Walt Whitman Timeline
How It All Went Down
Walt Whitman Born
Walter Whitman Jr. is born in West Hills, New York. He is the second of eight surviving children born to Walter Whitman Sr. and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman.
Moves to Brooklyn
The Whitman family moves to Brooklyn, beginning Walt's love affair with New York City. They move frequently around the borough, and Walt Whitman attends public schools.
Eleven-year-old Walt Whitman drops out of school in order to work and earn money for his family. He works as an assistant in the offices of a doctor and a lawyer.
Learns Printing Trade
Whitman gets a job as an apprentice for the Long Island Patriot newspaper. He immediately takes to the profession, and is soon freelancing on his own as a printer and typesetter for local publications.
On His Own
The Whitman family leaves Brooklyn and moves back to Long Island, leaving fourteen-year-old Walt to fend for himself in the city.
Whitman's newspaper trade comes to a halt after a fire destroys the printing district in New York. He rejoins his parents and siblings in Long Island and gets a job as a schoolteacher.
Whitman temporarily leaves teaching to take over the editorship of The Long Islander newspaper. He sells the paper after ten months and returns to teaching.
Returns to the Big Apple
Whitman moves back to New York City. He works in newspapers as both a typesetter and as a freelance writer, contributing fiction pieces and newspaper articles.
First Novel Published
Whitman publishes his first novel, Franklin Evans; or The Inebriate. The pro-temperance novel is commercially popular, even though Whitman himself later comes to describe it as "rot."
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Whitman starts a job as the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper. His articles there include reviews of early novels by a young writer named Herman Melville and the poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Whitman is forced out of his job at the Brooklyn Daily Eagle after a political dispute with his boss over Whitman's opposition to slavery. He and his brother travel to New Orleans for a few months to work at The Crescent newspaper.
Return to New York
Back in New York, Whitman founds an antislavery newspaper called the Weekly Freeman. The paper's offices are burned after the first issue is published. For the next six years, he works as a freelance journalist, while honing his poetic style.
Leaves of Grass
Whitman publishes the first edition of Leaves of Grass, a collection of twelve poems written in a bold new style. Readers are shocked and awed by the poems' raw subject material and striking style. Ralph Waldo Emerson sends Whitman a letter praising the book and congratulating him on "the beginning of a great career." 39
Whitman's father Walt Whitman Sr. dies.
The second edition of Leaves of Grass is published, now with 32 poems. He also reprints Emerson's congratulatory letter without permission, angering the elder poet. Whitman makes a career out of revising and updating the book, with more than half a dozen editions in his lifetime.
Writer Henry David Thoreau and educator Bronson Alcott travel from Concord, Massachusetts to visit Whitman.
Whitman spends two years as the editor for the Brooklyn Daily Times.
The Civil War breaks out. Whitman moves to Washington D.C. and works as a nurse in the military hospitals.
President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated at Ford's Theater less than a week after the Confederate surrender. Whitman, now a clerk at the U.S. Department of the Interior, composes the poems "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" and "O Captain! My Captain!" in honor of the fallen president.
Whitman's boss at the Department of the Interior fires him because of the supposedly obscene content of Leaves of Grass, which Whitman works on during his downtime at the office. He immediately gets another job at the U.S. Attorney General's Office.
The Good Gray Poet
Whitman and his friend William D. O'Connor publish The Good Gray Poet, a defense of Whitman in the wake of his firing from the Interior.
Whitman publishes the fifth edition of Leaves of Grass.
Whitman suffers his first stroke, which leaves him partially paralyzed. It is the first of several serious health problems that Whitman endures in the last twenty years of his life.
Four months after his stroke, Whitman's mother Louisa dies. Walt moves in with his brother George in Camden, New Jersey.
Thanks to his earnings from Leaves of Grass, Whitman buys a house on Camden's Mickle Street.
Whitman suffers another stroke that causes paralysis. His health is in severe decline, and he redrafts his will.
Final Edition of Leaves
Whitman prepares the final edition of Leaves of Grass, known as the "Deathbed Edition." In his author's note, he writes that he would like "this new 1892 edition to absolutely supersede all previous ones. Faulty as it is, he decides it is by far his special and entire self-chosen poetic utterance." 40
Walt Whitman Dies
Walt Whitman dies at home in Camden at the age of 72. He is buried in Camden's Harleigh Cemetery.