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William Dean Howells (1837-1920): Chronology

Picture of William Dean Howells as a young man

 Brief Chronology of Selected Works and Events in the Life of William Dean Howells

1830 1840
1860 1870
1880 1890 1900 1910 1920

For more biographical information,  see Edwin Cady's two-volume biography of Howells, John Crowley's The Black Heart's Truth, Kenneth Lynn's 1971 biography, and other works from the bibliography.
Year Events  Works (Titles and dates of first American editions appear as listed in the University of California's Melvyl library system and checked against the Facts on File bibliography listing on Howells. . Please e-mail corrections to this chronology.)
March 1.  William Dean Howells is born in Martin's Ferry, Ohio, to William Cooper and Mary Dean Howells, the second child and second son of their eight children  
 William Cooper Howells becomes editor of the Hamilton, Ohio, Intelligencer and publishes a Swedenborgian newspaper called The Retina on the side.  
Trying to gather support for the Free Soil party, William Cooper Howells quits the Intelligencer over a matter of principle. The family moves to Dayton, Eureka Mills, and other places in Ohio.  
The Howells family moves to Columbus for 18 months and later to Ashtabula and Jefferson (in 1853); Howells works as a printer.  According to Edwin Cady, Howells could "set type at six, was a useful hand at nine, and when he was eleven he could set five thousand ems a day, a man's work" (The Road to Realism 25).  
1852  Without William Dean Howells's knowledge, his father has one of WDH's poems published in the Ohio State Journal.  
1853  Howells's first published fiction, "A Tale of Love and Politics, Adventures of a Printer Boy," appears in the Ashtabula Sentinel  
1856  William Cooper Howells is elected Clerk of the State House of Representatives.  
1857   Howells begins to learn German and to admire the poet Heinrich Heine. He writes a column ("Letter from Columbus") for the Daily Cincinnati Gazette.  
1858  Autumn. Howells begins work for the Ohio State Journal, writing reviews, poems, and stories, and translating stories from French, German, and Spanish newspapers.  
Howells meets Elinor Mead, his future wife.  He travels to Boston and Concord (see Literary Friends and Acquaintance) where he meets J. T. Fields, Lowell, Holmes, Hawthorne, Thoreau, and Emerson.
  • Poems of Two Friends
  • Lives and Speeches of Abraham Lincoln (campaign biography)
  • 1861  Sails from New York to Liverpool and then Venice to take up consular appointment.  
    1862  Christmas Eve.  Marries Elinor Mead at the American embassy in Paris.  
    1863  December 17. First child, Winifred, born to WD and Elinor Howells.  
  • Article on "Recent Italian Comedy" for North American Review
  • Returns to America and begins to work for The Nation
    1865-66  WDH lives in New York as a freelance journalist.  
    1866  Meets James T. Fields on January 7; Fields offers Howells the assistant editorship of the Atlantic Monthly a few days later. Howells settles on Berkley St. in Cambridge, Mass. Venetian Life 
    1867   Italian Journeys
    1868  August 14. The Howellses' second child, John Mead Howells, is born.
  • Howells's mother dies.
  • Howells refuses the offer of a professorship in Rhetoric from Union College.
    1869  Howells meets Mark Twain in Fields's office, the beginning of a friendship that will last the rest of their lives. No Love Lost: A Romance of Travel
      July 1.  Howells becomes the Editor of the Atlantic Monthly, a post he will keep for the next ten years. Suburban Sketches
    Their Wedding Journey. Howells's first novel.(Boston: Osgood, 1871)
  • The Howellses design and build a house at 37 Concord Avenue in Cambridge.
  • 26 September. The Howellses' third child, daughter Mildred,  is born.
    1873    A Chance Acquaintance
    Poems. Augmented edition: 1886.
    1875    A Foregone Conclusion
    Private Theatricals (published as Mrs. Farrell in 1921) serialized in the November, 1875 Atlantic.  It is the only one of Howells's novels not immediately published in book form after serialization.
    Some time before this summer, Howells attends a performance of Euripedes'Medea, an experience that inspires A Modern Instance.
  • Sketch of the Life and Character of Rutherford B. Hayes. (campaign biography)
  • A Day's Pleasure (play)
  • The Parlor Car: A Farce
  • 1877 
  • Howells establishes the "Contributors Club" feature in the Atlantic Monthly in January.
  • Whittier Birthday Dinner
  • Out of the Question: A Comedy
    A Counterfeit Presentment  (play)
    1879    The Lady of the Aroostook
      The Undiscovered Country
    1881   A Fearful Responsibility, and Other Stories
    Doctor Breen's Practice: A Novel
  • The Howells family arrives in England; they spend the winter in Venice, where WDH gathers materials for his book Tuscan Cities.
  • WDH declines a professorship at Johns Hopkins University. He had already declined one at Washington University during the seventies.
  • A Modern Instance: A Novel
    A Fearful Responsibility and Tonelli's Marriage (stories)
    1883    A Woman's Reason
    The Sleeping Car: A Farce
    1884  August.  Howells buys a house at 302 Beacon Street in Boston, two doors away from Oliver Wendell Holmes.
  • The Rise of Silas Lapham begins serial publication in the Century,  November 1884-
  • Three Villages (essays)
  • The Register: Farce 
  • A Little Girl among the Old Masters
  • 1885  
  • The Rise of Silas Lapham
  • A Likely Story (play)
  • The Elevator: Farce
  • 1886 
  • Howells begins writing the "Editor's Study" column for Harper's New Monthly Magazine.  It contains some of his best criticism, and several pieces will be collected in Criticism and Fiction.
  • Harvard offers WDH the Smith Professorship previously held by Longfellow and Lowell.  Howells declines.
  • February-March. Howells spends time in Washington, D. C. with John Hay and Henry Adams.

  • May 4. During an Anarchist meeting in Haymarket Square, Chicago, bombs explode,  killing one man and injuring seven more.  In the absence of suspects, eight Anarchists are charged with murder and seven are sentenced to hang.  Outraged at the injustice, WDH writes a letter to the New York Tribune in protest, and, after the men are hanged on November 11, an editorial letter called "A Word for the Dead."
  • Indian Summer (Harper's Monthly, July 1885-); Boston: Ticknor, 1886.
  • Tuscan Cities
  • Dr. Breen's Practice
  • The Garroters (farce)
  • 1887 
    The Minister's Charge
    Modern Italian Poets: Essays and Versions  (derived from the Lowell Lectures delivered at Harvard in 1870)
  • April Hopes
  • Mark Twain's Library of Humor
  • Their Wedding Journey: with an Additional Chapter
  • A Sea-change : or, Love's Stowaway, a Lyricated Farce in Two Acts and an Epilogue
  • 1889  Hoping to cure his daughter Winnie's persistent and mysterious illness, Howells puts her under the care of Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, originator of the "rest cure" made famous in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper."  Howells writes to Mark Twain,  "If she could have been allowed to read, I think the experiment might have succeeded, but I think the privation has thrown her thoughts back upon her, and made her morbid and hypochondriacal" (Crowley 116). Mitchell and others have diagnosed Winnie's illness as psychological in origin, but after she dies on March 3, an autopsy reveals physical disease.  The death devastates WD and Elinor Howells.
  • Annie Kilburn
  • The Mouse-Trap and Other Farces
  • The Sleeping-Car and Other Farces
  • (Edited with Thomas Sergeant Perry) Library of Universal Adventure by Sea and Land; Including Original Narratives and Authentic Stories of Personal Prowess and Peril in all the Waters and Regions of the Globe from the Year 79 A.D. to the Year 1888 A. D
  • 1890
    An  "Editor's Study" column criticizes Harold Frederic's In the Valley but praises Seth's Brother's Wife (1887) and The Lawton Girl (1890).  In 1899, Howells lists Frederic's masterpiece, The Damnation of Theron Ware (1896), as one of the country's major serious novels.
  • A Hazard of New Fortunes
  • The Shadow of a Dream
  • A Boy's Town Described for "Harper's Young People"  (memoir)
  • 1891  Howells moves to New York, and, according to Edwin Cady and others,  brings the "literary center of the country" with him. Criticism and Fiction
    1892  March. Howells's last column for the "Editor's Study"
  • An Imperative Duty
  • The Albany Depot: A Farce in One Act  (NY: Samuel French, 1891)
  • The Quality of Mercy
  • A Letter of Introduction: Farce
  • A Little Swiss Sojourn
  • Christmas Every Day and Other Stories Told for Children
  • 1893  March. Stephen Crane sends Howells a copy of Maggie; Howells reads it and praises it in a newspaper interview, working from that day forward to get it republished. WDH reads the manuscripts of George's Mother, Crane's poems, and The Third Violet, but not The Red Badge of Courage. The World of Chance: A Novel (serial version at MOA)
    My Year in a Log Cabin (essay and memoir; reprinted from 1887 article for Youth's Companion)
    The Coast of Bohemia: A Novel
    "The Man of Letters as a Man of Business"
    Evening Dress: Farce
  • A Traveler from Altruria (utopian romance)
  • Five O'Clock Tea (farce)
  • 1895  Begins "Life and Letters" essay review column for Harper's Weekly (March 30, 1895-February 26, 1898)
  • Stops of Various Quills (poems)
  • My Literary Passions
  • Recollections of Life in Ohio, from 1813-1840
  • 1896  On the recommendation of James Herne, WDH reads Paul Laurence Dunbar's privately printed Majors and Minors and praises it in his Harper's Weekly "Life and Letters" column.  He persuades literary agent Ripley Hitchcock to place Dunbar's work and writes an introduction  for Dunbar's next volume, Lyrics of Lowly Life.
  • The Day of Their Wedding
  • Impressions and Experiences (essays)
  • A Parting and a Meeting (story)
  • Idyls in Drab (includes The Day of Their Wedding and A Parting and  a Meeting)
  • The Country Printer, an Essay
  • 1897 
  • The Landlord at Lion's Head
  • An Open-Eyed Conspiracy
  • Stories of Ohio (children's history)
  • An Open-Eyed Conspiracy, an Idyl of Saratoga
  • A Previous Engagement: Comedy 
  • 1898 
  • Begins essay-review column "American Literature" for Literature (May 14, 1898-November 10, 1899).
  • Frank Norris comes to Howells's attention with the publication of Moran of the "Lady Letty." WDH later reviews McTeague, and a grateful Norris sends him a presentation copy of The Octopus.
  • The Story of a Play: A Novel
    1899    Their Silver Wedding Journey
    Ragged Lady, a Novel
  • Literary Friends and Acquaintance (essays)
  • Bride Roses: A Scene
  • An Indian Giver: A Comedy
  • The Landlord at Lion's Head: A Novel
  • Room Forty-Five; A Farce
  • The Smoking Car: A Farce
  • 1901   Heroines of Fiction
    The Niagara Book (with Mark Twain and Nathaniel Southgate Shaler)
    A Pair of Patient Lovers
  • The Kentons: A Novel
  • The Flight of Pony Baker: A Boy's Town Story
  • Literature and Life: Studies
  • 1903 
    Letters Home (novel)
    Questionable Shapes
    Evening-Dress (farce)
    1904    The Son of Royal Langbrith
  • Miss Bellard's Inspiration
  • "Editha" is published in Harper's Monthly (January 1905) and reprinted in Between the Dark and the Daylight.
  • London Films (travel)
  • 1906 
  • Certain Delightful English Towns, With Glimpses of the Pleasant Country Between
  • 1907   
  • Through the Eye of the Needle, a Romance
  • Between the Dark and the Daylight: Romances
  • 1908 
  • Fennel and Rue: A Novel
  • The Whole Family (collaborative novel with eleven other writers, including Henry James, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, and Alice Brown)
  • Roman Holidays, and Others
  • 1909   Seven English Cities
    The Mother and the Father: Dramatic Passages
    Boy life; stories and readings selected from the works of William Dean Howells, and arranged for supplementary reading in elementary schools (ed. Percival Chubb)
  •  Death of Mark Twain
  • Death of Elinor Mead Howells
  • My Mark Twain
  • In After Days: Thoughts on the Future Life (Authors included: Howells, William Dean;James, Henry; Bigelow, John; Higginson, Thomas Wentworth; Alden, Henry Mills;Thomson, William Hanna; Ferrero, Guglielmo; Howe, Julia Ward; Ward, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.)
  • Imaginary Interviews
  • 1911  Howells joins with Edith Wharton and others in an attempt to get the Nobel Prize in literature for Henry James.  The attempt is unsuccessful. The Writings of William Dean Howells (edition)
    Parting Friends: A Farce
    1913    New Leaf Mills: A Chronicle  (based on the Howells family's Eureka Mills experiment)
    Familiar Spanish Travels
    1914   The Seen and Unseen at Stratford-on-Avon: A Fantasy  (story)
    1915  Harper's agrees to pay Howells $5,000 a year for the "Editor's Easy Chair" and occasional introductions to books. WDH buys a Model T Ford.  
    1916 Death of Henry James The Leatherwood God (novel)
    Years of My Youth (autobiography to 1860)
    The Daughter of the Storage and Other Things in Prose and Verse  (poems)
    The Book of the Homeless, ed. Edith Wharton (contributors: Wharton, Edith; Brooke, Rupert; Conrad, Joseph; Galsworthy, John; Hardy, Thomas; James, Henry; Howells, William Dean;Yeats, W. B.)
    Buying a Horse
    1919   Eighty Years and After
    May 11.  In New York, Howells dies in his sleep. The Vacation of the Kelwyns, an Idyl of the Middle Eighteen-Seventies (published posthumously)

    © 1997-2003 by D. Campbell.
     Comments to D. Campbell.