Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892-1950

  • Edna-St.-Vincent-Millay-WWP

Woman Category: Activism & Feminism and Literature & PoetryWoman Tags: LGBTQ, Playwright, Poet, and Pulitzer Prize

  • HerStory

    An award-winning American poet, playwright, and a feminist activist. The first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

    Edna St. Vincent Millay and her sisters were raised by a single mother after she divorced their father – an exceptional move at the time. Their family was economically poor, but did promote exposure to culture and encourage reading. Thanks to the upbringing of her mother, she has developed her talent for poetry at an early age.
    As a teenager, she published her poems in a children’s magazine and received wide attention when participating in a poetry competition. She recited the same poem in a local inn – describing a spiritual awakening – when she was spotted by a woman who decided to help her fund higher education. The year of her graduation from Vassar College she published her first book of poetry.
    Millay relocated to Greenwich Village, New York, where her life was, in her own words “very, very poor and very, very merry”. She struggled to make money from poetry and started performing in plays and writing the more popular form of short stories under the pen name Nancy Boyd, also traveling to Paris as Vanity Fair first foreign correspondent.
    Her exceptional and highly acclaimed professional skill of weaving words was simultaneous with her lifestyle as an openly bisexual liberated woman, her addictions to substances, and her politics of nonconformity. By living her life unapologetically, and writing about what was then controversial, she helped design a “new kind of female experience and expression”.
    After declining several marriage proposals, she married Eugen Boissevain, who supported her career. The two had no children, and spend their last 25 years at the Steepletop farm that is now a museum for her legacy.

    “My candle burns at both ends;
    It will not last the night;
    But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
    It gives a lovely light!”

    “My candle burns at both ends;
    It will not last the night;
    But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
    It gives a lovely light!”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She initially wanted to be a pianist, but her teacher said that her hands were too small.
    • Her middle name St. Vincent is derived from the hospital where her uncle’s life had been saved. She liked to call herself Vincent.
    • When she wasn’t writing, she spent hours gardening and collecting wildflowers.
    • Every episode of the 50s TV series “Wide Wide World” featured a reciting from her poem:
      “The world stands out on either side
      No wider than the heart is wide;
      Above the world is stretched the sky—
      No higher than the soul is high”.
  • More About Her Legacy
    Creations By and About Her:

    * Books she wrote
    * Books about her


    * Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1923)
    * Frost Medal for lifetime contribution to American poetry (1943)

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Edna St. Vincent Millay reads Love is Not All

    Edna St. Vincent Millay reads her poem Love is Not All.

  • Edna St. Vincent Millay portrait from 1933. Photo credit - Carl Van Vechten Photographs @ Library of Congress.