Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Jennie Wren to Walt Whitman, 19 March 1891

Date: March 19, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04639

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "Jennie Wren," is in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Alex Ashland, Brandon James O'Neil, and Stephanie Blalock

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The Doll's Dressmaker.
A Magazine for Girls.
35 East 77 Street,
Jennie Wren.1
New York.
March 19th 1891

To Walt Whitman
Mickle Street Camden New Jersey
Dearly Beloved Poet!

I know you will not think me bold in thus addressing you—when I tell you that I have known you for years through your poems and although I am a perfect stranger to you yet you can never be a stranger to me, for have you not given to us all the rich outpourings of your generous heart in your "Blades of Grass?"

These poems have been the "windows of your soul" and through them I have looked into your heart—that heart large enough to call all men your brothers, all women Sisters! Hence I consider myself one of your sisters—albeit we may never meet on this planet, and this must be my excuse for writing you.

I was much pleased with two portraits I saw of you the other evening at Mrs J.H. Johnston's2 305 East 17th Street. One was an oil painting, the other a magnificent crayon. As I stood before the latter our host came up and said "I consider that the finest picture in the world!" This will give you some idea of his enthusiasm.

Under cover of this envelope I send you copies of my little magazine and hope you will do me the honor to glance over them. I have taken up what I believe to be a good life work and the giving of many happy hours to our "little women."

I trust you have enjoyed these three days of sunshine and that you have been able to go down to the river each day.

Hoping I have not tired you with my letter and that you have not felt it an intrusion

I am
Very Sincerely and Respectfully Yours
Jennie Wren

The identity of the editor of The Doll's Dressmaker, who wrote under the name of "Jennie Wrenn," is currently unknown. A character known as Jennie Wren is referred to as the "doll's dressmaker" in Charles Dickens's 1864 novel, Our Mutual Friend, and an 1891 interview with the editor of the magazine The Doll's Dressmaker confirms that 'Jennie Wren' is a pseudonym. When the interviewer then suggests a popular rumor that her identity is Miriam Leslie, wife and successor of newspaper mogul Frank Leslie, the editor replies that she does not know Leslie, and that she "commenced the magazine because of a decreased income, and combined with the work an object, viz.: to help poor little girls." There is also a "Jennie Wren" listed in New York City directories in 1891, 1892, and 1894, living at the same East 77th Street address given for The Doll's Dressmaker, but Wren does not appear in the directory after the magazine ceased publication. For more information, see Grace Carew Sheldon, "New York Letter: A Buffalo Woman Among the Newspaper Men and Women," The Buffalo Courier, April 5, 1891, 10.


1. The fictional character Jennie Wren is the disabled child who makes doll dresses in Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend (1864). Jennie Wren is probably a pseudonym. [back]

2. Alma Calder Johnston (1843–1917) was an author and the second wife of John H. Johnston. 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]


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