Home Arts and Leisure The Valedictorians: Robert Frost and Elinor White, His Reluctant Wife

The Valedictorians: Robert Frost and Elinor White, His Reluctant Wife

A long-distance courtship that almost wasn't


Robert Frost and Elinor White married in December of 1895 in Lawrence, Mass., after one of them finally stopped foot-dragging.

The two were high school sweethearts at their hometown high, Lawrence High School.


Robert Frost

Robert, the celebrated poet best known for his poems of rural New England life, and Elinor Miriam White were co-valedictorians in their graduating class in 1892. They both delivered speeches at commencement exercises. Elinor’s was entitled Conversation as a Force in Life, which her husband’s biographer Jay Parini noted was “an intriguing subject, given her attachment to a man who prized conversation – his own, in particular – over almost anything.”

Elinor White Says ‘Wait’

Upon graduating, the two secretly pledged to marry one another. Robert, 18, wanted to marry immediately. Elinor, two years older, said they should wait. She particularly wanted to complete her studies, and her father planned to send her to the Unitarian college St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.

Robert, meanwhile, had his hopes of attending Harvard dashed because his grandparents viewed it as a frivolous place. Too much free-thinking and free-drinking, they said.

Elinor White

So Robert proceeded to college at Dartmouth while Elinor went to St. Lawrence. He seemed to hope the separation would make Elinor’s heart grow fonder of him, but she seemed to enjoy her freedom (more than he liked).

While Robert quickly dropped out of Dartmouth and returned to Lawrence, Elinor continued studying at St. Lawrence. During the summers he carried on his courtship with her in person and via the mails. She refused to change her plans, however.

While she was away, Robert Frost dutifully helped her family, in particular helping to look after Elinor’s sister, who was prone to panic attacks.

During the summers, he spent as much time as he could courting Elinor and attempting to make love to her. He even wrote a poem about his efforts, The Subverted Flower. Elinor forbade him from publishing it while she was alive.

In 1895, with Robert having already sold his first poem, Elinor stopped dragging her feet and the two married. The marriage produced six children, four of whom died before Robert did in 1963. Elinor, who was an inspiration to Robert, suffered bouts of depression and died in 1938 following a battle with breast cancer and heart disease.

This story about Elinor White and Robert Frost was updated in 2023.

Images: Elinor White, St. Lawrence University Special Collections, Fair Use. 


Bob Maltais December 19, 2013 - 9:39 am

New England`s poet extraordinaire …

Jane Danger December 19, 2013 - 11:05 am

I think I remember having to memorize one his poems for a class

Dana McPhee December 19, 2013 - 11:24 am

My favorite poet..

Susan Angie Bean Libby December 19, 2013 - 12:43 pm

He was my grandfathers teacher and he told us frost wrote the poem about white birches cuz the kids in his class used to bend them over lol

KathyandDick Cole December 19, 2013 - 1:04 pm

Elinor Miriam White was the daughter of Edwin White and Henrietta Cole White. Henrietta Cole was my Great Grandfather’s sister.

Stan Jones December 19, 2013 - 6:04 pm

He read his poetry to us each year I was in college. He had dropped out of Dartmouth in his sophomore! I cherish his poetry! Have it all!

New England Genealogy December 19, 2013 - 8:13 pm

shared ~ thanks

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Rose February 4, 2018 - 3:41 pm

Where can I find the text of Conversation as a Force in Life? It would be very interesting to read Elinor’s words.
Thank you!

Todd Petersson April 14, 2018 - 9:27 pm

I remember Robert Frost — he was a real SOB.

Comments are closed.

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