Born in Rockland, Maine in 1892, Edna lived much of her childhood without a father’s influence after he was shown the door by her mother. Edna was only seven years old at the time and her mother instilled a fierce determination into her three daughters that they should succeed in, and have an appreciation of, music and literature. It took until the age of 20 before Edna had something published and, with this achievement, came a scholarship to Vassar College.
Here she was encouraged further to write poetry as well as to become involved in theatre and it was while in school that she discovered a liking for the company of women, rather than men. In 1920 Edna published a collection of poems called A Few Figs from Thistles and this collection certainly drew a few sharp intakes of breath from the establishment, containing as it did some intimate and detailed descriptions of female sexuality and feminism. But there were also little bits of cutting humour in there as well, such as:
A clear indication there of her less than favourable opinion of men! There was an indication that she took the more dominant role in her relationships with other women, with her friends calling her Vincent, rather than Edna. Here is another excerpt from her “Figs” collection:
She clearly saw herself as the bohemian, live life to the full kind of person while acknowledging that such a lifestyle inevitably leads to an early demise. However, looking at another short piece, her determination to make the most of her life shines brightly:
She followed this collection with her first verse play in 1921 at the request of Vassar College’s drama department. True to form, The Lamp and the Bell was about the love between two women. She found her perfect living environment after college in New York City’s Greenwich Village, existing in a tiny attic room and writing to survive. She literally produced anything that would sell and, like her contemporaries, lived a pretty much hand to mouth existence. But boy, was she happy! The quite openly bisexual Ms Millay attracted the men as well as women, and the writer Floyd Dell proposed marriage. She said no!
She did, eventually, consent to marry a man but it was a strictly unconventional affair. Harping back to her friends calling her ‘Vincent’, Edna later described the married couple as ‘two bachelors’ and this marriage to the self-proclaimed feminist Eugen Boissevain was conducted in a sexually open manner throughout its 26 year span. Despite Edna’s love of women this truly was a marriage ‘til death do us part’. It ended on her husband’s death, from cancer, in 1949.
She lived alone for only one more year until her own death in 1950. It was reported that she had suffered a heart attack before falling down a flight of stairs at her home. She was only found 8 hours later and so died the Pulitzer prize winning poet and acclaimed writer Edna St. Vincent Millay. She was 58 years old.