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Madison Wisconsin Walking Tour
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Ella Wheeler Wilcox was a poet known for her sentimental verses on varying themes of love and passion. She was born on November 5, 1850 in Johnstown Center, WI, and died on October 30, 1919. Throughout her lifetime Ella published over twenty volumes of poetry and fiction and was widely published in local and national newspapers and magazines. Ella is most known for her line, “Laugh and the world laughs with you, Weep and you weep alone,” which she wrote while visiting the Judge Arthur B. Braley family at their house in Madison, WI.

  • Exterior of the Judge Arthur B. Braley house located at 422 North Henry Street, Madison WI.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox was born in Johnstown Center, WI on November 5, 1850. She was the daughter of farmers Marcus Hartwell Wheeler and Sarah Pratt. As she matured into young adulthood, Ella grew discontented with her life in rural Wisconsin. Spurred to action by her mother’s encouragement, teenage Ella began submitting her poetry to popular magazines for publication. While her attempts were at first unsuccessful, Ella would become a widely read and popular poet during the course of her lifetime, publishing over twenty volumes of poetry.

Ella’s poetry features themes of love and passion, daily life, social issues of her day such as intemperance, and history. She wrote prose and fiction as well as poetry, and her writing was published in local Wisconsin newspapers and national magazines. While Ella is not considered one of the great poets of her time, she was extensively read by a large audience who looked to her for guidance, comfort, and understanding.

Later in her life, Ella married Robert M. Wilcox in 1884 and moved from Wisconsin to Connecticut and then to New York. At her husband’s suggestion, Ella began to study theosophy. After his death in 1916 she grew intensely interested in communicating with him from beyond the grave through her study of Spiritualism. Ella died on October 30, 1919.

The most famous line from Ella’s poetry reads: “Laugh and the world laughs with you, Weep and you weep alone,” from her poem Solitude. Ella wrote these timeless lines while visiting the Judge Arthur B. Braley family in Madison, WI. The Braley house still stands today at 422 North Henry Street in Madison, WI.

Gross, MaryJean and Dalton Gross. "Wilcox, Ella Wheeler (1850-1919), poet." American National Biography. Published February 2000.

"Wilcox, Ella Wheeler (1850-1919)." The Wisconsin Historical Society. Accessed December 03, 2018.

"Braley House." Historical Marker Project. September 23, 2014. Accessed December 03, 2018.