American Authors: 1600-1900 . Publication Year 1938 Profile
Copyright 1997 The H.W. Wilson Company

Wilcox, Ella Nov. 5, 1850-Oct. 30, 1919

WILCOX, ELLA (WHEELER) (November 5, 1850-October 30, 1919), poet and novelist, was born in Johnstown Center, Wis., near Madison, the daughter of Marius Hartwell Wheeler and Sarah (Pratt) Wheeler. Later in life, she was accustomed to drop three years from her age. The father was a teacher of dancing from Vermont. Both parents encouraged the child's precocity, and she was reared on such writers as "Ouida," Mrs. Mary J. Holmes, and Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth; proving herself an apt pupil. At nine she wrote her first "novel," at fourteen the New York Mercury published her first essay, and the Waverly Magazine, soon after, her first poem. By the time she was eighteen, what with prizes and magazine publication, she was earning a substantial income. In 1867 her parents sent her to the University of Wisconsin, but there was nothing there she wanted or could use, and she came home at the end of the term. She kept turning out two poems a day, and the first of her forty-odd volumes (mostly of verse) appeared when she was twenty-two. For a few months she worked on a trade paper in Milwaukee. With the refusal of one publisher of Poems of Passion (a very treacly and innocuous passion), and its publication by another in 1876, she became nationally known. She was a sensation made to order for the day; it is difficult to overestimate or to understand it. In 1884 she married Robert Wilcox, a manufacturer of silver objects d'art, and moved to his home in Meriden, Conn. There their only son was born to die in a few hours. Until Mr. Wilcox's death in 1916, they lived in New York in the winter, in Short Beach, Conn., in the summer, in a house which was her pride and also an aesthetic nightmare. They traveled much, and Mrs. Wilcox, besides continuing to pour out volumes, wrote regularly for various Hearst papers and for the Cosmopolitan Magazine. After her husband's death she became a Spiritualist and also a Theosophist, and believed firmly that his spirit guided her minutest actions. During the World War she visited the American camps in the interest of the Red Star, the animal's Red Cross, and also lectured to the soldiers on sex problems. Exhaustion from the strain of this pilgrimage at nearly seventy brought on a fatal illness; she was taken from a nursing home in Bath, England, to Short Beach, where she died. Mrs. Wilcox was the feminine Edgar Guest of her day. She was the high priestess of platitude, and exalted commonplaces to the stature of genius. The success of her prosy poems and her lush yet conventionally Puritanical romances is one of the mysteries of American literature.

Works by subject Selected Works: Verse--Drops of Water, 1872; Shells, 1873; Maurine, 1876; Poems of Passion, 1876; Poems of Pleasure, 1888; Men, Women, and Emotions, 1893; Custer and Other Poems, 1895; Poems of Power, 1901; Poems of Sentiment, 1906; Pastels, 1909; Sailing Sunny Seas, 1910; Gems, 1912; Cameos, 1914; World Voices, 1916. Prose--Mal Moulee, 1885; Perdita and Other Stories, 1886; An Ambitious Man, 1887; A Double Life, 1890; Was It Suicide? 1891; Sweet Danger, 1892; An Erring Woman's Love, 1892; A Woman of the World, 1904; The Story of a Literary Career, 1905; The Worlds and I, 1918.

Works about subject Suggested Reading: Wilcox, E. W. The Story of a Literary Career, The Worlds and I; American Mercury August 1934; Bookman January 1920; Cosmopolitan November 1888, August 1901; Lippincott's Monthly Magazine May 1886; Literary Digest November 22, 1919; New York Times October 31, 1919.