The Wisconsin songstress, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, was born at Johnstown, Rock County, Wisconsin. Her father was a Vermonter, but settled in Johnstown in the year 1848. Her love for literature was inherited from her mother.
When thirteen years of age she began to write poetry, and in time found confidence to send her verses here and there for publication. She received no financial return for these early efforts, but gradually won the fame which led to handsome remuneration. At the present time she is in receipt of a good income, and her residence at Meriden, Connecticut, is one of the prettiest and best, not to say the most luxurious homes in that place.
Ella has suffered from critics, in common with poets of every degree. A good story is told of how she got even with a newspaper editor, who begged that she, instead of writing so many verses about babies, should devote a little of her time to puppies; Ella, ever willing to profit by suggestions, immediately sat down and wrote a pleasant poem, where a child pleads for the lives of five puppies which she owns. One by one the little animals are taken from her, till finally but a single creature is left. At this juncture the child makes a piteous appeal, saying: "Just save this one, for I want to make an editor of it." Ella had the poem published in a Milwaukie newspaper, dedicated to the editor who had made the suggestion upon which she had acted. It is stated that he lost all interest in Ella's poems afterward.
The book by which Mrs. Wilcox is best known is "Poems of Passion." When this was first published she was given a reception a the academy of music in Milwaukie, and five hundred dollars was presented to her by her admirers.
Her volume of temperance poems, "Drops of Water," has many admirers. A novel from her pen, "Mal-Monlee," is less known, yet it contains some of her best verses.
In speaking of past events, she says: "I had ceased to expect any sudden success in literature when I published 'Poems of Passion.'" The intense excitement the book caused, the hue and cry raised against its alleged immorality, and the consequently remarkable sales, were all a stunning surprise to me. I had written of human nature as I had found it; I had no idea even that I was saying anything unusual. The abuse my book received was very bitter for me to bear, because I felt it to be unjust. One critic declared that the book would damn me socially and intellectually. I am still a welcome guest in circles where he could not even obtain a position as valet unless I gave him a recommendation; and my book has brought me warm words of praise from the most celebrated people in the land. And the proceeds from its first sales enabled me to build over and enlarge the old home, rendering my aged parents comfortable for life. As I read over my works, and painfully realize their defects, I am moved to wonder why I have been accorded such unusual success when many writers who far excel me as poets have failed to win recognition or remuneration."
Ella looks younger than she really is. Her figure is slight and girlish, and her head is crowned with red-brown hair.