Family Tree Tuesday – T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot was a publisher, playwright, literary and social critic and English-language poet of the 20th century. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (published in Chicago in 1915) was the poem that made his name and is seen as a masterpiece of the Modernist movement, and was followed by some of the best-known poems in the English language, including Gerontion (1920), The Waste Land (1922), The Hollow Men (1925), Ash Wednesday (1930), and Four Quartets (1945). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.
Eliot was born Thomas Stearns Eliot on September 26, 1888 in St. Louis, Missouri to Henry Ware Eliot, a successful businessman, president and treasurer of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company and Charlotte Champe Stearns, a social worker and poetry writer. He was known to family and friends as Tom and he was the namesake of his maternal grandfather Thomas Stearns. Eliot struggled from a congenital double hernia when he was a child and was unable to participate in many physical activities which prevented him from interacting socially with his peers. This often lead to Eiot being isolated and where his love of literature developed. He studied philosophy at Harvard College from 1906 to 1909 earning his bachelor’s degree after three years. Although Eliot was born an America, he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 and was naturalized as a British subject. In 1925, Eliot joined the publishing firm Faber and Gwyer, later became Faber and Faber, where he remained for the rest of his career, eventually becoming a director. At Faber and Faber, he was responsible for publishing important English poets like W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, and Ted Hughes.
He married a Cambridge governess named Vivienne Haigh-Wood in 1915. She had health issues which marked the marriage as unhappy. In 1938, Vivienne was committed to the Northumberland House mental hospital, Stoke Newington, and remained there until she died in 1947. Eliot never visited her despite he was still legally her husband. In 1957 at the age of 68, Eliot married for the second time to Esme Valerie Fletcher, who was 30. Fletcher was Eliot’s secretary at Faber and Faber. They kept their wedding a secret. Since Eliot’s death, Fletcher has dedicated her time to preserving his legacy; she has edited and annotated The Letters of T. S. Eliot. She is a major stockholder in the publishing firm of Faber and Faber Limited and the editor and annotator of a number of books dealing with her late husband’s writings. He never had any children with either of his wives.
William Greenleaf Eliot, T.S. Eliot’s paternal grandfather, was an American educator, Unitarian minister, and civic leader in Missouri. He is most notable for founding Washington University in St. Louis, but also contributed to the founding of numerous other civic institutions, public school system, and charitable institutions. Ralph Waldo Emerson had called him “the Saint of the West”, when Emerson visited St. Louis and had met Eliot. He was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts and moved to St. Louis after his ordination as a minister of the Unitarian church on August 17, 1834. He founded the Church of the Messiah, the first Unitarian church west of the Mississippi River. Eliot was part of a small group of men in 1861 who helped Generals Nathaniel Lyon and Francis P. Blair to retain Missouri in the Union.
William Cranch, T.S. Eliot’s great-grandfather, was an American judge and the second reporter of decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. His father was Richard Cranch, an English-born clockmaker and Massachusetts legislator. It is said that his mother Mary Smith was the elder sister of Abigail Smith Adams, wife of John Adams, the second President of the United States.
Thomas Lamb Eliot, T.S. Eliot’s uncle, was an Oregon pioneer, minister of one of the first churches in the west coast of the U.S., president of the Portland’s Children’s Home, president of the Oregon Humane Society, a director of the Art Association, director of the Library Association, and Regent and Trustee of Reed College.
Thomas Dawes Eliot, T.S.’s great uncle, was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Massachusetts. He was named after his grandfather Justice Thomas Dawes of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
Check out T. S. Eliot’s family tree and see how you may be related!