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Wilkinson, Marguerite Ogden (1883–1928)

Wilkinson, Marguerite Ogden (1883–1928)

Canadian-born American poet. Born Marguerite Ogden Bigelow on November 15, 1883, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; died as the result of a swimming accident on January 12, 1928, in New York City; daughter of Nathan Kellogg Bigelow and Gertrude (Holmes) Bigelow; educated privately and at Northwestern University; married James G. Wilkinson (a school administrator), in 1909.

Published several volumes of poetry, beginning with In Vivid Gardens (1911); became poetry reviewer for The New York Times Book Review (c. 1915); published New Voices (1919), an anthology of modern poetry, to critical acclaim; lectured on modern poetry at schools, library associations, and women's clubs.

Selected writings:

In Vivid Gardens (1911); By a Western Wayside (1912); Golden Songs of the Golden State (1917); New Voices (1919); The Dingbat of Arcady (1922); Contemporary Poetry (1923); Yule Fire (1925); Citadels (1928).

Marguerite Ogden Wilkinson was born in 1883 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, although she and her family left that area of Canada soon after for Evanston, Illinois. Wilkinson was raised with a love of the outdoors, despite her frail aspect, and her sensitive nature found an outlet in poetry, which she began to write during her student years at Northwestern University. In 1909, the 26-year-old Marguerite married James G. Wilkinson, a school principal in New Rochelle, New York, and moved there. In addition to taking on the domestic duties required of her married station, Wilkinson continued to write. Her first full collection of poetry, In Vivid Gardens (1911), was soon followed by several other collections which were characterized by her workmanlike approach to verse writing. Wilkinson also completed several prose works, including The Dingbat of Arcady (1922), a humorous volume that reflects her love of nature in its description of the events occurring during one of the many annual fishing excursions she took with her husband.

After publishing several volumes of her own poetry, Wilkinson began reviewing the poems of others in The New York Times Book Review, becoming enough of an expert in 20th-century verse to lecture at colleges, library clubs, and other interested gatherings. Her New Voices (1919), an anthology and criticism of British and American contemporary verse, was hailed by many as a well-balanced presentation of the state of modern poetry. Among her own writings, Citadels (1928) reflects her interest in early Christianity, while The Great Dream (1923) is a long poem in which Wilkinson mused upon the changes that might be wrought in spirituality during the 20th century.

In her late 30s, Wilkinson began to grow increasingly drawn into spiritual concerns and fears for the future, and this obsession led to a nervous breakdown in 1928. In an attempt to cope with her increasing fears, she forced herself to learn how to fly a small plane and how to perform several flying stunts, paying for the course by writing a booklet advertising aviation training. In addition to flying every afternoon when the weather was good, Wilkinson arose each morning and took a bracing swim in the ocean off Coney Island, where she also tested her mettle by performing swimming stunts. It was on one of these morning swims, while practicing a new stunt, that she was drowned at the age of 44.


Kunitz, Stanley J., and Howard Haycraft, eds. Twentieth Century Authors. NY: Wilson, 1942.

Pamela Shelton , freelance writer, Avon, Connecticut

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