Amy Lowell Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)
ph_0111215254-Lowell_A.jpg Amy Lowell Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: A leading poet of her day and leader of the Imagist movement, Amy Lowell also worked enthusiastically to popularize poetry and the other arts. She supported the work of other writers by editing collections of their works and by giving popular lectures on literature.

Early Life

Amy Lowell was a member of the Lowell family which arrived in America in 1639, twenty years after the arrival of the Mayflower, and rose to become one of the leading New England families. (It was the Cabots who spoke only to the Lowells, and the Lowells who spoke only to God.) Amy’s older brother Lawrence was president of Harvard University from 1909 to 1933. Amy was the last of seven children, five of whom survived infancy. Amy’s mother remained a semi-invalid for all of Amy’s life (she suffered from Bright’s disease), and Amy was raised mainly by her nurse-governess at Sevenels, the Lowells’ home in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Amy did not have the companionship of other children and was often lonely, and as a result she took up the interests that her father and older brothers had. She preferred outdoor games and activities and was considered a tomboy by the age of eight.

Stimulated by the distinguished adults in her family and those who visited the Lowells, Amy was precocious. She became a good conversationalist and could amuse her parents’ guests with puns. She liked to write, and at age ten she started a mimeographed magazine called The Monthly Story-Teller. Her mother encouraged her to put together a book for sale at a charity bazaar: Dream Drops.

She was sent to private schools, but after attending some lectures at Radcliffe College, which she found boring, she left school at the age of seventeen. She educated herself by reading, both at home and at the Boston Athenaeum, a private library founded in 1807. She developed a special fondness for the English poet John Keats and later began a collection devoted to him. Her two older brothers had both published books (Percy on the Orient and astronomy and Lawrence on government), and Amy decided that she too would pursue a writing career. She experimented for several years with various literary forms, including plays, novels, and short stories.

After her mother died in 1895 and her father died in 1899, Amy bought the ten-acre family Brookline estate from her siblings. She created a large library and designed a music room. She had the house electrified, and she bought a summer home in New Hampshire. She joined various civic boards and shocked the local gentry by speaking up in meetings (which was unusual for women in those days).

Amy was plump and had always felt self-conscious about her weight, and in 1897 she may have been jilted by a suitor. She gave up thoughts of marriage and contented herself with friends. In 1912, she met the actress Ada Dwyer, and their friendship grew to such an extent that Ada quit the stage in 1914 to become Amy’s full-time secretary-companion until Amy’s death.

Amy had made many contacts in the social and political world by meeting and becoming friends with the many guests her family had entertained at Sevenels as she grew up. After the death of her parents, Amy was helped in her endeavors not only by Ada but also by her many friends; for example, Carl Engel, a composer and music publisher. With his encouragement, she put on and acted in plays at Sevenels and organized monthly concerts. At her salons, she introduced her audiences to new music, including that of Béla Bartok, Claude Debussy, and Erik Satie.

Amy’s position in a wealthy and influential family (whose wealth came mainly from the cotton mills that its members owned), combined with the support of her parents and older siblings, allowed her to have a larger role in determining the course of her life than many young women of her day had. The death of her parents by the time she was twenty-five relieved her of any need to secure their approval for her plans, and the wealth she inherited permitted her to live as she wished, writing, being a patron of the arts and salon hostess, or traveling wherever she wished. Thus, she was in a position to be much more independent than most other women of her era.

Life’s Work

In 1902, when she was twenty-eight, Amy Lowell was inspired by a performance of the European actress Eleonora Duse to write a poem, and she decided to focus on poetry. Amy’s first published poem appeared in Atlantic Monthly in August of 1910. She organized her first book of poems and persuaded Houghton Mifflin to publish it. A Dome of Many-Colored Glass came out in October of 1912 to tepid reviews. The poems were not seen as very exciting. Amy came across an article by Ezra Pound on a group of poets to which he belonged: the Imagists. She traveled to London to meet the poets in the...

(The entire section is 2004 words.)

Amy Lowell Biography

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Amy Lawrence Lowell was born in the family home (named Sevenels after her birth because there were then seven Lowells) in Brookline, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. Both of her parents were from distinguished and wealthy Massachusetts families. Her father, Augustus Lowell, was a member of the wealthiest branch of the Lowells, the prominent family who had come to America in 1639 and later had become a major force in the intellectual and industrial history of Massachusetts. The mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, was named for the family. Lowell’s mother, Katherine Bigelow Lawrence, was the daughter of Abbot Lawrence. The Lawrences were also an old American family, and another Massachusetts mill town was named for them.

Although the Lowells also owned a townhouse for the winter months, most of Lowell’s childhood was spent at Sevenels, and she continued to live there, with the exception of summers in New Hampshire and abroad, until her death. After her parents’ deaths, her mother’s in 1895 and her father’s in 1899, Lowell settled into Sevenels and made it her own, remodeling and refurnishing it extensively. The gardens there were the source of much of Lowell’s imagery.

Lowell had two brothers and two sisters. Both brothers distinguished themselves, each in a different area. The elder, Percival, after ten years in Asia and the publication of two books on the Far East, went to Flagstaff, Arizona, where he founded the Lowell Observatory and made discoveries concerning Mars. The younger brother, Abbott Lawrence, became president of Harvard University in 1909.

Lowell’s formal education was limited. She was a mischievous pupil who was easily bored and a challenge to her teachers. Although she received a private school education, she did not attend college. Her own comment on her formal education was that “it really did not amount to a hill of beans.” Most of her real education came from her avid reading in her father’s library and in the Boston Athenaeum, a building she later wrote about and saved from razing. Her future profession was foreshadowed when she discovered Leigh Hunt’s Imagination and Fancy and read it through and through. She was particularly taken with John Keats, about whom she later wrote a biography. Hunt’s ideas about poetry were those of an earlier time, however, and were responsible, in part, for Lowell’s unsuccessful first volume of rather old-fashioned poetry.

Because of a glandular condition, the five-foot-tall Lowell became obese in her adolescence and remained so, eventually weighing about 250 pounds. In spite of such corpulence, she was a successful debutante, having some sixty dinners given for her. Suitors, however, were few. Those who did appear were interested chiefly in her family connections. Lowell rejected two proposals of marriage and then accepted a third, only to be rejected later by her fiancé.

Eventually reconciled to spinsterhood, though not without much suffering, including a nervous breakdown requiring several years of convalescence, Lowell finally turned to poetry as a focus for her life. It also seemed to serve as a substitute for the orthodox Christian faith of her childhood, which she had rejected. Lowell had always been fascinated by the theater and was a creditable performer. Many...

(The entire section is 1355 words.)

Amy Lowell Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born into an aristocratic family, the female members of which never spoke in public, Amy Lowell (LOH-uhl) distinguished herself as a poet, literary critic, biographer, and vocal advocate of modern poetry. She was the youngest child of Augustus and Katherine Lawrence Lowell, both of whom had inherited fortunes from textile manufacturing. Augustus was descended from Percival Lowle, who had immigrated to America in 1639 and established one of the most distinguished families in New England. Amy Lowell’s ancestors had helped to found the Boston Athenaeum and the Lowell Institute and served as fellows at Harvard College. The poet James Russell Lowell was a distant cousin, and Amy’s brother Lawrence became Harvard’s president.


(The entire section is 826 words.)