Tietjens, Eunice (1884–1944)

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Tietjens, Eunice (1884–1944)

American poet, journalist, and writer. Born Eunice Strong Hammond on July 29, 1884, in Chicago, Illinois; died of cancer on September 6, 1944, in Chicago, Illinois; daughter of William Andrew Hammond (a banker) and Idea Louise (Strong) Hammond; educated in public schools in Evanston, Illinois, and in Europe; married Paul Tietjens (a composer), in May 1904 (divorced 1914); married Cloyd Head (a playwright and director), in February 1920; children: (first marriage) Idea (died in childhood), Janet Tietjens (b. 1907); (second marriage) Marshall (b. 1920), one daughter (died shortly after birth).

Went to Europe after the death of her father (c. 1897); began work with Harriet Monroe on Poetry magazine (1913); traveled to China for six months (1916); served as war correspondent in France for the Chicago Daily News (1917); invited to MacDowell artists' colony, Peterborough, New Hampshire (1920s); lived in Tunisia (early 1920s); taught poetry at the University of Miami, Florida (1933–35); settled in Coconut Grove, Florida (late 1930s).

Selected works:

Profiles from China (1917); Body and Raiment (1919); Jake (1921); (with husband Cloyd Head) Arabesque (play, 1925); Boy of the Desert (1928); (editor) Poetry of the Orient (1928); The Romance of Antar (1929); Leaves in Windy Weather (1929); (with daughter Janet Tietjens) The Jaw-Breaker's Alphabet of Prehistoric Animals (1930); Boy of the South Seas (1931); The World at My Shoulder (autobiography, 1938).

Eunice Tietjens—poet, war correspondent, and author of children's books—wrote with an international spirit derived from her travels to Asia, Europe, northern Africa, and the South Seas. Recognized for her expertise in Oriental poetry, she edited a highly successful anthology, Poetry of the Orient, in 1928 for Alfred A. Knopf and later went on to teach Asian poetry at the University of Miami. Largely through her work with Harriet Monroe at Poetry magazine from 1913, Tietjens came into association with a number of important 20th-century poets, and her legacy in the literary world would be based more on her influence on other writers than on her own works.

She was born on July 29, 1884, in Chicago, Illinois, the eldest of four children of Louise Strong Hammond and banker William Andrew Hammond. Among her accomplished siblings

was her brother Laurens Hammond, who would become known for inventing the Hammond electronic organ. The family lived in Evanston, Illinois, where the children attended public schools until the death of William Hammond in 1897. Interested in painting and travel, Louise Hammond then took her four children to live in Europe. Eunice graduated from the Froebel Kindergarten Institute of Dresden and took courses at the University of Geneva, the College de France, and the Sorbonne. While in Paris during May 1904, she met and married Paul Tietjens, an American composer known for his score of L. Frank Baum's stage production of The Wizard of Oz.

The couple settled in New York City within weeks of their marriage, and had two daughters: Idea (who died in childhood) and Janet Tietjens (b. 1907). Although the Tietjenses separated in 1910 and would divorce in 1914, Eunice retained her married surname throughout her life. With her three-year-old daughter Janet, Tietjens returned to her native Chicago where she set up a French kindergarten for children of wealthy patrons. She quickly abandoned such efforts, however, so as to pursue a writing career. She was encouraged by her mother, as well as by a number of young writers from Chicago's literary circles, and got her first break when Harriet Monroe, founder and editor of the germinal Poetry magazine, accepted several of her poems for publication. Tietjens was in good company, as Ezra Pound, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle ), and T.S. Eliot were among the writers who were published by Poetry early in their careers. In 1913, she was offered a position on the Poetry staff and would remain associated with the influential publication for more than 25 years, eventually becoming an advisory editor. Through her contacts with the magazine, Tietjens formed close relationships with Monroe and a host of influential Midwestern poets, including Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, Vachel Lindsay, and Sara Teasdale .

The direction of Tietjens' poetry was steered by a trip to China in 1916, when she and her mother spent six months visiting her sister Louise Hammond , an Episcopalian missionary. Tietjens would later call the experience "one of the great influences of my life." Introduced to Asian thought by Edgar Lee Masters, who gave her a copy of the Bhagavad-Gita, she was affected by what she would term a mix of "sordidness, tragedy, beauty, and humor" which she found in China. Her impressions informed a collection of poetry that became her first book, Profiles from China, in 1917. The book represented what for Tietjens had been a defining moment of her life.

A year after her trip to China, she went to France to serve as war correspondent for the Chicago Daily News. Although her work focused on human-interest stories from Paris, Tietjens also traveled to the front lines and to areas that had been devastated by the fighting. She returned to Chicago two years later, in 1919, the same year a collection of her early poems was published as Body and Raiment. Tietjens was exhausted and emotionally drained from her war-time work experiences, and she took her daughter Janet, now 12, to live with her in a shack on the Indiana dunes along Lake Michigan. There, she wrote her first novel, Jake (1921), based on her observations during World War I. In February 1920, she married Cloyd Head, an American playwright, theater director, and publisher of medical texts, with whom she would have two children: a son, Marshall (b. 1920) and a daughter who died shortly after birth. Except for a visit to the MacDowell Artists' Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, she passed the next years largely dedicated to family life.

Tietjens was never content to remain still for long, however. During the 1920s, the family explored Paris, the Riviera, and Italy before settling in Hammamet, Tunisia. She and her husband worked together on Arabesque, a play concerning Arab life. Produced after their return to the States (1925), the play was unsuccessful. Following a second sojourn to North Africa, the family returned to Chicago in 1927, where Tietjens continued her writing and Head took a position as business manager for the Goodman Memorial Theater at the Art Institute. During this period, her anthology Poetry of the Orient (1928) was a great success, and she published two children's books based on her life in Africa, Boy of the Desert (1928) and The Romance of Antar (1929). A third volume of poetry, Leaves in Windy Weather, was published in 1929.

The 1930s found Tietjens and Head traveling again, this time to the Tahitian island of Moorea in the South Pacific. Her children's book Boy of the South Seas (1931) dates from this period. On the their return, they took up residence in Coconut Grove, Florida, and both joined the staff of the University of Miami, where Tietjens lectured in Asian poetry (1933–35) and Head taught in the speech department. In Florida, Tietjens began her final work, an autobiography entitled The World at My Shoulder. It was published in 1938, one year before Tietjens was diagnosed with cancer while traveling in Scandinavia. She died in Chicago on September 6, 1944, at the age of 60.


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

Kunitz, Stanley, ed. Twentieth Century Authors. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1942.

Lolly Ockerstrom , freelance writer, Washington, D.C.