The famous American poet and
playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay passed away on this day in 1950. Only the
third woman to ever win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, she is believed to
have been an early bisexual icon for her affairs with both men and
Edna St. Vincent Millay in Mamaroneck, NY, 1914, by Arnold Genthe (x).
Edna St. Vincent Millay was born
on February 22, 1892 in Rockland, Maine. Her family was of modest means, her
father being a schoolteacher and her mother a nurse. Her middle name St.
Vincent was derived from the hospital in New York City, where her uncle’s life
had been miraculously saved not long before her birth. Edna would later write
of her childhood and say that she and her family lived “between the mountains
and the sea where baskets of apples and drying herbs on the porch mingled their
scents with those of the neighboring pine woods.” After her parents divorced,
Edna’s mother traveled around Maine with she and her sisters never staying in
one place too long. Despite her unconventional education,
Edna was eventually awarded a scholarship to Vassar College.
It was at Vassar where her affairs
with other women began, most notably with the English actress Edith Wynne
Matthison, who was over twice Edna’s age. After graduating in 1917, she moved
to New York City and lived in the bohemian neighborhood of Greenwich Village where she built a life for herself that she would later describe as having been “very, very
poor and very, very merry.” Although poetry was her main aim, Edna began seeing
much success as a playwright; she had lucrative careers with both the
Provincetown Players and the Theater Guild. Many of her plays and poems are now
legendary for their lesbian subtext, such as “The Lamp and the Bell,” Aria da Capo, and “Renascence.” She
would earn her spot in the history textbooks in 1923 after winning the Pulitzer
Prize for Poetry for her piece “The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver,” becoming
just the third woman to ever be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
One of Edna’s greatest loves was
the talented sculptor and famous lesbian expat Thelma Wood, who she met after
moving to Paris in January of 1921. Her relationships with men included a 26-year
long marriage to lawyer and war correspondent Eugen Jan Boissevain, as well as
a lengthy affair with the poet George Dillon. During World War I, Edna was a
staunch pacifist and contributed to the active anti-war campaign in her literary
circle; however, she changed her position with the dawn of World War II and
supported the Allied Forces. She made literary history once again in 1943 when
she became the second woman to every be awarded the Frost Award.
Edna photographed laughing with her friends in Paris, including her lover Thelma Wood (x).
Following an accident where she
fell down the stairs in her home, Edna suffered a heart attack and passed away
on October 19, 1950 at the age of 58. She was buried next to her husband Eugen,
who had passed away only a year earlier. Her estate and bisexual legacy was
eventually restored and brought to prominence in the literary canon thanks to the
work of her sister Norma, biographer Nancy Millford, and fellow Pulitzer Prize
winning poet and wlw Mary Oliver.