Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Sara Trevor Teasdale, was born in St. Louis City on 8 August 1884 to John Warren Teasdale and Mary Elizabeth Willard. Sara was the youngest of their four children; her oldest brother was twenty, and her other two siblings were both in their teens when Sara arrived. Her father was a successful fruit merchant, and by 1910, the family was living on Kingsbury Place in the city’s Central West End with three servants in their home.

The Teasdales were wealthy, and Sara, as the youngest, lived a pampered, sheltered life. Frail and with a tendency to sicken easily, she was home schooled as a child. At the age of ten, she attended Miss Ellen Dean Lockwood’s school; then at fourteen, she went to Mary Institute. She moved on to Hosmer Hall a year later. She made frequent trips to Chicago, which brought her in contact with up-and-coming poets, of which she was one. She published her first book of poems in 1907, followed by another in 1911, and a third in 1915.

Sara was popular and, in 1914, she chose to accept a marriage proposal from Ernst Filsinger, president of the Filsinger-Bouette Shoe Company. They married in her home on Kingsbury Place in St. Louis on 19 December of that year and moved to New York City in 1916, where, two years later, she won the Columbia University Poetry Society Prize for her book entitled Love Songs. This prize was the forerunner of the Pulitzer, making her the first person to receive this honor for poetry.

Sara wrote three more volumes of poetry that were published during her lifetime. Known for her simple yet romantic content, her poems were widely read and admired. She was described by one writer as “the greatest writer of lyric verse which the region [the Midwest] has produced.”

Her personal life, however, was one of sadness and mental distress. Her brother, John Warren Jr., was paralyzed by a stroke and spent half his life in a wheelchair before dying in 1917. Her other brother, George, died in 1924 of blood poisoning.

Sara Teasdale
Sara Teasdale
Photo by Arnold Genthe from Wikimedia Commons; in the public domain

In 1929, lonely and sad because of her husband’s constant traveling for business, she filed for divorce. She moved out but remained in New York City and devoted the rest of her life to writing and editing poems. She traveled widely but was reclusive and treated herself as an invalid. Because of her brother John’s early stroke, Sara was afraid she would suffer the same fate. She was in New York after having traveled to Europe when she had yet another bout of pneumonia. On the evening of 29 January 1933, her nurse found Sara drowned in her hotel bathroom. It is uncertain whether her death was intentional or accidental, since she had been known to rely on sleeping pills and might have fallen asleep in the tub. She has a simple grave at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis City. However, newspaper accounts of her death indicated she wanted no memorial, and her ashes were, in fact, scattered by friends at sea. Her final collection of poems was published shortly after her death. Sara Teasdale was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 1994 and has a star on Delmar Boulevard.

(Sources include census records, written biographies, and newspaper articles.)

Written by Ilene Murray
June 2022
© 2022, St. Louis Genealogical Society

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