Walt Whitman was born on Long Island, New York, on May 31, 1819. The second of nine children, Whitman’s family struggled financially during his childhood, leading to the end of Whitman’s formal schooling at age eleven and his subsequent entrance into the workforce thereafter. From that point on, he was mostly self-taught and held several jobs in the printing industry before becoming a teacher. This profession did not suit him, however, and he eventually established his own newspaper, the Long Islander, in Huntington, New York, in addition to editing several other publications during his career.
Whitman’s first love was writing, and in 1855, he used his own money to publish Leaves of Grass, his most famous collection of poems, which he published several times during his life, editing and adding to the collection each time. Although the work received extensive praise from other famous writers of the time, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, many criticized the work as being too offensive and obscene due to its explicit sexuality. Controversy aside, Whitman’s American epic incorporated transcendental and realist points-of-view, and made him famously known as the “father of free verse,” setting him apart as one of the most loved and influential of all American poets.
Despite the success of his work, Whitman struggled financially throughout most of his adult life, as he continued to support ill family members. During the Civil War, he moved to Washington, working clerical jobs and volunteering as a nurse. After visiting family in New Jersey, he suffered a stroke and never returned to Washington. Whitman died on March 26, 1892 from bronchial pneumonia.