Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Ellen M. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 12 February 1889

Date: February 12, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02969

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.

Related item: Whitman wrote his February 13, 1889, letter to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke on the fifth page of this letter. He then sent this letter in full to Bucke as an enclosure. See loc.07581.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, Stephanie Blalock, and Alex Ashland

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Feb. 12. 1889.

Dear Walt,

If things go on as they have for the past week, you will have to think yourself lucky if you get even a postal in ten days. You must remember that I am housekeeper, nurse, marketer, & have to see that the house is decent, if possible, besides being interrupted at every ten minutes to answer some one who calls from a good motive to ask how Wm.1 is, but would do better not to come often.

So far I am the only nurse, & if you have been as badly off as he is, you may have some idea of what it means. In this case it means that I wash & dress him so far as he can be dressed,—wash his urinals, for he has to be protected night & day, from the constant dripping,—& to keep him at all clean is nearly impossible. Some nights I get not more than four hours sleep & that very broken, & some days not one moment to rest at all. To-day I am nearly blind from loss of sleep. We have some very bad nights since the attack four weeks ago, & one of the very bad and troublesome developments is the nausea and throwing up, so you see that I am not very idle, & I some days could not write a postal card to save you. You will ask why we don't have a nurse? the answer is William does not want one, & is not ready yet, he sends love to you & says tell you he would write if he could.

Good by.
As ever—
Nelly O'Connor.

P.S. I have had to leave this letter six times to do some thing else.

Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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