Born 3 October 1847, Olcott, New York; died 30 April 1942, Boston, Massachusetts
Daughter of Lorenzo D. and Lucretia Clement Whiting
Lillian Whiting was an only daughter and the eldest of three children. While she was still very young, her parents moved to a farm near Tiskilwa, Illinois, where both parents served as principals of the local school. Whiting, however, was educated privately and at home, where she became acquainted early with literary classics. With the assistance of her mother, her father became editor of the Bureau County Republican, published in Princeton, Illinois. A leader in the Grange movement and a fighter against the expansion of the railroads and for the expansion of waterways, he served as both representative and senator in the state legislature and assisted in framing the state constitution.
Whiting's writing career started when her articles were accepted by the local newspaper, of which she later became editor. In 1876 she went to St. Louis as a journalist and soon became associated with the idealist Philosophic Club. In 1879 she went to work for the Cincinnati Commercial after it published two papers she had written on Margaret Fuller. The following year, she moved to Boston to become the art editor—and later literary editor—of the Boston Traveler.
In 1890 she became editor-in-chief of the Boston Budget, to which she also contributed literary reviews (among them, favorable commentary on Emily Dickinson's poems) and a column, "Beau Monde," credited with helping to break down the artistic parochialism of contemporary Boston. In Boston, Whiting was a member of a circle that included James Russell Lowell, Lucy Stone, Mary Livermore, Frances Willard, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and many others active in the intellectual life of the time. She visited Bronson Alcott's School of Philosophy and attended Thomas Wentworth Higginson's Round Table. She went to Europe for the first time in 1895 (to do research for the first of several biographies, A Study of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1899), and thereafter made 18 pilgrimages abroad. While there, she became the friend of artists such as Auguste Rodin, Harriet Hosmer, and Rosa Bonheur and the theosophist Annie Besant. Benjamin O. Flower, editor of the Arena, said of her that she "knew more men and women of letters than any other woman in America."
So widespread was Whiting's reputation as a writer and critic and as a spiritual influence that in 1897 a Lillian Whiting Club was formed in New Orleans with the aim of inspiring its members in matters relating to the arts and sciences. Whiting's spiritualist leanings had deep roots: her father was a descendent of Cotton Mather and her mother of a long line of New England Episcopalian ministers. She wrote 10 inspirational books and became one of the most popular of New Thought writers. (William James called New Thought the "religion of healthy-mindedness.") Liberal in her acceptance of a variety of religious sects—in Life Transfigured (1910), she discusses spiritualism, theosophy, Christian Science, the Vedantic philosophy, psychotherapy, and Bahai, all as means of salvation—her philosophy is optimistic. She believed in the primacy of the spiritual world and referred to death merely as "change"—she viewed the time she lived in as the "dawn of a new perfection." The death of the journalist Kate Field, a close friend, led Whiting to write After Her Death: The Story of a Summer (1897), which she considered her best work. It spells out her belief in communication between the living and the dead. The essays, such as "Success as a Fine Art," collected in the World Beautiful series (three volumes, 1894-96, which ran to 14 editions), are typical of Whiting's approach to living.
Boston Days: The City of Beautiful Ideals (1902) was the first of her eight books dealing with places she visited in North America, Europe, and Africa. The chatty tone of her accounts of popular landmarks and works of art as well as the liberal sprinkling of names of her famous acquaintances no doubt were the chief sources of the popularity of her travel writing. Whiting's third-person autobiography, The Golden Road (1918), is effusive rather than factual. She published one volume of poetry, From Dreamland Sent (1895). The poems are largely personal in subject and traditional in form and tone.
Whiting is of interest to those studying popular taste rather than excellence and originality in the literary arts. It is worth noting, however, that she achieved fame and success as a professional among professionals and moved freely in an international society of artists in a way few women of her time were privileged to do.
The World Beautiful (1894-1896). Kate Field: A Record (1899). The Spiritual Significance; Or, Death As An Event in Life (1900). The World Beautiful in Books (1901). The Life Radiant (1903). The Florence of Landor (1905). The Joy That No Man Taketh From You (1905). The Outlook Beautiful (1905). From Dream to Vision of Life (1906). Italy, the Magic Land (1907). Paris, the Beautiful (1908). The Land of Enchantment (1909). Louise Chandler Moulton: Poet and Friend (1910). The Brownings: Their Life and Art (1911). Athens, the Violet-Crowned (1913). The Lure of London (1914). Women Who Have Ennobled Life (1915). The Adventure Beautiful (1917). Canada, the Spellbinder (1917). Katherine Tingley (1919). They Who Understand (1919).
Flower, B. O., Progressive Men, Women, and Movements in the Past Twenty-Five Years (1914). Gardner, W. E., Memorial (1942).
Arena (Apr. 1899). Boston Globe (1 May 1942). Boston Herald (1 May 1942). NYT (1 May 1942).
—VIRGINIA R. TERRIS