Lizette Woodworth Reese

(1856 - 1935)


 
Lizette Woodworth Reese and a twin sister, Sophia, were born in 1856 in Baltimore to David Reese from Wales and Louisa Gabler Reese from Germany. Two more sisters and a brother joined the family which worshipped and were buried at St John’s. She wrote of Waverly, “it was a green quiet country, with scattered houses, with stretches of orchard and meadow, and although within easy-reaching distance from Baltimore, almost as obscure as though it stood on the edge of a desert.” She was educated at St John’s and graduated Eastern High in 1873. She taught at St. John’s, an English-German School downtown, a city Colored High School and Western High until 1921. Of those 48 years, she wrote “I shall always be deeply thankful for having been a working woman among other working women for so long, for having been a part of the common lot, for reaping experiences which a thousand and others were reaping alongside of me... In passing a public school building, every American citizen should feel like uncovering his head, in salute to those within who are spending their span of years in the nobilities and sacrifices of this spacious, most ancient of professions.”

She never married, spent her entire life sharing Baltimore family homes. Her first poem, The Abandoned House was published in 1874 by Southern Magazine. Three years later, 33 poems appeared in her first book, A Branch of May. In 1890 she helped form the Women’s Literary Club of Baltimore, remaining active for the rest of her life. More books followed: A Handful of Lavender (1891), A Quiet Road (1896), A Wayside Lute (1909), Spicewood (1920), Selected Poems (1926), Little Henrietta (1927), A Victorian Village (1929), White April (1930), The York Road (1931), Pastures (1933), Worleys (1936) and The Old House in the Country (1936) as did publication in periodicals, including Atlantic, Bookman, Century, Forum, Gardens, Houses & People, Harper’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, Lippincott’s, Maryland Women’s News, Nation, New Republic, Scribner’s and Spectator. She travelled from Massachusetts to Virginia for speaking engagements and was regularly interviewed by the press. She was honored and memorialized by admirers, peers, readers and students; her literary output received constant critical acclaim.

On June 23, 1921 the Baltimore Sun wrote: “In our literary hall of fame she will certainly occupy a high and permanent place.” In 1964, In No Mean City, Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin stated: “Lizette Woodworth Reese held no political office, designed no monumental buildings, made no millions, lived obscurely, shy to a fault; but her contribution to the kind of thing that makes a city great far outweighs that of many lordly chieftain.” The 1987 Baltimore Sun's 150th Anniversary Issue proclaims: “Lizette Reese was hailed during her lifetime as one of the most distinguished poets in the country.” R. P. Harriss stated: “She has influenced American lyric poetry as no other woman.” Bissell Brooke wrote of Ms. Reese: “School and home duties left little time for poetry, so she composed from memory while waiting in the wind and rain for jogging streetcars to carry her to and from school.”

Lizette Woodworth Reese, an accomplished and compelling poet, died at the age of 79 on December 17, 1935.

Biography courtesy of the Maryland Commission for Women, 2016.

© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2016