As America’s Southern states seceded from the Union and the threat of war loomed over the country, Louise Imogen Guiney was born to Julia and Patrick Guiney on January 17, 1861, in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Guiney’s earliest memories are of the American Civil War and her family’s fierce allegiance to the Union. Encamping with her father’s unit in Virginia, the young Louise cultivated a hero worship of her father, who led the Ninth Massachusetts Volunteers and who eventually attained the rank of General, the first Irish Catholic to hold such a position in the Union army. In 1865, however, Patrick Guiney was shot in the head and was rushed back to Massachusetts, where he was to suffer miserably until his death in 1877. Although her father’s military career came to an end with his return to the North, Louise Guiney was profoundly affected by General Guiney’s wartime experience. Military valor continued to be one of her chief fascinations as a child, and later as a poet and essayist. A good student at the convent schools she attended, Guiney nevertheless displayed a martial spirit, a resistance to conventional “female” activities such as cooking and sewing, and a strong identification with literary and historical warriors.
After her 1879 graduation from Elmhurst, a school owned by the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Providence, Rhode Island, Guiney pursued a career in poetry and essay writing. Her first several books—Songs at the Start (poems, 1884), Goose-Quill Papers (essays, 1885), and The White Sail and Other Poems (1887)—met with critical success among the Boston literati. In 1893, however, Guiney decided to try her hand at more prosaic work and was appointed local postmistress at Auburndale, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, Guiney’s post office was boycotted in 1894 by many of Auburndale’s Protestant residents who resented having a Roman Catholic in charge of their mail. Because Guiney depended on the proceeds of stamp sales to eke out her meager living, she was obliged to live on the kindness of richer friends, such as