Poet, Literary Folk Figure. Though an accomplished author in her own right today she is better remembered as a late romantic attachment of Edgar Allan Poe and as the subject of at least one of his poems. Raised and well-educated in Rhode Island, she had an early interest in writing and following her 1828 marriage to poet and editor John Whitman was able to publish some of her work in her husband's magazine using the name "Helen". After Whitman's death in 1833 she developed an interest in transcendentalism, hypnosis, and the occult, wearing black dresses with a coffin-shaped pendant and hosting seances in her home. Helen first met the then-married Poe in July 1845 at a Providence lecture by Frances Sargent Osgood and later composed a poem in his honor for Valentine's Day 1848; Poe reciprocated with the well-known "To Helen" (an earlier work of the same name was for Mrs. Craig Stannard) and the two formed an attachment. After Poe recovered at her home from what was either a suicide attempt or an accidental overdose of laudanum an engagement agreement was signed and the wedding was set for Christmas Day of 1848. There were, however, problems: numerous friends opposed the match and further Poe broke a vow to stay sober within a few days of making it. Also, Helen's mother found out about Poe's simultaneous courtship of Elmira Shelton in Richmond leading to quite understandable resentments. The engagement was ended prior to the great writer's death, with Poe blaming Helen's mother in a letter to Helen addressed "Dear Madam". Cynics continue to point out that both of the ladies Poe was persuing at the end of his life were rich. In 1853 her collected works were published as "Hours of Life and Other Poems", with a revision coming in 1879. In spite of his treatment of her, and possibly recognizing that she was herself not without fault, Helen maintained some feelings for the deeply troubled author and in 1860 published "Edgar Allan Poe and His Critics" mainly as a refutation to charges made by Rufus Wilmont Griswold. She lived out her days in Providence and died of longstanding heart disease; her Poe-related materials are contained within British biographer John Henry Ingram's files in the Alderman Library of the University of Virginia. Despite Helen's efforts many of Griswold's lies, especially his exaggeration of Poe's drinking, remain fixed in popular legend.
Bio by: Bob Hufford