Harriet Monroe was born in Chicago, the daughter of a lawyer. Because of parental tension she found solace and companionship in her father’s large library of books and read the classics and the works of major poets at an early age. She was educated at the Dearborn Seminary, a private girls’ school in Chicago and the Visitation Academy of Georgetown, Washington DC, from which she graduated in 1879.
Her first published work, With Shelley’s Poems, appeared in The Century Magazine in 1888 and her poem The Grand Canyon of Colorado in Atlantic Monthly the following year. She became a freelance correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and in 1892 was commissioned to write an ode for the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America. She was awarded a settlement of $5,000, which set her up financially after New York World published this poem without her consent.
In 1912 she founded Poetry Magazine after recruiting 100 Chicago businessmen as sponsors. This became the principal organ for modern English poetry and championed the work of emerging poets such as T S Eliot, Carl Sandburg, and Vachel Lindsey. It promoted the imagist movement but was not limited to it. She resigned her position as an art critic for the Chicago Tribune to concentrate on editing it which she did from its inception until her death in 1936.
Harriet Monroe published four volumes of poetry during her lifetime: Valeria and other Poems in 1892, You and I Poems in 1914, The Difference and Other Poems in 1924, and Chosen Poems in 1935. She also wrote a biography of her brother-in-law, the Chicago architect, John Wellborn Root in 1896, After All, a memoir of him in 1900, The Passing Show - Five Modern Plays in Verse in 1903, Poets and Their Art in 1926 and an autobiography, A Poet’s Life: Seventy Years in a Changing World, which was published two years after her death.
Harriet Monroe was a multi-talented, highly cultured woman whose poetry covered a wide range of themes. She had a love of travel and in 1911 visited her sister, the wife of the US ambassador to China where she had the opportunity to study Chinese art. She died in 1936 in Peru, aged 75, on the way to Machu Picchu, having previously attended a literary conference in Buenos Aires.