A Celebration of Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Poet, Journalist, and Progressive Thinker

Presented by Branford Town Historian Jane Bouley and Pam Knapp

Laugh, 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

About Ella
Poetry and More
The Bungalow
• Ella & Robert Wilcox
A Poet Remembered
Recommended Books
• Recommended Web Site
• Acknowledgment
• Referenced Works


Though 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

About 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.

In 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 beloved home.

Possessing 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 death.

Poetry and More
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 followed.

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 twenty-first century.
"....many...wonders 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
The Bungalow
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.
Ella 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 birth.

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.

To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men

- Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Opening frame of the 1991 Oliver Stone film, JFK
(From Protest, 1914)

A Poet Remembered

"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..."

-Biographer Jenny Ballou in Period Piece: Ella Wheeler Wilcox and Her Times, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1940

The 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 Schlessinger.

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 Books, 2001).

Recommended Books

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 demand.

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 and fulfillment.

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, antiqbook.co.uk, 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.
Recommended Web Site

www.ellawheelerwilcox.org - 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 a reference.
Referenced Works

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 Society, 1902

Protest: poem excerpt from Poems of Problems - Chicago: W. B. Conkey Company, 1914
See the "A Celebration of Ella Wheeler Wilcox" exhibit at the Harrison House Museum & Barn, now through October 1.

Welcome - About the Society - Calendar of Events - Become a Member

Contact the Society - From the Harrison House - Historical Links

©2008, Branford Historical Society. Web site created by Words by Jen, Branford, CT