Lizette Woodworth Reese and her twin sister, Louisa, were born, according to their mother, “in the worst storm of the winter” of 1856 at their maternal grandparents’ house in Waverly, Maryland. Of Welsh descent on her father’s side and German on her mother’s, she early learned to love, as she recalls in one poem, the “Saxon tang” which “clung to our elders’ speech.” Her preference then for the Anglo-Saxon monosyllable came naturally to her reticent, yet vivid, lyrics, which seem to blend what she called the “silent” tendency of her father’s Welsh ancestry, while retaining the vivacity of her talkative, musically inclined mother, Louisa Gabler Reese.
Reese’s mother and the young twins moved in with her parents during the Civil War while her husband, David Reese, served with the Confederate forces and her brother with the Union. In A Victorian Village, Reese recalls the Civil War days in the border state of Maryland: “Between the blue forces and the gray we were ground between two millstones of terror.” Against this terror stood her sprightly, devoutly religious mother from whom the girl acquired a love of gardening and growing things—the lilac bushes, hawthorn trees, daffodils, and succory blossoms which the visual and olfactory imagery of her poetry constantly evokes.
As a well-read girl of seventeen with what she called the “gift of authority,” Reese began teaching English at St. John’s Parish...
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