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© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Location: Harvard Depository
Call No.: MS Am 1168
Repository: Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University
Creator: Willson, Elizabeth Conwell Smith,1842-1864.
Title: Elizabeth Conwell Smith Willson and Forceythe Willson papers,
Date(s): 1857-1867 and undated.
Quantity: 1 collection (1 box (.25 linear ft.)
Language of materials: Collection materials are in English.
Abstract: Papers of American poets, Elizabeth Conwell Smith Willson and of her husband, Forceythe Willson.
The Bryon Forceythe Willson Collection is held by the Smith Library of Regional History (Oxford, Ohio).
Elizabeth Conwell Smith Willson was an American poet. She was born in Laurel, Indiana in 1842 and attended Depauw Academy in New Albany, Indiana. In 1863 Willson married the poet Byron Forceythe Willson (1837-1867), the brother of Kentucky governor Augustus E. Willson. After their marriage, the couple moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts so Forceythe could oversee the education of his brother Augustus while at Harvard College (AB 1869). The couple had a son "Little Dolfi", who died after birth on June 1, 1864. Elizabeth, always in poor health, died shortly later at age 22 on October 13, 1864.Byron Forceythe Willson was born in 1837 in Little Genessee, New York, and lived in Maysville and Covington, Kentucky and New Albany, Indiana. Forceythe attended Antioch College in Ohio, and Harvard University, but did not received degrees from either. He became an editorial writer for the Louisville Journal where he often defended the Union cause in the Civil War. He published some of his early poetry in the Louisville Journal, including his most famous work, The old Sergeant. This was reprinted privately in 1866 and then by Ticknor and Fields in Boston in 1867 as The old sergeant and other poems. Forceythe believed the living could communicate with the dead and that he was a medium through which this could be accomplished; many persons later observed him supposedly having conversations with the spirit of his dead wife. On February 2, 1867, at age 29, Forceythe died of a hemorrhage of the lung from tuberculosis. Both Elizabeth and Forceythe are buried in Conwell Cemetery in Laurel, Indiana.
Organized into the following series:
- I. Compositions written by Elizabeth Conwell Smith Willson
- II. Compositions written by Forceythe Willson
- III. Unidentified compositions
- IV. Photographs
When these papers were purchased in 1949, it was thought that they were only the papers of Elizabeth Conwell Smith Willson. However, upon more detailed examination during full cataloging in 2012, it has been discovered that the texts of some of the poems were published as the work of Forceythe Willson in his 1867 book The old sergeant and other poems. Consequently the repository has only assigned an author to an item, if it is signed by the maker, or if the title appeared in the 1867 volume. Further study by readers is suggested.The collection includes autograph manuscripts of Elizabeth Willson's poems and essays and manuscripts of Forceythe Willson's poems. Includes what appears to be the printers' copy for The Crown of Love, which is marked as "privately printed in 1867." Also includes a portrait carte-de-visite photograph each of Elizabeth Conwell Smith Willson and Forceythe Willson.
This collection is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. See access restrictions below for additional information.