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Walt Whitman to Hannah Whitman Heyde, 11 March 1891


Sunny & fine to-day—had a letter f'm​ Jess,2 St. Louis, this mn'g​ —She is well & seems to be getting along—is ab't​ 5 now, & I have eaten my early supper—had a fine varied meal bro't​ to me, but selected only some stew'd​ tomatoes (with onions & crust bread) and half cup coffee, & sent the rest back—am sitting here same as usual—hope & pray it is comfortable with you, sister dear—a poor English street-singing boy stops out in the street & sings "the flowers that bloom in the spring"3 while another boy (his brother I fancy) fiddles. $2 enclosed—God bless you, Han—

Walt Whitman  loc_ad.00162_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 would live in this house until his death on March 26, 1892. [back]
  • 2. 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") were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]
  • 3. "The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring" is a song from the opera The Mikado; or, the Town of Titipu. Sir William Schwenck ("W. S.") Gilbert (1836–1911) wrote the lyrics, and Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900) wrote the music. The opera was first performed in London in 1885. [back]
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