Higginson, Thomas Wentworth

Higginson, Thomas Wentworth,

1823–1911, American author, b. Cambridge, Mass. A Unitarian minister, he was a leader in the abolitionist movement and was a member of a group that backed John BrownBrown, John,
1800–1859, American abolitionist, b. Torrington, Conn. He spent his boyhood in Ohio. Before he became prominent in the 1850s, his life had been a succession of business failures in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York.
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's attack on Harper's Farry. His Army Life in a Black Regiment (1870), which recounts his experiences as colonel of the First South Carolina Volunteers, the first black regiment in the Civil War, was the basis of the film Glory (1989). A versatile author and an able scholar, he wrote essays; popular histories; a novel, Malbone (1869); and biographies and reminiscences of political and literary friends. In 1890–91, with M. L. Todd, he edited the Poems of his friend Emily DickinsonDickinson, Emily,
1830–86, American poet, b. Amherst, Mass. She is widely considered one of the greatest poets in American literature. Her unique, gemlike lyrics are distillations of profound feeling and original intellect that stand outside the mainstream of 19th-century
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. Higginson was also a supporter of female emancipation and education and a founder (1879) of Radcliffe College. A lifelong radical, in his old age (1906), Higginson joined with Jack LondonLondon, Jack
(John Griffith London), 1876–1916, American author, b. San Francisco. The illegitimate son of William Chaney, an astrologer, and Flora Wellman, a seamstress and medium, he had a poverty-stricken childhood, and was brought up by his mother and her subsequent
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 and Upton SinclairSinclair, Upton
(Upton Beall Sinclair), 1878–1968, American novelist and socialist activist, b. Baltimore, grad. College of the City of New York, 1897. He was one of the muckrakers, and a dedication to social and industrial reform underlies most of his writing.
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 to found the Intercollegiate Socialist Society.


See his Letters and Journals, 1846–1906 (1921); C. Looby, ed., The Complete Civil War Journal and Selected Letters of Thomas Wentworth Higginson (2000); H. N. Meyer, ed., The Magnificent Activist: The Writings of Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823–1911) (2000); B. Wineapple, White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson (2008); biographies by his wife, M. T. Higginson (1914, repr. 1972), and by H. N. Meyer (1967).

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Higginson, Thomas Wentworth (Storrow)

(1823–1911) Unitarian minister, soldier, writer; born in Cambridge, Mass. After graduating from Harvard (1841), he taught, then returned to take a degree from Harvard Divinity School (1847). In his first parish in Newburyport, Mass., he was more interested in social issues than in theology, usually preaching for women's suffrage and against slavery, and in 1848 he ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Free-Soiler. Too radical for even his Unitarian congregation, he moved on to become pastor of the Free Church in Worcester, Mass. (1852–61), but continued to devote much of his energy to abolitionism; he engaged in the forceful release of slaves, traveled to Kansas to fight slavery, and befriended and supported John Brown. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he left the ministry to captain a company of Massachusetts volunteers, then becoming the commanding colonel of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, the first African-American regiment of the Union Army (1862–64); he would write of this experience in Army Life in a Black Regiment (1870). After the war he settled in Newport, R.I. (1865–78) and wrote for the Atlantic Monthly and other leading magazines of the day; he also wrote popular histories of the U.S.A. Moving back to Cambridge in 1878, he served uneventfully in the Massachusetts legislature (1880–81) and then went back to writing magazine articles and biographies. He is now best known for the fact that his magazine articles inspired an unknown young woman in Amherst, Mass., Emily Dickinson, to send him some of her poems in 1862; they maintained a correspondence until her death—they met twice—but although he encouraged her to continue writing, he advised her not to publish; after her death (1886), however, he helped to prepare for publication the first (1890) and second (1891) volumes of her poetry.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive ?
Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. "The Romance of History.