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Biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay

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Millay was born in Rockland, Maine to Cora Lounella, a nurse, and Henry Tollman Millay, a schoolteacher who would later become superintendent of schools. Her middle name derives from St. Vincent's Hospital in New York, where her uncle's life had been saved just before her birth. The family's house was "between the mountains and the sea where baskets of apples and drying herbs on the porch mingled their scents with those of the neighboring pine woods." In 1904, Cora officially divorced Millay's father for financial irresponsibility, but they had already been separated for some years. Cora and her three daughters, Edna (who called herself "Vincent"), Norma, and Kathleen, moved from town to town, living in poverty. Cora traveled with a trunk full of classic literature, including Shakespeare and Milton, which she read to her children. The family settled in a small house on the property of Cora's aunt in Camden, Maine, where Millay would write the first of the poems that would bring her literary fame.

The three sisters were independent and spoke their minds, which did not always sit well with the authority figures in their lives. Millay's grade school principal, offended by her frank attitudes, refused to call her Vincent. Instead, he called her by any woman's name that started with a V. At Camden High School, Millay began developing her literary talents, starting at the school's literary magazine,The Megunticook. At 14 she won the St. Nicholas Gold Badge for poetry, and by 15 she had published her poetry in the popular children's magazine St. Nicholas, the Camden Herald, and the high-profile anthology Current Literature. While at school she had several relationships with women, including Edith Wynne Matthison, who would go on to become an actress in silent films. Millay entered Vassar College at 21, later than usual, and had relationships with several fellow students during her time there. In January, 1921, she went to Paris, where she met and befriended the sculptor Thelma Wood.

Edna St. Vincent Millay at Vassar College in 1914, photographed by Arnold Genthe.

Millay's celebrity began in 1912 when she entered her poem "Renascence" in a poetry contest in The Lyric Year. The poem was widely considered the best submission and when it was ultimately awarded fourth place, it created a scandal which brought Millay publicity. The first-place winner Orrick Johns was among those who felt that "Renascence" was the best poem, and stated that "the award was as much an embarrassment to me as a triumph." A second-prize winner offered Millay his $250 prize money.In the immediate aftermath of the Lyric Year controversy, Caroline B. Dow heard Millay reciting her poetry and playing the piano at the Whitehall Inn in Camden, Maine, and was so impressed that she offered to pay for Millay's education

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