University of New England - Innovation for a Healthier Planet

Edna St. Vincent Millay collection, 1900-1992

Full finding aid (pdf)

Collection Scope and Content

The collection consists of photocopies of the poet’s early work, biographical sketches, and correspondence with her mother and sisters. Also included are a few photographs of a school-aged Millay, an example of her signature, and two volumes of Tamarack, a journal edited by her sister, Norma Millay, in the 1980s. Samples of commemorative ephemera in celebration of her Maine birthright and longtime ownership and residency of Ragged Island in Maine’s Casco Bay are also present, in addition to a silk nightgown owned by Millay.

Biographical/Historical Note

Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Rockland, Maine, on February 22, 1892, the daughter of Henry T. and Cora (Buzzelle) Millay. The first publication of her writing, in 1906 at age 14, was a piece in St. Nicholas magazine, which earned her a Gold Badge. Millay graduated from Camden Hills High School in 1909. “Renascence,” a verse, was published in Lyric Year in 1912. She graduated from Vassar College in 1917. Upon graduation she published her first poetry collection, Renascence and Other Poems.

She moved to Greenwich Village, sharing an apartment with her sisters and acting with the Provincetown Players on MacDougal Street. In 1919, Millay’s anti-war play Aria da Capo was published, followed in 1920 by A Few Figs from Thistles, which was controversial due to its overtly sexual and feminist themes. Second April was published in 1921, as well as the plays Two Slatterns and a King and The Lamp and the Bell, a poem written for Vassar College about love between women. The following year Millay won a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, the third woman to ever do so.

On July 18, 1923, she married Eugen J. Boissevain, and after traveling around the world together in 1925, they settled at Steepletop in Austerlitz, New York. They later bought Ragged Island in Maine as a summer retreat. In 1927, Millay joined the demonstrations against the conviction and death sentencing of Ferdinando Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. After pleading with the governor in person, she wrote in an appeal to him: “I cry to you with a million voices: answer our doubt…There is need in Massachusetts of a great man tonight.”

She wrote The King’s Henchman, a lyric opera, in 1927 and Fatal Interview and Wine from These Grapes along with many other poems in the 1930s. Due to reverses in her husband’s foreign import business, the couple experienced serious financial losses during World War II. As a longtime pacifist and activist, Edna St. Vincent Millay used her poetry to protest the Allied actions during the war, for which she received criticism by her readers. Millay suffered a nervous breakdown in 1944, as well as a recurrence after the loss her husband in 1949. Millay died on October 19, 1950, the result of a fall at Steepletop. She was 58.