Women Without Superstition: "No Gods - No Masters". Edited by Annie Laurie Gaylor. The Collected Writings of Women Freethinkers of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

NEW! (1997). The first anthology of women freethinkers, featuring more than 50 activists and writers critical of religion. Includes biographical sketches, selected writings, 51 photographs, and full index. (ISBN 1-877733-09-1)

p. 293, Chapter 23

Ella Wheeler Wilcox


November 5, 1850-October 30, 1919

THE ENORMOUSLY POPULAR WISCONSIN-BORN POET was not, according to today's critics, a minor poet--but a bad major one. Her fame was launched on notoriety, when a Chicago firm refused to publish a collection of emotional love poems, calling them immoral. As a result, after Poems of Passion was published in 1883, it sold 60,000 copies in two years. She enjoyed courting controversy, veiling herself in unorthodoxy.

Ella was well-known for her moral and temperance poems, including her collection, Drops of Water, but had a theatrical nature, enjoying fame and life as a socialite. After attending the funeral of Queen Victoria, she wrote "The Queen's Last Ride," launching her fame in Great Britain. A romantic correspondence with James Whitcomb Riley fizzled when the two met in person. She married Robert Marius Wilcox. Following his death in 1906, she once more became bane to clergy by becoming interested in theosophy, convinced she could commune with the dead. Her orthodox and unorthodox poems probably cancel each other out, and she departed life as an irrationalist, though embracing pantheism and "New Thought." but on the strength of her four-line poem, "The World's Need," Ella deserves to be considered an honorary freethinker.

The World's Need

So many Gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
When just the art of being kind
Is all this sad world needs.

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