Higginson, Ella Rhoads
HIGGINSON, Ella Rhoads
Born circa 1860, Council Grove, Kansas; died 29 December 1940, Bellingham, Washington
Wrote under: Ella Higginson, Ella Rhoads
Daughter of Charles and Mary Ann Rhoads; married Russell C.Higginson, circa 1880
In the early 1860s, Ella Rhoads Higginson's family crossed the plains from Kansas to the Grand Ronde Valley of Oregon. In 1870 they moved to Portland and then to a farm eight miles from town. Later they lived in Oregon City, where Higginson received her few years of education in a public school. The youngest of three children, Higginson enjoyed freedom from punishments and farm chores. Although the family was poor, their home was filled with good books, visitors, and conversation. Her father's ability as a storyteller and her mother's poetic sensitivity to the beauty of nature enriched Higginson's childhood experiences.
At the age of eight, Higginson wrote her first poem and was encouraged to continue writing by her mother and her sister, Carrie Blake Morgan, who later became known as a poet in her own right as the author of Path of Gold. Her father and her brother laughed at her early poetic attempts, but at fourteen Higginson published a love poem in the Oregon City paper. At sixteen she joined the newspaper staff to learn everything from typesetting to editorial writing. Early stories were contributed to the West Shore, a Portland literary magazine, and to the Salem Oregon Literary Vidette.
In 1888 Higginson moved to Whatcom (now Bellingham), Washington, with her husband. A druggist from New York, he possessed charming "Eastern" manners but, according to Higginson, did not sufficiently encourage or appreciate her literary work. From Bellingham she edited a department entitled "Fact and Fancy for Women" for the weekly West Shore. Her first column, in 1890, presented advanced views on the controversial subject of divorce.
For 25 years after the demise of the West Shore in 1891, Higginson contributed fiction to national magazines such as Century, Harper's Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Short Stories, New Peterson, McClure's, and Collier's. Higginson's stories were collected in several volumes. Her stories of common people of the Far West were praised by the Overland Monthly as "unpretentious tales…told simply and naturally, yet so vivid and graphic are they, that they charm the reader from the first to the last." The Outlook described her as one of the best American short story writers, while the Chicago Tribune noted: "Mrs. Higginson has shown a breadth of treatment and knowledge of the everlasting human verities that equals much of the best work of France."
Higginson's poetry appeared in magazines such as Atlantic, Harper's, and Scribner's and in the columns of many Pacific Coast and Eastern newspapers. Two of her most popular poems were "God's Creed" and "Four Leaf Clover." Many of her poems were set to music and performed by singers such as Caruso, McCormack, and Calve. The vivid imagery and singing quality of her poetry were achieved through diligence—she often rewrote a dozen times—and keen observation of nature. Many poems deal with the theme of the Pacific Northwest, and several, such as "The Grande Ronde Valley" and "The Evergreen Pine," are specifically about Oregon.
Higginson's only published novel, Mariella, of Out West (1904), presents a young girl facing a hard frontier farming life, the economic boom of 1888-89, and the proposals of men who represent a variety of social backgrounds. The novel conveys a strong feeling for nature coupled with a sense of piety and spirituality. Alaska, the Great Country (1908), Higginson's last book, is a combination of guide book, history, and romance.
As a writer of poetry, short stories, travel articles, songs, and one novel, Higginson achieved prominence in the ranks of Pacific Northwest authors and earned national and international recognition for several of her works. The states of Oregon and Washington both claimed her as a daughter, and she was honored in 1931 as Washington's poet laureate. Higginson realized her life's ambition based on what she termed "the consuming desire to write." As she explained, "It is the only thing I ever really wanted to do."
A Bunch of Western Clover (1894). The Flower That Grew in the Sand (1896). The Forest Orchid (1897). From the Land of the Snow Pearls (1897). When the Birds Go North Again (1898). The Voice of April-Land, and Other Poems (1903). The Vanishing Race, and Other Poems (1911).
The papers of Ella Rhoads Higginson are housed at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland, Oregon.
Horner, J. B., Oregon Literature (1902). Powers, A., History of Oregon Literature (1935). Smith, H. K., ed., With Her Own Wings (1948). Turnbull, G. S., History of Oregon Newspapers (1939).
—JEAN M. WARD