Osgood, Frances Sargent Locke, 1811-1850

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Frances Sargent Osgood (née Locke; June 18, 1811 – May 12, 1850) was an American poet and one of the most popular women writers during her time. Nicknamed "Fanny", she was also famous for her exchange of romantic poems with Edgar Allan Poe.

Frances Sargent Locke was born in Boston, Massachusetts to Joseph Locke, a wealthy merchant, and his second wife, Mary Ingersoll Foster. Her father's first wife, Martha Ingersoll, was the sister of Mary, his second wife. Mary was also the widow of Benjamin Foster, by whom she had two children: William Vincent Foster and Anna Maria Wells, who would also become a published poet and close associate of Frances. Joseph and Mary had seven children, including another writer, Andrew Aitchison Locke. She grew up in Hingham, Massachusetts and as a young woman she attended the prestigious Boston Lyceum for Young Ladies. Her poetry was first published when she was fourteen in a bimonthly periodical of children's poetry called Juvenile Miscellany by editor Lydia Maria Child.

In 1834, while composing poems inspired by paintings, Frances met Samuel Stillman Osgood, a young portrait artist at the Boston Athenaeum. He asked her to sit for a portrait. They were engaged before the portrait was finished and married on October 7, 1835.

After their marriage, the couple moved to England. On July 15, 1836, their first daughter, Ellen Frances, was born. In 1838, while in England, she published her collection of poems A Wreath of Flowers from New England which included Elfrida, a dramatic poem in five acts. She then published another volume of poetry, The Casket of Fate.

Due to her father's death, the Osgoods returned to Boston in 1839. After the birth of their second daughter, May Vincent, on July 21, 1839, they moved to New York City. Osgood became a popular member of the New York literary society and a prolific writer. Many of her writings were published in the widely popular literary magazines of the time. She sometimes wrote under the pseudonyms "Kate Carol" or "Violet Vane". Her book, The Poetry of Flowers and the Flowers of Poetry was published in 1841. Some of her other published works were The Snowdrop, a New Year Gift for Children (1842), Rose, Sketches in Verse (1842), Puss in Boots (1842), The Marquis of Carabas (1844) and Cries in New York (1846).

Although she was successful in her professional life, her personal life suffered. It is speculated that the Osgoods separated by 1843.

In February 1845, Poe gave a lecture in New York in which he criticized American poetry, especially that of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He made special mention, however, of Osgood, saying she had "a rosy future" in literature. Though she missed the lecture, she wrote to her friend, saying Poe was "called the severest critic of the day", making his compliment that much more impressive.

It is believed Poe and Osgood first met in person when introduced by Nathaniel Parker Willis in March 1845 when Osgood had been separated from (but not divorced from) her husband. Poe's wife, Virginia, was still alive, but in ill health. Poe may have been attracted to Osgood because they were both born in Boston and possibly due to her childlike qualities which were similar to Virginia's. She may have already been in an early stage of tuberculosis, just like Virginia.

In 1845, Poe used his role as one-third owner of the Broadway Journal to print some of Osgood's poems, including some flirtatious ones: "The Rivulet's Dream" (1845), "So Let It Be. To--" (1845), "Love's Reply" (1845), "Spring" (1845), "Slander" (1845), "Echo-Song" (1845), "To--" (1845), "A Shipwreck" (1845) and "To 'The Lady Geraldine" (1845). Poe responded with published poems of his own, occasionally under his pseudonym of Edgar T. S. Grey. Most notable is his poem "A Valentine". The poem is actually a riddle which conceals Osgood's name, found by taking letter 1 from line 1, letter 2 from line 2, and so on. Despite these passionate interchanges, the relationship between Poe and Osgood is often considered purely platonic.

Oddly, Poe's wife Virginia approved of the relationship and often invited Osgood to visit their home. Virginia believed their friendship had a "restraining" effect on her husband. Poe had given up alcohol to impress Osgood, for example. Virginia may also have been aware of her own impending death and was looking for someone who would take care of Poe. Osgood's husband, Samuel, also did not object, apparently used to his wife's impetuous behavior; he himself had a reputation as a philanderer.

Fellow poet Elizabeth F. Ellet, whose affection Poe had scorned, spread rumors about Poe and Osgood's friendship, even contacting Virginia about alleged improprieties. Ellet even suggested that Osgood's third child, Fanny Fay, was not her husband's, but Poe's. Fanny Fay was born in June 1846, but died in October. Poe biographer Kenneth Silverman says the possibility of Poe as Fanny Fay's father is "possible but most unlikely". Osgood, in an attempt to protect her public character, sent Margaret Fuller and Anne Lynch to request Poe return her personal letters to him to be destroyed. In July 1846, Osgood's husband, Samuel, demanded Ellet apologize to his wife, lest he sue her for defamation. Ellet responded in a letter, retracted her statements, and put the blame on Poe and his wife, Virginia. Osgood and Poe did not interact after 1847.

Poe was not the only man to engage in literary flirtation with Osgood. Several men wrote of their affection for her, including Rufus Wilmot Griswold, to whom Osgood dedicated a book of poetry. She also wrote a Valentine poem that mingled her own name with Griswold's. The competition between Griswold and Poe for Osgood may have led to their infamous rivalry, best exemplified in Griswold's character assassination of Poe after Poe's death.

Osgood and her husband reconciled in 1846, and moved to Philadelphia for a short time to get away from the scandal. Although she was ill, she continued to write. She was confined to her room because of her illness by 1847, when her daughters were eleven and eight years old; much of her poetry from this period reflects her concern for them. Her husband, having difficulty making money as a painter, left her again in 1849 to join the California Gold Rush. He returned shortly before her death.

Osgood died of tuberculosis in 1850 at her home in New York. By then, she had lost her ability to speak; her last word, "angel", was written on a slate to her husband. She was buried in her parents' lot at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1851, a collection of her writings was published by her friends and titled The Memorial, Written by Friends of the Late Mrs. Frances Sargent Locke Osgood. It was reissued as Laurel Leaves in 1854 and was edited with a biographical introduction by Griswold. The volume was meant to raise money for her memorial headstone. However, Fanny Fern noted that, by 1854, the plot remained unmarked and criticized Samuel Osgood in her book Fern Leaves from Fanny's Port-Folio. Samuel Osgood noted in the New York Evening Post that he had already designed a monument, inspired by her poem "The Hand That Swept the Sounding Lyre", which was soon installed.

Osgood's two daughters died the year after their mother; May Vincent Osgood died on June 26, 1851, and Ellen Frances died August 31.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Kimball, Richard B. (Richard Burleigh), 1816-1892. Papers of Richard Burleigh Kimball [manuscript] 1849-1870. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Osgood, Frances Sargent Locke, 1811-1850. Papers of Frances Sargent Locke Osgood [manuscript] ca. 1827-43. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Osgood, Samuel Stillman, 1808-1885. Letter, 1851, April 14, New York, to W. B. Whipple. Brown University Archives, John Hay Library
referencedIn Griswold, Rufus W. (Rufus Wilmot), 1815-1857. Rufus W. Griswold papers, 1785-1897 year (Bulk: 1834-1857) Boston Public Library, Central Library in Copley Square
creatorOf Osgood, Frances Sargent Locke, 1811-1850. Papers, 1836-1850; 1916-1942. American Antiquarian Society
referencedIn Papers, 1838-1850. Houghton Library
referencedIn Varner, John Grier, 1905-1978. Papers, 1798-1978 (bulk 1931-39). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Osgood, Frances Sargent Locke, 1811-1850. Papers, ca. 1848. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
creatorOf Osgood, Frances Sargent Locke, 1811-1850. Letter, 1849, April 23, New York, to Mrs. Martha J. Locke. Brown University Archives, John Hay Library
referencedIn American Women Writers, 1850-1936 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Osgood, Frances Sargent Locke, 1811-1850. Woman's trust, a dramatic sketch : portion of the manuscript in the autograph of Edgar Allan Poe, copied out by him for use in his article on Mrs. Osgood in his Literati, [n.d.]. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn Sarah Helen Whitman papers, Whitman (Sarah Helen) papers, 1816-1878, 1816-1878 Brown University Library, Special Collections
creatorOf Poe, Edgar Allan, 1809-1849. Edgar Allan Poe letters to R.W. Griswold and Mrs. F.S. Osgood (copies) [manuscript] 1849. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Sweet, Anna L.,. Commonplace book, Providence, R.I., ca.1837-1843. Brown University Archives, John Hay Library
referencedIn James Thomas Fields collection of autographs and portraits of distinguished women, 1814-1907. Houghton Library
referencedIn Bayard Taylor papers, 1826-1912 (inclusive), 1845-1878 (bulk). Houghton Library
creatorOf Osgood, Frances Sargent Locke, 1811-1850. Letter, November 21, New York City to Lydia Sigourney, Hartford, Conn. Connecticut Historical Society
creatorOf Smith, Elizabeth Oakes Prince, 1806-1893. Papers of Elizabeth Oakes Prince Smith, 1843-1883. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Collection, 1830-1895. Houghton Library
creatorOf Child, Lydia Maria, 1802-1880. Papers of Lydia Maria Francis Child [manuscript], 1844-1877. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Johnson, Oliver, 1809-1889. Autograph entry signed : Salem, Ohio, 1856 Sept. 10. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn John Grier Varner Papers TXRC93-A0., 1798-1978 Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Osgood, Frances Sargent Locke, 1811-1850. Letter to Miss Putnam and holograph poems "Lulu" and "A Charade" and photograph (printed after 1872). University of Wisconsin - Madison, General Library System
referencedIn Free Library of Philadelphia Collection of Literary Manuscripts, 1666-1990 Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department
referencedIn Walter, Cornelia Wells, 1813?-1898. Scenes at the fair : holograph of a play, a letter dated March 29th [1887?] and two newspaper clippings from Evening transcript, Dec. 8 and Dec. 17 1887. University of Wisconsin - Madison, General Library System
referencedIn Letters to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1761-1904 (inclusive), 1820-1888 (bulk) Houghton Library
referencedIn Elizabeth Oakes Smith Collection, 1843-1883 University of Virginia. Library. Special Collections Dept.
creatorOf Osgood, Frances Sargent Locke, 1811-1850. Papers, 1838-1850. Houghton Library
referencedIn Autograph File, H Houghton Library
referencedIn Driscoll, Emily,. American women writers, 1850-1936 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Osgood, Frances Sargent Locke, 1811-1850. Frances Sargent Osgood letter, poem, and portrait, ca. 1840. Pennsylvania State University Libraries
referencedIn Griswold, Rufus W. (Rufus Wilmot), 1815-1857. Papers, 1835-1856. Houghton Library
referencedIn Autograph File, O, 1706-1966. Houghton Library
referencedIn Rufus Wilmot Griswold letters, 1834-1855 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Papers, 1838-1850. Houghton Library
referencedIn Whitman, Sarah Helen, 1803-1878. Papers, 1816-1878. Brown University Archives, John Hay Library
creatorOf Osgood, Frances Sargent Locke, 1811-1850. Poems, ca.1830-1850. Brown University Archives, John Hay Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Anthony, Henry Bowen, 1815-1884 person
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associatedWith Doggett, John. person
associatedWith Driscoll, Emily V. person
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associatedWith Felter, M. A. person
associatedWith Fields, James Thomas, 1816-1881 person
associatedWith Franklin, Benjamin, 1812-1878 person
associatedWith Free Library of Philadelphia. corporateBody
associatedWith Fuller, Hiram, 1815? -1880 person
associatedWith Gillespie, William Mitchell, 1816-1868 person
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associatedWith Graham, George Rex, 1813-1894 person
associatedWith Gray, William. person
associatedWith Griswold, Rufus Willmot, 1815-1857 person
associatedWith Halgard, E. H. person
associatedWith Harrington, Eliza R. person
associatedWith Hayne, Robert Young, 1791-1839. person
associatedWith Hillard, H. L. person
associatedWith Hoffman, Charles Fenno, 1806-1884 person
associatedWith Hoppin, James Mason, 1820-1906 person
associatedWith Jenks, Harriet N. person
associatedWith Johnson, Oliver, 1809-1889. person
associatedWith Kimball, Richard B. (Richard Burleigh), 1816-1892. person
associatedWith Labree, Lawrence. person
associatedWith Locke?, Anna Maria Foster, person
associatedWith Locke, Charles A. person
associatedWith Locke, Martha J., Mrs., person
correspondedWith Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, 1807-1882 person
associatedWith Martineau, Harriet, 1802-1876. person
associatedWith Oaksmith, E. person
associatedWith Ogden, Samuel G. (Samuel Gouverneur), 1779-1860, Mrs. person
spouseOf Osgood, Samuel Stillman, 1808-1885. person
associatedWith Parsons, Anna Q.T. (Quincy Thaxter) -1906 person
associatedWith Payne, Abraham, 1818-1886 person
associatedWith Peterson, Charles J. (Charles Jacobs), 1819-1887 person
associatedWith Pettigru, James Louis, 1789-1863. person
associatedWith Poe, Edgar Allan, 1809-1849. person
associatedWith Putnam, George Palmer, 1814-1872 person
associatedWith Putnam, Miss. person
associatedWith Raymond, Henry Jarvis, 1820-1869 person
associatedWith Sargent, Epes, 1813-1880 person
associatedWith Sigourney, L. H. (Lydia Howard), 1791-1865. person
associatedWith Smith, Elizabeth Oakes Prince, 1806-1893. person
associatedWith Snelling, Anna L. person
associatedWith Sully, Blanche. person
associatedWith Sweet, Anna L., person
associatedWith Taylor, Bayard, 1825-1878 person
associatedWith Thaxter, L. L. person
associatedWith Thomas, E. I. person
associatedWith University of Wisconsin--Madison. Libraries. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections. corporateBody
associatedWith Uwins, Thomas, 1782-1857 person
associatedWith Varner, John Grier, 1905-1978 person
associatedWith Walter, Cornelia Wells, 1813?-1898. person
associatedWith Warren, Owen Grenliffe. person
associatedWith Welford, Charles. person
associatedWith Wells, Anna Maria (Foster) 1795? -1868 person
associatedWith Wells, William Vincent, 1826-1876 person
associatedWith Whitman, Sarah Helen, 1803-1878. person
associatedWith Willis, Mary. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Boston MA US
Philadelphia PA US
Hingham MA US
New York City NY US
Subject
American literature
American literature
American poetry
Authors
Women authors
Poetry
Women
Women poets, American
Occupation
Poet
Writer
Activity

Person

Birth 1811-06-18

Death 1850-05-12

Female

Americans

English

Information

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