Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John H. Johnston to Walt Whitman, 4 August 1891

Date: August 4, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02578

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Andrew David King, Cristin Noonan, and Stephanie Blalock

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New York,1
Aug 4 1891

Dear Walt,

I have tried to snatch time to drop you a line for week's post, but from morning till night I am driven with work. Some days I really do not have five minutes spare time and go home so tired that I go to bed often before 9 o'clock, but I sleep well, and feel well, and everybody says I am growing fat. Scarcely that tho' however I weigh 30 lbs more than I did 18 yrs ago. Alma2 went up to Pelham Bay Park today with a batch of her "Little Mothers" She goes every Tuesday & Friday Since she started her home made charity she has taken over 2000. children out for a day on the Sound.

Pelham Bay Park is between Westchester and New Rochelle and the Park Commissioner give Alma the use of a big mansion where the children meet and then romp in a great meadow and bathe in the Sound. She takes 30 to 60 at a time—the little waifs who take care of their younger brothers and sisters all the year round while the mother is away earning the bread and butter.

The name Alma called then "The Little Mothers" has been a talisman, and scarcely a mail that she does not receive from one to even as high as fifty dollars. Yesterday $5, came from Walla Walla, and Saturday $25 from Canandiaigua from "The Misses Granger"3 You remember their father and grandfather—celebrated Politicians—Francis Granger4 even in my day I remember as a boy.

Strange to say never a dollar comes from the very rich. The big millionaires never send a dollar but it comes in small sums from all over, and she is able to foot all the expenses week after week and month after month. Hoping this will find you comfortable, and after many interruptions I will say good by.

Sincerly yrs

John H. (J.H.) Johnston (1837–1919) was a New York jeweler who became a close friend of Whitman's. Whitman visited Johnston's home frequently, and Johnston assisted with raising funds for the aging poet. Alma Calder Johnston was an author and John's second wife. Her family owned a home and property in Equinunk, Pennsylvania. For more on the Johnstons, see Susan L. Roberson, "Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder" (Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | N.J. It is postmarked: NEW YORK | AUG 4 | 630PM | D; 91; CAMDEN, N.J. | AUG | 5 | 6AM | 1891 | REC'D. [back]

2. Alma Calder Johnston (1843–1917) was an author and the founder of a charity called the Little Mothers' Aid Society. The charity funded trips to Pelham Bay Park on Hunter's Island for young girls who served as the primary caregivers for their siblings while their parents worked. Johnston wrote for the New York Tribune and Harper's Weekly ("[Obituary for Alma Calder Johnston]," in "New York Notes," The Jewelers' Circular-Weekly [May 9, 1917], 85). Her "Personal Memories of Walt Whitman" was published in The Bookman 46 (December 1917), 404–413. She was the second wife of the jeweler John H. Johnston, and her family owned a home and property in Equinunk, Pennsylvania. For more on the Johnstons, see Susan L. Roberson, "Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder" (Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. The Misses Granger may be a reference to the granddaughters of the politician Francis Granger. [back]

4. Francis Granger (1792–1868) was a politician and political essayist who published numerous pamphlets. Granger served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 26th district and as the U.S. Postmaster General. In 1836, he was a Whig Party Vice Presidential nominee, but lost a contingent election for Vice President in the U.S. Senate. Granger was the son of the early American politician and lawyer Gideon Granger (1757–1822). [back]


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