Archibald MacLeish: Biography & Poems

Instructor: Natarielle Powell
What if you heard a story about a lawyer who writes poetry and gives up partnership at a law firm to travel to France and write full time? Would it sound a little crazy? Maybe, but it also sounds exactly like Archibald MacLeish. Read on to learn more.

Archibald MacLeish

Macleish's Childhood

Archibald MacLeish was born in Glencoe, Illinois on March 7, 1892. His parents were Andrew MacLeish, a successful dry-goods merchant, and Martha Hillard, a college professor. He had three siblings. Archibald was a little rebellious as a child, so his mother enrolled him in a private school called Hotchkiss School.

MacLeish's Education

Private school served MacLeish well and prepared him for more enlightened studies. In 1911, he went on to study at Yale, majoring in English. MacLeish edited and wrote for the Yale Literary Magazine and began writing poetry as well. In 1915, he graduated and continued his education at Harvard Law School. After a break, he returned in 1919 and graduated at the top of his class.

Marriage and World War I

Can you imagine being married at age 24? Well, MacLeish took the leap toward matrimony in 1916 when he was just 24 years old. He married Ada Hitchcock, and they had four children. Three out of the four children lived past infancy.

In 1918, MacLeish served in the war as a volunteer ambulance driver. He later became a captain of field artillery. After his service, he returned to the United States as a first lieutenant. Unfortunately, his brother, Ken, who served as a fighter pilot in the war, died in combat. His experiences gave MacLeish more motivation to write.

MacLeish in his element

MacLeish Moves to France

After returning from the war, MacLeish began to practice law again, but his passion was with writing. In 1923, he actually made partner at his law firm in Boston and then resigned on the same day! That shows an extreme passion for writing. MacLeish even moved his family to France to focus more on his writing.

Shortly after his marriage to Ada, MacLeish published his first collection of poems entitled, Tower of Ivory, and in France, he connected with several other writers and began to publish more poetry. He published four books of poetry during this period, including The Happy Marriage and Other Poems (1924), The Pot of Earth (1925), Streets in the Moon (1928), and The Hamlet of A. Macleish (1928).

MacLeish & Politics

In 1928, MacLeish and his family returned to America and bought a farm in Conway, Massachusetts. He continued to write, expanding his reach to dramatic writing. He wrote two radio plays in hopes of increasing patriotism and warning Americans against fascism (a way of organizing a society where a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people).

From 1930 to 1938, MacLeish was an an editor for Fortune magazine and wrote speeches for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The President also appointed MacLeish the Librarian of Congress. In addition, MacLeish served as director of the War Department's Office of Facts and Figures and assistant director of the Office of War Information. He was appointed assistant Secretary of State for Cultural Affairs in 1944.

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