Selected Criticism

Clare, Ada [Jane McElheney]
Stansell, Christine
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Born to a well-to-do family in Charleston, the woman who would become known as Ada Clare left home at nineteen to earn her living as a writer in New York. A prolific essayist, poet, and short story writer, she won a following in the magazines and newspapers and became a celebrity in the New York demi-monde. In the mid-1850s she gave birth to an illegitimate son, probably the child of the pianist Louis Gottschalk, and defiantly presented herself as an unmarried mother, "Miss Ada Clare." A confessional novel, Only a Woman's Heart (1866), bears upon these events. Along with her friend Adah Menken, Clare frequented the bohemian Pfaff's saloon, where she befriended Whitman and made a place for herself in the circle of newspapermen who gathered there. She was one of Henry Clapp's featured writers in his Saturday Press. Whitman was sufficiently impressed by Clare to make her into one of the "sights" cited in his newspaper articles recounting his New York rambles (later collected in New York Dissected [1936]). From the mid-1860s, Clare supplemented her writing with a hard-working, although mostly unsuccessful, stage career. She spent time in San Francisco and Hawaii as a feted literary celebrity. She died in New York in 1874 of rabies, which she contracted from the dog of a theatrical agent.

Christine Stansell


Parry, Albert. Garrets and Pretenders: A History of Bohemianism in America. New York: Covici, Friede, 1933.

Stoddard, Charles Warren. "Ada Clare, Queen of Bohemia." National Magazine Sept. 1905: 637–645.


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