral of Queen Victoria, launched her fame in Great Britain.

She married Robert Wilcox in 1884 and they lived near Long Island Sound. They both became interested in theosophy and spiritualism and promised each other that whoever died first would return and communicate with the other. Their only child died shortly after birth and Robert died in 1916. Wilcox went to California to consult with a Rosicrucian astrologer to learn why Robert hadn’t contacted her.

Although she practiced Christianity, Wilcox also embraced a somewhat progressive movement called New or Higher Thought and deserves to be considered an honorary freethinker on the strength of her four-line poem “The World’s Need.” She died of cancer at age 68. (D. 1919)

Freedom From Religion Foundation