Ella Wheeler Wilcox was born in Johnstown, Wisconsin, the youngest of four children. Encouraged by her mother to read works of fiction, she started to write poetry as a child, having her first poem published at the age of 14. She attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison but only spent a year there, leaving to concentrate on her writing.
Her first book of verse, Drops of Water, appeared in 1872, followed by Shells, a collection of religious and moral poems, and later Maurine, a sentimental verse narrative. Her best known and oft-quoted poem Solitude was published by the New York Sun and later included in Poems of Passion in 1883, which firmly established her reputation.
In 1884 she married Robert Wilcox and had one child who died in infancy. She and her husband lived in Meriden, Connecticut, before moving to New York City. They later had houses built in Short Beach, Connecticut, and Long Island Sound, where they held gatherings with their literary and artistic friends. In 1816 her husband died and, grief-stricken and having a strong belief in spiritualism, she made great efforts to try and communicate with him. She herself died at her home in Short Beach in 1919.
Her poetic output was considerable and achieved great popularity during her lifetime. She used simple language and wrote in a sentimental, romantic style. In addition to Poems of Passion, she published Poems of Pleasure in 1888, Men, Women and Emotion (1893), Cantor and Other Poems (1896), Poems of Sentiment (1906), Gems (1912), and World Voices (1918). She also wrote several novels and two autobiographies.