Remembering a Teacher & Poet:
Lizette Woodworth Reese, 1856–1935
Poet Lizette Woodworth Reese was born in Huntingdon (now Waverly), Maryland, to a German speaking mother and a future Confederate soldier. She attended Baltimore private schools and, upon graduating from Eastern High school, embarked on a nearly 50-year career as an English teacher in the Baltimore schools.
Her first poetry collection, A Branch of May (1887), brought wide recognition. She published an additional eight volumes of poetry, two long narrative poems, two memoirs, and one autobiographical novel. Reese’s mix of colloquial speech and formal structures influenced younger poets, including Edna St. Vincent Millay and Louise Bogan.
In 1931 she was named poet laureate of Maryland, and was granted an honorary doctorate from Goucher College. Reese was a member of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, acting as honorary president from 1922 until her death; she also co-founded the Women’s Literary Club of Baltimore, acting as its poetry chair from 1890 until her death.
Reese is buried at St. John's in the Village Church, 3009 Greenmount Ave,
Waverly, Baltimore, MD 21218 .
Mary Pat Clarke, who represented District 14 on the Baltimore City Council,
reading Lizette Woodward Reese poems during Baltimore’s Doors Open 2018 celebration at
St. John’s in the Village
Photo: Joe Stewart
The Pratt Library houses Miss Reese’s papers and the Maryland Historical Society’s Underbelly
has published a well written and thoughtful account of her life and career
from which this photograph is taken.
Lizette Woodworth Reese published her first poem, “The Deserted House” in the June 1874 issue of Southern Magazine (Baltimore, Turnbull Brothers), perhaps written nostalgically from a new home on Harford Avenue?
The Deserted House
The old house standeth wide and gray,
With sharpened gables high in air,
And deep-set lattices, all gay
With massive arch and framework rare;
And o’er it is a silence laid,
That feeling, one grows sore afraid.
The eaves, are dark with heavy vines;
The steep roof wears a coat of moss;
The walls are touched with dim designs
Of shadows moving slow across;
The balconies are damp with weeds
That lift thick as the streamside reeds.
The garden is a loved retreat
Of melancholy flowers, of lone
And wild-mouthed herbs, in companies sweet,
’Mid desolate green grasses thrown;
And in its gaps the hoar stone wall
Letteth the lonesome ivies fall.
The pebbled paths drag, here and there,
Old lichened faces, overspun
With silver spider-threads —they wear
A silence sad to look upon:
It is so long that happy feet
Made them to thrill with pressure sweet.
The fountain stands where crowd the trees,
And. solemn branches o er it part:
HOW human wind its melodies!
“A broken heart—a broken heart! "
For this is all it hath to say
Throughout the livelong summer's day
MISS LIZETTE WOODWORTH REESE
image published in the Sun March 15, 1903, pg. 7, background removed; said to be taken some years before;
Perhaps the most glowing tribute to Lizette Woodworth Reese’s power as a poet came from the pen of her bibliographer, Alexander Worth:
While singing the praises of a lovely little lady a great fear haunts me lest my effort prove unworthy of her genius. Henry L. Mencken ranked Miss Reese with Edgar Allan Poe, and well he may, for he is not alone in his high tribute. Amy Lowell said that “her ‘Tears’ was as fine a sonnet as any by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.”
Lizette Woodworth Reese began teaching at St. John’s Episcopal school in Waverly. She then moved to the public schools of Baltimore City in 1876 to teach at the English German School. In 1889, at the age of 33, she first appeared in her own right in the city directory as a teacher living at 1407 North Central Avenue, residing with her parents and brother David.
In 1896 she transferred to teach at the Colored High School on Saratoga, just east of Charles Street next door to the Athenaeum, home at the time, to the Maryland Historical Society. There she taught composition, rhetoric, literature, and physiology.
detail from the 1869 Sachse Print indicating with a red oval,
Indicating the site of the Colored High School (1888) where
Lizette Woodworth Reese taught from 1896-1901
A description of the Baltimore Colored High School at its opening in 1888
Baltimore Sun, October 11, 1888
detail from the Bromley Atlas of Baltimore City, 1896
Showing the location of the Colored High School next to
The Maryland Historical Society
In 1897 Miss Reese bought a house at 2613 Atlantic Avenue (now 2109 Kentucky) for $650, the equivalent of her annual salary at the Colored High School. In 1917 she sold the house and moved in with her sisters at 2926 Harford Road, today an assisted living facility overlooking Clifton Park, where she remained until her death in 1935.
The homes in the neighborhoods in which Lizette Woodworth Reese lived a large portion of her adult life. Recently, thanks to the efforts of Joe Stewart, among others, Miss Reese, who received
an honorary doctorate for her poetry from Goucher College, has been admitted
into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.
Western High School on McCulloch Street, detail from 1906 Bromley Atlas of Baltimore City
When in 1901 the city followed through on its promise to staff all colored schools with colored teachers, Miss Reese was transferred to Western High School where she remained until her retirement in 1921, after which she devoted herself to writing and reading her poetry. Her books proved popular with all Baltimoreans, as the Afro-American reported in 1930:
Baltimore Afro American, January 4, 1930
image of an 1877 plan of Waverly, then in Baltimore County, courtesy of Johns Hopkins University, Sheridan Library
Most of Lizette Woodworth Reese’s published works reflect on, or are inspired by, her memories of the Waverly neighborhood. As one of the chief advocates for her inclusion to the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame, BCHS member and recording secretary, Joe Stewart, points out:
Two somewhat biographical books refer to grandparents east of Macdonald estate ( which Abel purchased) which I believe to be slightly north of the then non-existent 33rd Street.
She went to school and later taught at St. Johns (Huntingdon) and was active in that church now called St Johns in the Village on Greenmount at Old York.
In A Victorian Village she writes [in a chapter entitled “The House]
A half mile away from the old house [whose house? it reads like "hers"!] stood the toll-gate [that would be the toll-gate close to present day Greenmount and Vineyard across the way from St. Johns. And then writes] For an imaginative child living on the York Road, to wake up and remember the closed toll-gate half a mile below, [suggesting she was half a mile above or north] and the closed one farther up the pike [Govans?] was to have a feeling of safety not to be put into words. ... When I thought, years after, of the pastures in front of my grandfather's house, a line of one of Watts's hymns - "Green fields beyond the swelling flood" - came into my mind. … Opposite stretched a great pasture, curving down into the great western sky...The air was full of prickling half-noises...the shrill of the peacocks across in the Macdonald Farm...But houses go. The town pushes out, and clutches the fair meadowlands, and the uneven lanes are straightened into uniform streets, and the few roofs give way to hundreds, each after the same fashion, and the single shop to a sprawling dozen. And this was the way of the old house. They [her German grandparents?] built a new one on the opposite side of the orchard, and transplanted the white lilac-bushes...It grieved my childish heart to see the enchanted place go, but by this time my parents had moved into the city, and my only glimpse of the devastation were those of occasional week-end visits; being out of sight kept it in part of my mind. … There was never much money; many of this world's goods I went without. But there were always daffodils in the grass in spring, and there were traditions, and books, and plain thinking, and direct speech, and dignity of life and work, and liberty to move about, and grow up in. And which of us can escape beauty, no matter in what guise or
under what name it goes about?
Francis P. O’Neal of the Maryland Historical Society takes the location of her childhood memories even further:
If you go to entry No. 390 in the 1860 census of the Ninth District of Baltimore County, you will see Lizette Reese listed with her maternal grandparents, the Gablers, in Waverly. The question thus becomes ‘Where did the Gablers live?’. On the ‘Plan of Waverly’ which you will find in the 1877 Hopkins’ “Atlas of Baltimore County, Maryland” you will see a house labeled ‘L. Gabler’ just south of the southwest corner of Old York Road and Carroll Ave. This was the home of Louis Gabler, who I suspect (but so far cannot prove) was Lizette’s uncle on her mother’s side. Louis Gabler also showed up in the 1860 census of the Ninth District of Baltimore County; he was listing No. 388, meaning he was pretty close to grandpa Charles Gabler [no. 390] and Lizette. You’d have to root around among the Baltimore County deeds of the period to see if by the time the 1877 atlas was made Louis Gabler had taken over what had been Charles Gabler’s house (although Charles didn’t die until 1880) or whether Louis was at the corner lot all along (i.e. from 1860 through 1877) and Charles had another, nearby, house that isn’t marked on the 1877 Waverly plan. In either case, I’m pretty confident that Lizette grew up around the intersection of Old York Road and Carroll Avenue – which latter today is East 35th Street – since I’ve never found any reason to doubt it.
P.S. Louis Gabler still was living at what then was No. 188 Old York Road in 1903, when his wife died there.
Indeed if you look closely at the 1877 map, you can see that Louis Gabler’s property extends to another house on Carroll Street which most likely was either Louis’s or Charles’s house. It also may be the property on which “Little Henrietta” died to whom she dedicated “her first long poem” in 1927.
The house itself was a low, mellowed thing,
In part of brick, in part of faded wood;
Set for a century in the four great winds,
Set in its years as in a mist of rain
At edge of twilight, when a narrow sound,
Silver in silver air,
Pricks through each crack of the short, half-lit hour,
Such was its look and with that look was bound
That of dim, fast-kept Aprils, crowded close,
At every chimney, and about each door
That April came when she was four years old,
And crowding on sad August came.
Picked to the bone our roads lay in the blaze Of sun.
On the cracked hedge a month-old dust
Stuck thick as meal from top-twigs to the roots;
Each sound struck like a stone
Dropped into a choked well.
By the peeling fence
Our dahlias lighted a flat, scarlet blaze,
Seen a field’s length across the stretched, hot land.
Blare, silence, draught. Then, of a sudden, Death!
In the same “A Victorian Village,” published in 1929, so clearly based on those memories of growing up in Huntingdon, now Waverly, she also pays glowing tribute to public school teachers, her chosen profession:
A teacher’s work is not obvious; it is often obscure; it is not set to the blare and flourish of trumpets ...In passing a public-school building, every American citizen should feel like uncovering his head, in salute to those within who are spending their span of years in the nobilities and sacrifices of the spacious, most ancient of professions. [quoted in the Baltimore Sun, June 27, 1942, p.6]
Lizette Woodworth Reese Monument at Western High School
Artist: Grace H. Turnbull, 1939
No one will know for certain how many young minds she stimulated by her presentations in the classroom or in the seminars at her home. At the colored high school at Saratoga and Courtland streets, founded by her principal, Reverend George Lewis Staley, 65 of the graduates she taught between 1897 and 1901 are listed by name in the Annual Reports of the Baltimore City School Commissioners.
Among her Black students were those who graduated in June of 1900:
Robert P. Allen
G. M. Atkinson
Sarah E. Canada
Mamie B. Coleman
Martha J. Davis
Gertrude L. Harris
Violet G. Hemsley
Cordelia E. Henry
Gertrude R. Henson
Daisy C. Jones
Eva Corinne Smith
Frank A. Tilghman
Richard G. Wright
Their biographies, along with the rest of her Black students, have yet to be written, and their neighborhoods remain unidentified. The same is true of the hundreds of women she taught at Western High School, including those she continued to meet at her home on Harford Road, following her retirement in 1921 from the Baltimore Public School system.
 One of the many preservation undertakings of Joe Stewart, former president, secretary, and board member of the Baltimore City Historical Society, was to memorialize the life and contributions of Waverly born Lizette Woodworth Reese. This revised essay first published in the Gaslight of the Baltimore City Historical Society is published here in his honor for his years of service to the cause of Baltimore History. On Thursday, May 20, 2021, the Baltimore History Evenings presented: Parole Femine: Words and Lives of the Woman's Literary Club of Baltimore, by Jean Lee Cole which included references to founding member Lizette Woodworth Reese. The papers of the Women’s Literary Club of Baltimore are to be found at https://loyolanotredamelib.
 from 1870 to 1887 David Reese, carpenter, Lizette’s father?, is listed as living at 392 Harford Avenue in East Baltimore (City directories).
 Alexander Wirth, Complete Bibliography of Lizette Woodworth Reese, 1937, available on line at http://catalog.hathitrust.
 Her removal from her post at the Colored High School in 1901 was undoubtedly a painful experience for which she has left no known reflections. It was a long-time goal of the Black community to have all Black teachers at Baltimore City’s segregated “colored’ schools which they achieved at the Colored High School on Saratoga in 1901. See the complaints in the Sun about the removal of the white teachers and the mention of Lizette Woodworth Reese as one of the 13 who would no longer be permitted to teach there: “Where will it end?,” Baltimore Sun,May 11, 1901.
 “Sixteen Got Certificates,” Baltimore Sun, June 23,1900.
 Another graduate of the Colored High School was Katie Locks. According to the family historian, Mary Katherine Locks (1882-1959), was the granddaughter of John W. Locks, a prominent mortician. She married John Wesley Woodhouse. To date no one has undertaken class histories of the known graduates of the colored high school, or for that matter, individual biographies.
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