It was the only time in my life that I ever thought I would rather be a man than a woman, that I might go and fight and perhaps die for my country and freedom. I had to content myself with knitting blue army socks and writing verses.
—Lucy Larcom (Marchalonis 1989, 136)
One of the nation’s leading poets during the mid- to late nineteenth century, Lucy Larcom’s renown faded during the twentieth century. Yet during the 1860s and 1870s, New England’s most celebrated literary figures welcomed her into their midst. The poets John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Oliver Wendell Holmes lauded her writing, and novelist HARRIET BEECHER STOWE declared that Larcom was the American equivalent of Britain’s Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The Civil War inspired Larcom to write numerous patriotic poems, though she is best known for her poetry focusing on nature and religious themes. As intent as she was on supporting the Union cause, the early war years found her enmeshed in a personal conflict—whether to remain in teaching or to devote herself full time to her writing.
Lucy Larcom was born in the coastal community of Beverly, Massachusetts. Following her father’s death when she was seven years of age, her mother moved the family from Beverly to the nearby city of Lowell, Massachusetts, where she secured a position operating a boarding house for young female mill workers. A financially inept manager, she discovered that to make ends meet she would have to send yet another of her daughters to work in the mills. She selected Larcom who, though not yet an adolescent, was eager to leave school and start