Whiting, Lilian (1847–1942)

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Whiting, Lilian (1847–1942)

American journalist and writer . Born Emily Lillian Whiting on October 3, 1847 (she often claimed 1859), in Olcott, New York; died on April 30, 1942, in Boston, Massachusetts; daughter of Lorenzo Dow Whiting and Lucretia Calistia (Clement) Whiting; educated at home.

Selected writings:

The World Beautiful (3 vols., 1894–96); From Dreamland Sent (poems, 1895); After Her Death (1897); Kate Field (1899); A Study of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1899); The Spiritual Significance (1900); Boston Days (1902); The Golden Road (1918).

Lilian Whiting was born in upstate New York in 1847, to parents who both were descended from clerics (on her father's side, she could claim relation to Cotton Mather). When she was still a baby, the family moved to rural northern Illinois, where her ex-schoolteacher father became a farmer and later a leading Republican member of the state legislature. Whiting was educated at home by her parents and by private tutors. The family was evidently well read and bookish, and Whiting showed her interest in writing from an early age. Her first job in this field was as editor of the Tiskilwa, Illinois, newspaper, Tiskilwa being the town closest to the Whiting family farm.

When she was 29, Whiting left Tiskilwa for a job at a newspaper in St. Louis, Missouri. In St. Louis, she met a group of mystic philosophers, including William T. Harris and Henry C. Brokmeyer, who fostered the religiosity and spiritualism that dominated her outlook and especially colored her later life. Whiting did well in Missouri, and in 1879 her writing on Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller caught the attention of an editor in Cincinnati, who gave her a post on a paper there. After a year at the Cincinnati Commercial, she moved to Boston and worked as an art critic and then as literary editor for a local newspaper, the Traveler. Around 1880, on assignment for the Traveler, Whiting met the author and actress Kate Field , with whom she formed an attachment that lasted the rest of Field's life. Whiting served as literary editor of the Traveler from 1885 to 1890, when she became editor of the weekly Boston Budget. After three years at the Budget, she began working as a freelance writer, contributing to many leading magazines and newspapers, including Harper's and the New York Graphic. The focus of many of her articles and columns was literary life in Boston, and she did much to publicize the culture of that city.

Besides her outpouring of journalism, Whiting also wrote and published essays and poetry. One of her most popular books was the three-volume The World Beautiful (1894–96), a detailing of her comfortingly optimistic spiritual philosophy which ran to 14 editions. Her poems, collected in From Dreamland Sent (1895), were of a similar nature, and were praised by such contemporaries and friends as Julia Ward Howe, Margaret Deland and Mary A. Livermore . In 1895, Whiting had a vision which apparently instructed her to go to Italy, a trip that led her to write A Study of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1899), about the expatriate British poet. She traveled to Europe every year thereafter, and wrote many travel books based on her experiences in different cities abroad. Her companion Kate Field had died in 1896, and in tribute to her late friend she published After Her Death (1897) and Kate Field (1899). Whiting had psychic experiences after Field's death, leading her increasingly toward a mystical construction of the world. She published a book called The Spiritual Significance in 1900, and contributed regularly to the National Spiritualist magazine. After the turn of the 20th century she also advocated for women's suffrage and sought solace in numerous religious sects, becoming interested particularly in the Bahai faith and in Theosophy.

Among Whiting's last books were Boston Days (1902) and the semi-autobiographical The Golden Road (1918). During World War II, the government took over the Brunswick Hotel, where she had lived for over 40 years, and she moved to the Hotel Copley Plaza. After her death there in 1942, at the age of 94, her ashes were buried in Cambridge's Mount Autumn Cemetery, beside those of Kate Field.


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

Angela Woodward , M.A., Madison, Wisconsin