William Dean Howells was born at Martinsville (Martins Ferry), in Belmont County, Ohio, on March 1, 1837, the second child of William Cooper Howells and Mary Dean Howells. When Howells was three, the family moved to Hamilton, Ohio, where Howells’s father operated a printing business and published a newspaper, the Intelligencer. In 1849, his father’s business failed, and the family moved to Dayton, Ohio.
The move to Dayton brought to a close Howells’s formal education. At the age of seven, he had begun helping his father by setting type and delivering papers, and as the family’s financial condition worsened both Howells and his older brother were forced to drop out of school. Although he always regretted that he had not been able to attend school, Howells believed that his association with the printing trade, and the fact that his father read to the family whenever possible, made up in part for his lack of formal education.
The Dayton business failed in 1850, and the family moved to Greene County, Ohio. While Howells’s father and brother attempted to revive an old paper mill, the Howells family lived in a log cabin on a stream near the town of Xenia. Years later, Howells wrote about the experience in My Year in a Log Cabin (1893). When efforts to revive the paper mill failed, the family moved to Columbus. While they were in Columbus, Howells worked as a compositor for the Ohio State Journal. In 1852, his father became editor of the Ashtabula, Ohio, Sentinel. Six months later, Mr. Howells moved the paper to Jefferson, Ohio.
Howells’s first poem, “Old Winter, Loose Thy Hold on Us,” was published in 1851, but his writing career had begun while he was setting type for the Ashtabula Sentinel. Along with the regular news, Howells inserted his own sketches, stories, and poems. His published prose also included one serial romance. By 1855, Howells was contributing to several Ohio newspapers, and in 1857 he was offered a position as a subordinate editor for the...
(The entire section is 837 words.)