Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Ellen M. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 29 November 1889

Date: November 29, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02984

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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Contributors to digital file: Kirby Little, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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1015 O St. N. W.
Washington, D. C.
Nov. 29, 1889.

Dear Walt,

I have been too busy to even get time to say thank you, for your good letter,1 & the papers.

All are welcome, but I was rejoiced at the good news in your letter to Dr. Bucke,2 & which he quotes in his.3 I echo his words. & hope that you are feeling pretty well this clear cold day.

I am very glad you sent me the letter from Dr. Bucke, I will return it later. I have been trying to get the house into living order, & the stove is all right & burns well since it was repaired. The watercloset had to be seen by the plumbers, & they are slow, so it all takes time, but I am getting in order, & you know that I did not live in Philadelphia five years for nothing! I have a great love of good house keeping, care too much I fear, for the trifles.

I hope that your boys are well, & your house-keeper. I was invited out to dine yesterday, Thanksgiving day. Last year I had William4 & Harold Channing,5 but I think we did not ask any guest, William was already so much of an invalid in some ways.

With dear love, & all good wishes—
As ever—
Nelly O'Connor.

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. O'Connor may be referring to Whitman's letter of November 23, 1889[back]

2. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. O'Connor is referring to Whitman's letter of November 23, 1889, in which Whitman enclosed a letter from Richard Maurice Bucke. Bucke's letter is not known and may not be extant. [back]

4. William F. Channing (1820–1901), son of William Ellery Channing, and also Ellen O'Connor's brother-in-law, was by training a doctor, but devoted most of his life to scientific experiments. With Moses G. Farmer, he perfected the first fire-alarm system. He was the author of Notes on the Medical Applications of Electricity (Boston: Daniel Davis, Jr., and Joseph M. Wightman, 1849). Ellen O'Connor visited him frequently in Providence, Rhode Island, and Whitman stayed at his home in October, 1868. [back]

5. Harold Channing was the son of O'Connor's brother-in-law, William F. Channing (1820–1901) and the brother of Grace Ellery Channing (1862–1937). Harold and Grace were the nephew and niece, respectively, of O'Connor. [back]


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