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Whenever we studied poets from the American Realism and Modernist literature time periods in school, our attention was always focused on Walt Whitman, Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson.
It’s very sad, but also very true – most of us – even those of us who LOVE poetry – never really explored poets or the many other poems from that time period, especially out of the context of required reading for school.
The only reason I even learned about Ella W. Ricker is because I stumbled across the poem A New England Valentine while digitizing the February 1923 issue of Needlecraft Magazine. Had I not scanned the magazine, I probably would have missed the poem entirely.
Curiosity got the best of me and before I knew it, I was down the rabbit hole with all the same tactics and techniques I use to research my own family history. I had to find out: Who was Ella W. Ricker? How come I never heard about her before now?
I couldn’t find anything about her in the usual sources. You won’t find her on Wikipedia, you won’t find her on any poetry magazine or archive sites – and up until last week when I actually created her a family tree on Ancestry.com, you wouldn’t have even found her there.
I even had to make some suggestions to edit her FindaGrave.com record as it reflected the wrong date of death.
Because I know so very little about her, it’s also hard to say why she was forgotten.
Maybe Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson were so different from everything else that had been published in American literature at the time that they stole the spotlight. Or maybe, it’s simply because she didn’t have someone who cared enough about poetry to carry on her legacy after she left the world.
In her article Author and Editor, Ricker actually writes about how frustrating it is to see her works discarded and destroyed – a problem that still plagues so many writers today.
The biggest difference between now and then however is she’d likely have a backup copy in the cloud or maybe even her own blog about poetry.
Reading about how much of her work was lost and destroyed back then and how she was at the mercy of editors is heart-breaking. It could also be a very big part of why and how she is not in the ranks of the other poets from the same time period today. Maybe she had a terrible editor – she did suggest publishing a list of the bad ones writers should avoid afterall.
At any rate, because there is so little about her online, I’ve decided to make it my personal mission to bring her to the spotlight. It’s time we lay Frost, Whitman and Dickinson to rest and turn our attention to discovering other poets they never taught us about at school.
I am not a literary critic, and while I am married to a literature major and even created an entire website about writing and poetry – I really can’t tell you what makes a poem a good or bad one. You either like it, or you don’t. Poetry is very much binary like that.
Thankfully, I decided that I like her poems, and I think we should bring them back to life. As I wrote in my article on Words That Start With Re-, there’s a lot more meaning to Resalvaged than just bringing old junk back to life – people need restoring sometimes too.
So, without further ado, let us remember and rediscover the life and history of Ella W. Ricker. I have much work to do in researching her biography, but here’s what I got so far:
Ella W. Ricker Biography
Ella W. Ricker (July 7, 1856 – July 1, 1928) was a writer and poet from South Berwick, Maine. Her works frequently appeared in magazines and newspapers throughout the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Most of her works were published under the name Ella W. Ricker, but an article published in The Writer, Volume 5, Issue 7 suggests that she may have used a pseudonym.
Early Life and Family
Ella W. Ricker was born on July 7, 1856, in South Berwick, Maine. She lived with Shipley Ricker and Mary W. Ricker.
From the South Berwick Historical Society’s article on S.W. Fancy Goods, we learned that in The Maine Business Directory of 1857, Shipley Ricker was an agent in insurance and Mary W. Ricker was a dealer in “millnery and fancy goods”.
Works by Ella W. Ricker
Here are some of the things she wrote that we’ve posted here on the website.
So far, we have found her works in the following publications – I’m still on the lookout for more!
- The Granite Monthly
- Needlecraft Magazine
- The Writer: Magazine for Literary Workers
- The Outing
- Golden Hour: Magazine for Boys and Girls
Other Things We Know About Ella W. Ricker
From her op-ed article Author and Editor, we now know that Ella W. Ricker lived in South Berwick, Maine between 1890-1891. She also likely has other works published under a pseudonym.
This information helped us to quickly do some searching on Ancestry.com to get more details on her and we were able to find her in the census records.
We also know that she died on July 1, 1928, in Augusta, Maine, at the age of 71.
We have good reason to believe she was likely a librarian, as her name is listed in the Maine Register State Yearbook and Manual as well as the publication titled Patterson’s American Education, in both Volume 14 and Volume 22.
While this is all a very good start to helping preserve some of the works that would otherwise be completely lost and unrecognized, we still have a long ways to go. I want to know her story, what inspired her to write her poems, and what she felt while writing them.
As a writer who’s also published bad poetry nobody reads, I can only hope a hundred years from now someone will do the same for me.
References + Further Reading:
- Maine, Faylene Hutton Cemetery Collection, ca. 1780-1990. Salt Lake City, UT, USA: FamilySearch, 2016.
- 1880 Federal Census; Census Place: South Berwick, York, Maine; Roll: 492; Page: 582B; Enumeration District: 208
- “Ella W Ricker (1856-1932) – Find a Grave Memorial.” Accessed May 13, 2022. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/121955421/ella-w-ricker.
- Authors and Editors, Ricker, Ella W., The Writer Volume 5 Issue 7, 1891.
- South Berwick Fogg Memorial Library 8000 vols, Ella W. Ricker
- Maine Register, State Year-book and Legislative Manual. United States: Tower Publishing Company, 1914, page 1026.
- Patterson’s American Education, Volume 14. (1918). United States: Educational Directories., p 754
- “S. W. Ricker Fancy Goods – Old Berwick Historical Society.” Accessed May 13, 2022. https://www.oldberwick.org/history-articles/people/19th-century/s-w-ricker-fancy-goods.html.
Know anything about Ella W. Ricker or South Berwick Maine between 1856-1920? Share your thoughts below or send me a line – I’d love to hear from you!