Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Ellen M. O'Connor, 26 July 1887

Date: July 26, 1887

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00566

Source: The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:112. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Alex Ashland, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

Camden New Jersey1
July 26 '87

Dear friend

Thank you for the kind postal card2—Does Wm3 care ab't having papers (Critic, Boston Trans: &c) sent—& is he mostly at the house in O street—or to be address'd at the office? I think every day about him, & am almost feverishly anxious to do something—Would like at the least to send papers & letters to while away the time—but fear being intrusive with them—

I am living here in a little wooden house of my own, with a kind Jersey woman (a sailor's widow Mrs: Davis4) for housekeeper & cook—am totally bodily disabled as to locomotion &c.—but good heart—& eating, digestion, sleep-power &c. fairly active—I am sitting here in a big arm chair by the open window as I write—hot weather here too for eight weeks—but I have stood it—

Walt Whitman

Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years, and he speaks often in his letters of their daughter Jean, by nickname "Jenny" or "Jeannie." Though Whitman and William O'Connor would break in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated black citizens, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see also Dashae E. Lott, "William Douglas O'Connor," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. This letter is addressed: Mrs: E M O'Connor | 1015 O Street | Washington | D C. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jul 26 | 8 PM | 87; Washington, Rec'd. | Jul | 27 | 7 AM | 1887 | 1. [back]

2. There are no extant postal cards from Ellen O'Connor at this time. [back]

3. 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]

4. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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