Skip to main content

Walt Whitman to Hannah Whitman Heyde, 4 February 1891


Cold & sunny here—Lou2 was in this mn'g​ —all are well as usual—Jess3 is getting along at St​ Louis—nothing very new or different—Ed4 is the same at Blackwood—Have not heard f'm​ Mary5 lately— A pretty bad fortnight with me the last, but might be worse— am sitting here as usual as I write this—Dr​ Bucke6 is quite sick abed—Love to you, sister dear—$2 enclosed—Sun out shining beautifully—the 1 o'c whistle7 just blown

Walt Whitman  loc_ad.00156_large.jpg

Hannah Louisa Whitman Heyde (1823–1908) was the fourth child of Walter and Louisa Whitman and Walt Whitman's youngest sister. Hannah was named for her paternal grandmother, Hannah Brush Whitman (1753–1834), and her mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873). Although Walt Whitman had a close relationship with his younger brother Jeff Whitman, Hannah was his favorite, most beloved sibling. Until she married, Hannah lived at home with her parents and her brothers. Educated at the Hempstead Academy, Hannah taught school in rural Long Island. On March 23, 1852, Hannah married Charles Louis Heyde (ca. 1820–1892), a landscape painter. It is possible that Walt introduced Hannah to Charles. In August 1852 the Heydes departed for Vermont. The first decade of their marriage was marked by constant moving from boarding houses to hotels, mostly in rural Vermont, as Heyde sought out vantage points for his landscape paintings. In 1864 the Heydes settled in Burlington, purchasing a house on Pearl Street. After Hannah's marriage and relocation to Vermont, Mother Whitman became Hannah's faithful correspondent; Walt also kept in touch, sending letters and editions of Leaves of Grass after publication. Hannah faced several health crises during her marriage, partly due to the ongoing trauma of emotional, verbal, and physical intimate partner violence that she experienced. In the 1880s and 1890s Heyde increasingly had difficulty earning enough to cover household expenses; in addition, he may have become an alcoholic. He repeatedly asked Whitman for funds to cover their expenses. Whitman sent both Heyde and Hannah small amounts of money. After Heyde died in 1892, Hannah remained in Burlington, living in their house on Pearl Street until her death in 1908. For more information, see Paula K. Garrett, "Whitman (Heyde), Hannah Louisa (d. 1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. In March 1884, Whitman purchased a house at 328 Mickle Street in Camden, New Jersey. He lived in this house until his death on March 26, 1892. [back]
  • 2. Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou," married Walt's brother George Whitman on April 14, 1871. They moved to Camden in 1872. Walt Whitman lived with them from 1873–1884. For more information, see Karen Wolfe, "Whitman, Louisa Orr Haslam (Mrs. George) (1842–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863–1957) was the youngest daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother and sister-in-law. Jessie and her older sister Manahatta ("Hattie") (1860–1886) were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]
  • 4. Eddy (Edward) Whitman (1835–1892), the youngest child of Louisa and Walter Whitman, was mentally and physically disabled. He lived with Mother Whitman until her death in 1873, then with his brother George Washington Whitman and his wife Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman. Walt Whitman contributed to his support. Eddy was placed in an asylum in Blackwood, New Jersey, in 1888. For more information, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Edward (1835–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. Mary Elizabeth Whitman Van Nostrand (1821–1899) was the third child of Walter Whitman and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Mary married Ansel Van Nostrand, a shipbuilder, in 1840 and moved to Greenport, Long Island, a whaling town. Hannah and Walt visited her there before Hannah's marriage to Charles L. Heyde. Mary and Ansel had five children: George, Fanny, Louisa, Ansel, and Minnie. For more information, see Paula K. Garrett, "Whitman (Van Nostrand), Mary Elizabeth (b. 1821)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1901), a Canadian physician and psychiatrist, was the Head of the Asylum for the Insane in Ontario, Canada, and a close friend of Whitman. In 1867, Bucke read Whitman's poetry for the first time and became a devoted follower; he visited Whitman in Camden in 1877. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883) and was one of Whitman's literary executors after Whitman's death in 1892. Bucke also provided a date (usually the year) for many of Hannah's letters to Whitman. For more information, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice (1837–1901)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. Geographically, Camden was ideally suited for industrialization because of its proximity to Philadelphia and to the Delaware and Cooper Rivers. During the second half of the nineteenth century Camden experienced tremendous growth in factories, lumber firms, mills, and chemical plants. See George R. Prowell, Camden County, New Jersey (Philadelphia: L.J. Richards, 1886), for a description of the "Porcelain Tooth Manufactury, at No. 314 Mickle St." which employed fifteen laborers and produced 1500 "full sets of teeth each week" (530). Whitman listened for the factory whistles during the day and evening and marked the time of day by them, as his comment illustrates. [back]
Back to top