Celebration of Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Poet, Journalist, and Progressive Thinker
by Branford Town Historian Jane Bouley and Pam Knapp
and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone,
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
- Ella Wheeler Wilcox from Solitude, 1883
• Poetry and More
• The Bungalow
• Ella & Robert Wilcox
• A Poet Remembered
• Recommended Books
• Recommended Web Site
• Referenced Works
forth my wandering footsteps stray, To realms and regions
far away, My heart dwells here, in Granite Bay.
- Ella Wheeler Wilcox from Granite Bay, 1918
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
She was known as the "Poetess of Passion" and was Short
Beach's most famous resident. Ella Wheeler Wilcox was born
of humble beginnings on November 5, 1850 in Johnstown, Wisconsin.
She began writing poetry at the age of seven and throughout
her teenaged years earned money by submitting her works
to several newspapers and literary magazines. Poems
of Passion (1883), her most noted book of poetry, brought
her fame throughout the United States and Europe. A highlight
of her career was being selected to write a poem in memory
of Queen Victoria upon her death in 1901.
1884, Ella Wheeler married Robert Wilcox of Meriden, whom
she had met in Milwaukee. The couple lived for a time in
Meriden and later in New York City. In 1891, the couple
came to Short Beach where they built their home on the rocks
overlooking Granite Bay. Their cottage was named "The Bungalow,"
and later they built a winter home called "The Barracks"
on the property. The two homes, along with several other
cottages built by the poet, became known as "Bungalow Court."
The compound would be a meeting place for many social gatherings
that brought together the literary and artistic figures
of the day.
The poet was an avid swimmer who helped organize races during
Short Beach's Illumination Days, the forerunner of today's
annual Short Beach Days Labor Day weekend events.
The Wilcoxes traveled widely to the Orient, Europe and many
exotic locales. Always upon their return, they would decorate
their home with treasures acquired from the trips. Though
the couple were abroad often on both business and pleasure,
Short Beach was always "home."
Robert Wilcox died suddenly in Short Beach May 21, 1916,
and Wilcox never really recovered from the loss. In 1918,
she visited France to counsel men who had been injured in
war. She fell ill during the trip and returned to Short
Beach where she died October 30, 1919. The couple's ashes
are interred together atop the granite rock beside their
a strong interest in mysticism, Ella Wheeler Wilcox was
instrumental in establishing the Rosicrucian
Order in America. The Rosicrucians, still active today,
adhere to an ancient philosophy for the attainment of personal
power through spiritual awareness. Wilcox served on the
first Supreme Council of the American Rosicrucian Movement,
later presiding as a Supreme Council Officer up until her
Drops of Water, Poems, a collection of temperance
poems, was the first book published by then Ella Wheeler in
1872. The book garnered only a small audience. Shells followed
in 1873, offering optimistic moral verses that set the tone
for much of her later works. Soon after publication, Wilcox's
poems increasingly appeared in newspapers and periodicals.
Poems of Passion, published in 1883, was the book of
verse that made Ella Wheeler a national figure. When one Chicago
publisher rejected the book, citing it as immoral, newspapers
across the country ran headlines about the "illicit" poems.
Once published by another Chicago house, 60,000 copies of
the book were sold in its first two years. Several reprints
Wilcox published more than 70 books, including her autobiography,
The Worlds and I, launched in 1918, the year before
her death. Although she is best known for poetry tomes, her
books espousing the New Thought movement, a spiritual philosophy
and practice based on idealism and firm mental discipline,
gained much attention. Heart of The New Thought,
released in 1902, contains Wilcox's essays on the use of New
Thought for finding happiness and fulfillment.
Wilcox also wrote novels, plays, and many periodical columns.
Some of her poems were later adapted for film stories, and
several of her verses were transformed into lyrics set to
music by famous composers.
A number of Wilcox's books are now available in softcover
reprint; and many of her first edition books command high
prices, a testament to the both highly acclaimed and harshly
criticized Victorian poet's continuing popularity into the
of God's earth have I beheld,
yet nowhere have I found any other spot which seemed to me
to combine so much beauty, comfort, convenience, and charm
for the enjoyment of simple and wholesome life as Short-Beach-on-the-Sound
at Granite Bay."
- Ella Wheeler Wilcox from The Worlds And I, 1918
After they built their Bungalow in Short Beach in 1891, Ella
and Robert Wilcox spent every summer in what she called her
"earthly Eden." In 1906, after Robert retired, the couple
made Short Beach their year round home.
The Wilcox's seaside property was the scene for many balls
and soirees, including the couple's annual August event, "Illumination
Night." Short Beach residents gaily illuminated their cottages,
piers, and boats with colored lanterns. The event always concluded
with a ball held in the cabin of the Bungalow. In recent years,
this custom was revived in Short Beach where residents honor
the memory of Ella Wheeler Wilcox by celebrating Illumination
Night during Labor Day weekend. Festivities include the lighting
of lanterns, as well as readings of the poet's verse, followed
by music and dance upon the former Wilcox property.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox was known for her hospitality, and particularly
enjoyed dancing. She took private lessons from dancer Jennie
May Beers of Short Beach, and together, wearing interesting
costumes of their own creation, they performed musicals at
the Bungalow. The New Haven Chronicle of August 22, 1903 describes
the annual fancy dress ball given by the poet in which "...(Ella)
looked wonderful dressed as an Indian Maiden and Mr. Wilcox
looked more like Napoleon than ever."
Visitors to the Bungalow over the years included actor John
Barrymore, poets Theodosia Garrison & Elsa Barker, authors
Zona Gale & Jack London, botanist Luther Burbank, and French
actress Sarah Bernhardt, among other luminaries.
and Robert Wilcox
Ella and Robert Wilcox enjoyed thirty-two happily married
years together. They remained childless following the death
of their only child, Robert Jr., who died twelve hours after
The couple was fascinated with exploring all psychic and spiritual
matters, and the two readily accepted the teachings of Theosophy.
During the 1890's they both studied under the well-known Hindu
monk and mystic, Swami Vivekananda. In her autobiography,
Wilcox states that the East Indian teacher gave the couple
"lessons in concentration." This practice of meditation, she
writes, gave her "new strength and poise to meet life."
Together, Ella and Robert Wilcox held a promise that each
would contact the other after one passed on. After Robert's
death in 1916, Wilcox visited several mediums throughout the
country, but had no success in reaching her husband. Upon
her return home to Short Beach, she believed she had finally
made contact with her beloved husband via a Ouija board. Her
accounts of conversations with the spirit of her deceased
husband are documented in The Worlds and I.
sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards out
- Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Opening frame of the 1991 Oliver Stone film, JFK
(From Protest, 1914)
"Ella Wheeler Wilcox was pure, thoroughbred lowbrow, yet
in some preposterous, important, and unique way she is tied
up, too, with the best that can be found in America..."
Jenny Ballou in Period Piece: Ella Wheeler Wilcox and Her
Times, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1940
poet is referred to in the stories of Sinclair Lewis, F.
Scott Fitzgerald, Jack London, and O. Henry.
Quoted by, among others, the late Princess Diana, former
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Dr. Laura
Viewed as the Shirley MacLaine of her times for her progressive
thinking on prenatal influences, reincarnation, and spiritual
awakening (by author Martin Gardner).
Written about by author Ed Ifkovic in Ella Moon: A Novel
Based on the Life of Ella Wheeler Wilcox (WI: Badger
Poems of Passion - Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Co.,
1883. The book of verse that made Wilcox a national figure
due to what was considered "controversial" poem themes for
the times. Cited "immoral" by one New York newspaper journalist,
the book had to go into several reprints to keep up with the
The Collected Poems of Ella Wheeler Wilcox - London:
Gay & Hancock, 1917. Volume One: Poems of Passion, Poems of
Pleasure, Poems of Cheer and Poems of Sentiment. Volume Two:
Poems of Power, Poems of Progress, Poems of Experience and
Maurine. Volume Three: Kingdom of Love, The Englishman, Three
Women and Yesterdays.
Heart of the New Thought - Chicago: The Psychic Research
Society, 1902. Wilcox's essays on the New Thought Movement,
a spiritual philosophy and practice based on "the power right
thought," a "self-help" approach toward finding happiness
The Worlds and I - New York: George H. Doran Company,
1918 Autobiography that includes much information about Wilcox's
life in Short Beach.
Period Piece: Ella Wheeler Wilcox and Her Times -
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1940- by Jenny Ballou, who acknowledges
thanks to "friends in Short Beach...for the material they
so generously contributed" to this biography.
Looking for a first edition? Try abebooks.com,
biblio.com or eBay.com,
where Wilcox's books can always be discovered. Several books
are now available in reprint from Kessinger
Publishing. Publications include many of Wilcox's most
popular poetry collections, essays, and novels.
- This site is an online virtual museum containing voluminous
information about Wilcox including photographs, historical
facts, references, a bibliography of published works, and
more. Nearly two thousand poems and complete texts of several
books may be read free at this site. Historical information
was researched, compiled, and presented by Richard A. Edwards
who resides in Washington.
Mr. Edwards, a librarian and historian, also created and organized
The Ella Wheeler Wilcox Society, a worldwide online discussion
group of the poet's fans, researchers and collectors. Free
membership can be obtained at the site.
Several of the photographs and historical references that
are contained on this site were obtained from
www.ellawheelerwilcox.org, copyrighted 1997-2000, by Richard
A. Edwards. The Branford Historical Society gives thanks to
Mr. Edwards for permission to utilize his superior site as
Solitude: poem excerpt from Poems of Passion - Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Co., 1883
Granite Bay: poem excerpt from The Worlds and
I - New York: George H. Doran Company, 1918
Drops of Water, Poems - New York: The National Temperance
Society and Publication House, 1872
Shells - Milwaukee: Hauser & Storey, 1873
Heart of the New Thought - Chicago: The Psychic Research
Protest: poem excerpt from Poems of Problems
- Chicago: W. B. Conkey Company, 1914