William Dean Howells: Brief Chronology of Selected Works and Events

1830 1840
1860 1870
1880 1890 1900 1910 1920

Note: This brief and selective chronology is intended as a quick reference for those working on Howells.  It is by no means comprehensive.  For more biographical information, see Edwin Cady's two-volume biography of Howells and John Crowley's The Black Heart's Truth, both of which served as sources for the information below;  Kenneth Lynn's 1971 biography;  Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson''s William Dean Howells: A Writer's Life (2005); and other works listed in the bibliography of recommended works.  For information on texts, see the Indiana edition of Howells's works, William Gibson and George Arms's A Bibliography of William Dean Howells (New York Public Library, 1948; Arno Press, 1971), American Literary Realism (1969, 1972), and others from the bibliography. If not otherwise specified, page references are to Goodman and Dawson.

Please cite this page if you are using the information.

Go to a list of Howells's residences.

(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 Martins Ferry, Ohio, to William Cooper and Mary Dean Howells, the second child and second son of their eight children. His older brother, Joseph ("Joe"), was born in 1832.

May 1. Elinor Gertrude Mead, whom Howells will marry in 1862, is born.

1838 Howells's sister Victoria ("Vic) is born (1838-1886)  
  •  William Cooper Howells becomes editor of the Hamilton, Ohio, Intelligencer and publishes a Swedenborgian newspaper called The Retina on the side from 1843-1844.
  • Howells's brother Sam is born (1840-1925)
1842 Howells's sister Aurelia is born (1842-1931).  
1844 Howells's sister Anne is born (1844-1938).  
1846 Howells's brother John is born (1846-1864).  
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.  
1849 The Howells family moves to Dayton, and W. C. Howells publishes the first issue of the Dayton Transcript on May 17.
WDH has a mild case of cholera.
  • WCH's employment ends in August when the Transcript closes its doors.
  • In the fall, the Howells family moves to Eureka Mills, a communal society complete with gristmills and sawmills on the banks of the Little Miami River. Howells later writes of this experience in My Year in a Log Cabin and New Leaf Mills.
  • Winter. The Howells family leaves Eureka Mills and moves to Columbus for 18 months. WCH works as a legislative reporter for the Ohio State Journal.
  • 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).

  • Among WDH's early pieces is a "verse tragedy set in ancient Rome and a mock epic, 'The Battle of the Cats'" (21).
  • WDH begins to teach himself Spanish.
  • Without William Dean Howells's knowledge, his father has one of WDH's poems published in the Ohio State Journal.
  • Howells's brother Henry is born (1853-1908). A childhood accident renders him mentally disabled, and Aurelia spends her life in caring for him.
  • WCH loses his job on May 3 when the legislature adjourns. He buys a share in the Ashtabula Sentinel, and the family moves to Ashtabula where WCH becomes editor of the paper.
  • The Ashtabula Sentinel moves its offices to Jefferson, the county seat, and the Howells family moves there.
  • Howells's first published fiction, "A Tale of Love and Politics, Adventures of a Printer Boy," appears in the Ashtabula Sentinel
  • Summer. Howells continues to work for the Sentinel as a typesetter but eventually stops because of his hypochondriacal illnesses. He anxiously begins to believe that he will die of hydrophobia (rabies) before he reaches 17 and suffers from "incapacitating migraines" (27). Cooler fall weather brings some relief of his symptoms.
  • WDH publishes The Independent Candidate, a serialized novel, in the Sentinel during the fall and winter.
    1855 After a month of reading law with Ben Wade in preparation for being a lawyer, Howells quits and returns to the print shop.  
    1856  William Cooper Howells is elected Clerk of the State House of Representatives.  
  • Howells returns to Columbus to write a column ("Letter from Columbus") for the Daily Cincinnati Gazette, signing his name as "Jeffersonian." He begins to learn German and to admire the poet Heinrich Heine.
  • March. Howells is offered the city editorship of the Cincinnati Gazette but moves to Cincinnati only briefly before leaving the job to go back home.
    • Autumn. Howells returns to Columbus begins work for the Ohio State Journal, writing reviews, poems, and stories, and translating stories from French, German, and Spanish newspapers.
    • Howells enters Columbus society when he is invited to a dinner at the home of Salmon P. Chase, who would be Lincoln's Secretary of State.
    WDH publishes nine letters in the Sentinel based on his experiences traveling by steamboat to St. Louis.
    • The Atlantic Monthly accepts WDH's poem "Andenken" for publication.
    • John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. Like his father, WDH admired Brown but was later troubled by his violent methods.
    Poems of Two Friends (December 1859)
    • Follett, of Follett and Fowler, the publishers of Poems of Two Friends, suggests to WDH that he write a campaign biography of Lincoln, stipulating that it must be done before Lincoln's nomination on May 18. WDH finishes writing the biography in a week (50).
    • 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.
  • 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 Berkeley 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.
  • "No Love Lost: A Romance of Travel" (Putnam's, Dec. 1868)
    1869  Howells meets Mark Twain in Fields's office, the beginning of a friendship that will last the rest of their lives.  
    1870 August. The Howells family moves from Sacramento Street to 3 Berkeley Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
    Howells lectures at Harvard.
    "A Romance of Real Life" (Atlantic, March)
      July 1.  Howells becomes the Editor of the Atlantic Monthly, a post he will keep for the next ten years. Suburban Sketches (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1871)
    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  WD and Elinor Howells stay at the Shaker colony in Shirley, Massachusetts (Goodman and Dawson 393). 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 1 March. Howells resigns from the editorship of the Atlantic (Goodman and Dawson 212). 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-August 1885.
  • 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 
  • January. 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  Hamlin Garland meets Howells while the Howellses are at a resort in Auburndale, Massachusetts (Goodman and Dawson 318). 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 2 March. Winifred Howells dies of heart failure. 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 an autopsy reveals physical disease of a kind not stated. At one point Winifred weighed only 59 pounds, which to the modern eye raises the specter of anorexia. At her death, she weighed 79 pounds, but, as biographers Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson note, "The combination of vigorous exercise and a diet of fatty foods can themselves trigger a heart attack in someone who has been underweight for several years" (295).   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.
    • Assumes editorship of Cosmopolitan and writes Altrurian Sketches for it.

    • Howells's son John graduates from Harvard.
    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. He writes to Howells on 28 March asking why he has received no response; Howells replies immediately, saying that he has not yet read the book. According to The Crane Log, Crane again writes to Howells on 8 April "asking for a recommendation to Edwin L. Godkin, editor of the New York Evening Post. Howells replies on the same day, advising Crane to show Godkin a letter from Howells to Crane that praised Maggie" (91). According to Edwin Cady's The Realist at War, Howells "used the convenient outlet of a newspaper interview to announce his discovery of 'a remarkable writer' and to praise Maggie" (214). 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" Scribner's 14 (October 1893): 429-446.
    Evening Dress: Farce
    The Niagara Book
    (with Mark Twain and Nathaniel Southgate Shaler) (Buffalo: Underhill and Nichols)
    1894  Howells's father dies. 
    WDH visits his son, John, who is studying architecture in France.
  • 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  WDH goes to Germany.
  • 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  Failure of Harper & Brothers. Col. George Harvey is placed in charge, and WDH  begins to write a monthly column, the "Editor's Easy Chair," for Harper's New Monthly Magazine. Their Silver Wedding Journey
    Ragged Lady, a Novel
    Howells begins to write the "Editor's Easy Chair" column for Harper's (Anesko 318)
  • 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
    A Pair of Patient Lovers
    1902  WDH purchases summer home at Kittery Point, Maine (Anesko 319)
  • 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  WDH receives a Litt. D. from Oxford. 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  Elected first president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
    Travels to Italy.
  • 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 Trip to Wales, Ireland,and the Continent (Anesko 320). 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)
    21 April. Death of Mark Twain.
    6 May. 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.
    WDH travels to Bermuda and Spain (Anesko 320)

    The Writings of William Dean Howells (edition)
    Parting Friends: A Farce
    1912 House of Harper stages an elaborate birthday celebration for WDH's 75th birthday.  Among those sending or reading tributes are Henry James, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, and Franklin Sanborn.  
    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.
    American Academy of Arts and Letters establishes the Howells Medal for Fiction; WDH is the first recipient. 
    1916 Death of Henry James on February 28. 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
    1917 21 March. Hamlin Garland organizes a literary tribute dinner for Howells at the National Arts Club in New York in honor of Howells's 80th birthday.  
    1919   Eighty Years and After
    May 11.  In New York, Howells dies in his sleep of pneumonia and is buried in the Cambridge Cemetery near Henry James. The Vacation of the Kelwyns, an Idyl of the Middle Eighteen-Seventies (published posthumously)

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