Arts and Leisure

The Valedictorians: Robert Frost and Elinor White, His Reluctant Wife

Robert Frost and Elinor White married in December of 1895 in Lawrence, Mass., after one of them finally stopped foot-dragging.

The two were high school sweethearts at their hometown high, Lawrence High School.

Robert Frost, 1910

Robert Frost, 1910

Robert, the celebrated poet best known for his poems of rural New England life, and Elinor Miriam White were co-valedictorians in their graduating class in 1892. They both delivered speeches at commencement exercises. Elinor’s was entitled Conversation as a Force in Life, which her husband’s biographer Jay Parini noted was “an intriguing subject, given her attachment to a man who prized conversation – his own, in particular – over almost anything.”

Elinor White Says ‘Wait’

Upon graduating, the two secretly pledged to marry one another. Robert, 18, wanted to marry immediately. Elinor, two years older, said they should wait. She particularly wanted to complete her studies, and her father planned to send her to the Unitarian college St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.

Robert, meanwhile, had his hopes of attending Harvard dashed because his grandparents viewed it as a frivolous place. Too much free-thinking and free-drinking, they said..

So Robert proceeded to college at Dartmouth while Elinor went to St. Lawrence. He seemed to hope the separation would make Elinor’s heart grow fonder of him, but she seemed to enjoy her freedom (more than he liked).

While Robert quickly dropped out of Dartmouth and returned to Lawrence, Elinor continued studying at St. Lawrence. During the summers he continued courting her in person and via the mails. She refused to change her plans, however.

While she was away, Robert Frost dutifully helped her family, in particular helping to look after Elinor’s sister, who was prone to panic attacks.

During the summers, he spent as much time as he could courting Elinor and attempting to make love to her. He even wrote a poem about his efforts, The Subverted Flower. Elinor forbade him from publishing it while she was alive.

In 1895, with Robert having already sold his first poem, Elinor stopped dragging her feet and the two married. The marriage produced six children, four of whom died before Robert did in 1963. Elinor, who was an inspiration to Robert, suffered bouts of depression and died in 1938 following a battle with breast cancer and heart disease.

This story about Elinor White and Robert Frost was updated in 2021.

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