Margaret Widdemer was an American poet and novelist whose long life spanned the last sixteen years of the 19th century and more than three quarters of the 20th. She was primarily a poet who wrote with a strict regard for more traditional verse construction. Her work, covering diverse subjects, won her a number of awards. Her most notable achievement was the award of the Pulitzer Prize in 1919 for a collection of poetry called The Old Road to Paradise, although she had to share it that year with another writer. It was also known, at that time, as the Columbia University Prize. She sometimes wrote with a light touch about satirical topics but, more often, she turned her hand to much more serious, social conscience material. A good example of this was the exploitation of children in the work place. She was married relatively late in life (at the age of 35) to an author and cellist but continued to publish work using her maiden name.
Margaret Widdemer was born on the 30th September 1884 in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Her father, who was a First Congregational Church minister, moved the family to Asbury Park, New Jersey and Margaret spent her formative years there. Little is recorded about her childhood but it is known that she graduated from the Drexel Institute Library School at the age of 25 and was already writing poetry. It would be another six years before her first collection was published and this was a serious collection called The Factories With Other Lyrics. Published in 1915, this collection explored Margaret’s deep concern for the common practice of using child labour in a variety of industrial locations. Her poem The Factories is a poignant example from this collection and is probably her best known poem. It is reproduced here:
One of her published memoirs, Golden Years, shows that Margaret mixed freely with, and was artistically influenced by, a number of famous writers of the day such as Edna St Vincent Millay, T S Eliot and Ezra Pound. Her husband, Robert Haven Schauffler, was a widely published author himself and, no doubt, enjoyed these mutual friendships. He was also a poet but he also produced books on travel, music and a variety of cultural pursuits.
Widdemer has a number of poetry collections to her name but, additionally, she published in excess of thirty novels including The Red Castle Women in 1968. Four years previously she published another memoir about her life and her famous friends. This was called Golden Friends I Had (1964).
As well as being a prolific writer she also had a spell in broadcasting, appearing on a radio series for writers called Do You Want to Write? She won a number of awards such as the Literary Review Prize for Satire and the Lyric Prize. She served for a time as vice president of the Poetry Society of America.
Margaret Widdemer’s long life, her adult years spent mostly living in New York City, came to an end on the 14th July 1978. She was 93 years old.