Thomas, Edith Matilda (1854–1925)

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Thomas, Edith Matilda (1854–1925)

American poet and translator. Born on August 12, 1854, in Chatham, Ohio; died on September 13, 1925, in New York City; daughter of Frederick Thomas and Jane (Sturges) Thomas; never married; no children.

Edith Thomas was one of the best-known American poets at the turn of the 20th century. Born in 1854 into a farming family in Chatham, Ohio, Thomas lost her father in 1861. Her mother raised Thomas and her sister in Bowling Green and Geneva, Ohio, where Thomas graduated from the Geneva Normal Institute in 1872. A dedicated student who excelled in classical literature, Thomas then briefly attended Oberlin College but dropped out to teach school.

She enjoyed writing even as a child, and with the support of her family she composed poetry for publication in local newspapers. Her uncle James Thomas took her in 1881 to New York, where she met the renowned poet Helen Hunt Jackson ; Jackson's public admiration for Thomas' verse helped Thomas secure publication in New York magazines and launched her professional career. Her poetry was first published in book form in 1885, in A New Year's Masque; subsequent collections, including The Inverted Torch (1890) and The Guest at the Gate (1909), would appear regularly over the next 30 years. In 1887, following her mother's death, Thomas moved to New York; she was much in demand by New York publishers for her verses, which were classic both in form and subject. Thomas looked to nature, to 19th-century European poets, and to classical Greek verse for inspiration. Her work was often published, most notably in Century and Atlantic Monthly among other literary periodicals, and she moved among New York's literary elite prior to World War I. She also composed poetry for children and prose on subjects ranging from nature to literary criticism to philosophy.

After the outbreak of the war, Thomas began editing work in addition to composition, editing Harper's magazine and the Century Dictionary until the time of her death in 1925. Consistently referred to by contemporary critics as one of America's finest living poets, Thomas suffered from ill health in her last years and her once-prolific output declined. She died from heart disease in her Harlem, New York, apartment in 1925, at age 71, and was buried in her hometown of Chatham.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Rittenhouse, Jessie B., ed. Selected Poems of Edith M. Thomas, edited with a memoir by Jessie B. Rittenhouse. NY: Harper, 1926.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California

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