Study Guide

Walt Whitman Childhood

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Walter Whitman Jr. was born 31 May 1819 in West Hills, New York. He was the second of eight surviving children born to Walter Whitman Sr. and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. His father was a strict man who often drank too much, but Whitman was always close with his mother.

In 1823, four days before Walt Jr.'s fourth birthday, the Whitman family moved from Long Island to Brooklyn, New York. This began Whitman's lifelong love affair with New York City. From an early age, when he wasn't in class at one of the Brooklyn public schools, he loved riding the ferry, walking the streets, and checking out the museums, constantly taking note of life happening around him. When he was eleven years old, Whitman had to drop out of school and work to support his family. From then on, the future bard was entirely self-taught.

Whitman's first jobs were office boy positions in the offices of doctors and lawyers. In 1831, at the age of twelve, he got a job as an apprentice compositor at the Long Island Patriot newspaper, a job that proved to be life changing. Whitman loved all aspects of print - the way words sounded, the information words contained, the way words looked on the page. He took to the job immediately. Soon he was freelancing as a printer and compositor for local publications. Fortunately for him, business was good - in 1833 the Whitman family moved back to Long Island, leaving fourteen-year-old Walt to fend for himself in the city.

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