Did she commit suicide, or did she simply lose her balance on a Venetian balcony?
…probably the mystery will never be solved.
Constance Fenimore Woolson, a grand-niece of author James Fenimore Cooper through her paternal grandmother, was born in Claremont, New Hampshire on March 5, 1840. She died January 24, 1894, in Venice, Italy. She wrote short stories, novels, and poetry, sometimes under the alias of Anne March. Her stories and novels are particularly notable for evoking a sense of place.
When she was young her family moved to Cleveland, where she grew up, and attended the Cleveland Female Seminary and afterwards Madame Chegaray’s School in New York City (this school was later known as Hunter College). Reportedly, Constance was “precocious.”
She worked in local hospitals during the Civil War. After her father died in 1869, Constance traveled with her mother to various locations in the eastern and southern United States, including spending time in the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, and Ohio. Excelling in writing, she began to publish her works starting about 1870. During this time she wrote travel sketches and regional stories for periodicals of the time [i.e., Castle Nowhere: Lake Country Sketches (1875)].
Starting in 1879 she resided in Europe, living in lived in various European cities, including Venice, Florence, Rome, London, Warwickshire, Cheltenham, Oxford, cities in Switzerland and in the Black Forest region of Germany. While in Europe she became friends with Henry James. She never married. Near the end of her life she experienced a serious illness (one source states she had a long bout of influenza). She died in Venice Italy under suspicious circumstances, apparently falling from a balcony. Some sources state she committed suicide.
According to one source: “Henry James came to her house in Venice to help Constance’s sister sort through her many possessions. It seems she was a shopper on par with Imelda Marcos. James most wanted to find and destroy any of his letters she had kept, which he did-none are extant. It was also is job to dispose of the scores of black silk and black taffeta gowns she had bought. He hired a gondola and piled them in. Sitting beside the pile he had the gondolier row out to the middle of the lagoon, where, one by one, he cast them into the water. They wouldn’t sink. He used the gondolier’s pole to beat them down into the water, but they kept rising to the surface.”
Horace Chase is considered her best novel. Her other works include Castle Nowhere; Lake Country Sketches; Two Women, a poem; Rodman the Keeper: Southern Sketches; Anne; For the Major; East Angels; Jupiter Lights; The Front Yard, and Other Italian Stories; Dorothy, and Other Italian Stories; Mentone, Cairo, and Corfu; and The Old Stone House.
Miss Woolson: from Partial Portraits, 1894, by Henry James
***FAMILY TREE OF CONSTANCE FENIMORE WOOLSON***
Thomas Woolson, came from Wales; b. abt 1626, died 5 Apr 1713 in Watertown MA. Buried in “Old Cemetery” Weston MA; served in King Philip’s War, Mt. Hope Campaign, 27 Aug 1675 under Capt. Thomas Prentice, and later 23 Sep 1676 under Capt. Pool. Occupation: innkeeper from 1686 to 1708. In 1685 arrested and convicted of selling liquor without a license and fined 20 shillings, costs of 8 shillings, and one hour in the stocks. In 1653 living in Cambridge MA; in 1660 Watertown MA; in 1672 Weston MA. On 20 Nov 1660 in Watertown MA he married Sarah HYDE, dau of Samuel & Temperance Hyde. She b. 19 May 1644 in Cambridge MA, and d. 11 Sep 1721 in Weston MA.
Children of Thomas & Sarah (Hyde) Woolson:
1. Sarah Woolson, b. 2 Jan 1661 in New Cambridge (now Newton) MA
2. Nathaniel Woolson, b. 19 Nov 1664 in Watertown MA
3. Thomas Woolson, b. 28 Feb 1666/67 in Cambridge MA
4. Elizabeth Woolson, b. 30 Apr 1668 in Sudbury MA
5. Mary Woolson, b. 28 Nov 1673 in Watertown MA
6. +Joseph Woolson, b. 16 Nov 1677 in Watertown MA
Joseph Woolson, son of Thomas & Sarah (Hyde) Woolson, b. 16 Nov 1677 in Watertown MA; d. 16 May 1755 in Weston MA; will written 27 Nov 1751. He married Hannah –. She b. abt 1680, d. 30 April 1721. Landowner, farmer; “had care of the meeting-house there.”
Children of Joseph & Hannah Woolson:
1. Betsey Woolson, b. abt 1698
2. +Joseph Woolson, b. 12 Dec 1699 in Watertown MA
3. Mary Woolson, b. 13 Sep 1701 in Weston MA
4. Hannah Woolson, b. 8 Aug 1704 in Watertown MA
5. Jonas Woolson, b. abt 1706 in Watertown MA
6. Thankful Woolson, b. 3 June 1708 in Watertown MA
7. Isaac Woolson, b. 17 Feb 1710/11 in Weston MA
8. Beulah Woolson, b. 1 March 1713/14 in Weston MA
Joseph Woolson, son of Joseph & Hannah Woolson, b. 12 Dec 1699 in Watertown MA, d. 15 Oct 1766 in Weston MA; m. 26 Oct 1726 in Malden MA to Elizabeth Upham, dau of Thomas & Elizabeth (Hovey) Upham. She b. 30 Nov 1695 in Malden MA, and d. abt 1760.
Children of Joseph & Elizabeth (Upham) Woolson:
1. Asa Woolson, b. 23 July 1726 in Weston MA; m. Elizabeth Knight
2. Elijah Woolson, b. 18 March 1728 in Weston MA
3. +Thomas Woolson, b. 28 Jan 1730/31 in Weston MA
4. Nathan Woolson, b. 17 Dec 1731 in Weston MA; m. Miriam Bigelow
5. Elizabeth “Betsey” Woolson, b. 24 Feb 1734 in Weston MA; m. David Green
Thomas Woolson, son of Joseph & Elizabeth (Upham) Woolson, b. 28 Jan 1730/31 in Weston, Middlesex Co MA; d. 10 Sep 1823 in Amherst NH; married 1st) 18 Oct 1759 to Martha Upham. She died 21 Oct 1773 in Wakefield MA. He married 2nd) 2 Aug 1774 to Joanna Dexter, daughter of John & Joanna (Green) Dexter. She b. 4 Aug 1736 in Stoneham MA and d. by 10 March 1803 in Amherst NH; he married 3rd) 1 Jan 1805 in Amherst NH to Mrs. Joanna Read/Reed. She b. 1728
Children of Thomas & Martha (Upham) Woolson:
1. Ezra Woolson, b. 6 Jan 1761 in NH
2. Martha Woolson, b. 26 Aug 1763
3. Mary Woolson, b. 13 Dec 1764
4. David Woolson, b. 11 Nov 1769
5. Thomas Woolson, b. 1777
Children of Thomas & Joanna (Dexter) Woolson
6. +Thomas Woolson, b. 1777 in Danvers MA
Hon. Thomas Woolson, son of Thomas & Joanna (Dexter) Woolson, b. 1777 in Danvers MA; d. 3 July 1837 in Claremont NH; invented an iron cook stove, cast iron plow blade, designed town clocks, invented and patented one of the first successful iron cooking stove in America; member of the electoral college (11th presidential election in 1829), NH State representative 1825/1826, state senator 1828; he married about 1805 to Hannah Peabody CHANDLER, daughter of David & Hannah Chandler, and a niece of James Fenimore Cooper.
Mortuary Notice] Paper: The Farmers’ Cabinet.; Date: 1837-07-14;Vol: 35; Issue: 46; Page: ; “In Claremont, on the 3rd inst., Hon. Thomas Woolson, aged 60.Mr.Woolson during his lifetime fulfilled several important publications. he was one of the Presidential Electors for New Hampshire in 1828., and was for several years a senator in the legislature from this district. He was a great mathematical and mechanical genius, and a man of strong and vigorous mind. he has been a most useful member of society, and dies lamented by his numerous conuexions (sic) and friends-Eagle.”
Children of Thomas & Hannah (Chandler) Woolson:
1. +Charles Jarvis Woolson, b. 29 June 1806 in Chester, Windsor Co VT
2. Mary Ann Woolson, d. 1842; m. 1834 to Ezra Lowell
3. Thomas Woolson, b. 1808, d. 26 Apr 1826
4. Samuel Woolson, b. 27 June 1814 in Amherst NH, d. 11 Dec 1814 of spotted fever
5. George Woolson, b. Jan 1816, d. 26 Oct 1816
6. Henry C. Woolson, possibly the Henry Woolson who b. abt 1819, m. Emily –, and lived in Nashua NH (1850), Hubbard Wisconsin (1860), and Buffalo NY (1880)
7. Stella Woolson; m. 28 Nov 1840 in Cleveland Ohio to Freeman C. Pomeroy
Charles Jarvis Woolson, son of Thomas & Hannah (Chandler) Woolson, b. 29 June 1806 in N.H., d. 6 Aug 1869. He married 28 Apr 1830 to Hannah Cooper Pomeroy, dau of George & Anne (Cooper) Pomeroy and niece of James Fenimore Cooper, through her mother. She b. 15 Nov 1808 in Cooperstown NY and d. 1 Feb 1879.
1850 United States Federal Census > Ohio > Cuyahoga > Cleveland Ward 2
Charles J. Woolson 43 Stove Dealer N.H.
Hannah Woolson 40 F New York
Georgianna Woolson 19 F N.H.
Emma Woolson 17 F N.H.
Constance Woolson 11 F N.H. [b 1839]
Clara Woolson 9 F Ohio
Charles Woolson 4 M Ohio
Ann Osborn 21 F Ireland
Jane Jones 23 F Ireland
Patrick McPhillips 17 M Ireland
Children of Charles J. & Hannah Cooper (Pomeroy) Woolson :
1. Georgiana Pomeroy Woolson, b. 2 March 1831 Claremont NH, d. 2 Nov 1853; m. 24 Sep 1850 to Samuel Livingston Mather, son of Samuel & Catherine (Livingston) Mather. Had 2 children (Mather): Samuel L. (b 13 July 1851) & Katharine L. He m2nd) 11 June 1856 to Elizabeth L. Gwin. He died Oct 1890.
2. Emma Cornelia Woolson, b. 22 March 1833, d. 14 Aug 1852; m. Jarvis Carter
3. Anne Pomeroy Woolson, b. 1 Jan 1835, d. 10 march 1840 of scarlet fever
4. Gertrude Woolson, b. 28 June 1836, d. March 1840 of scarlet fever
5. Julia Campbell Woolson, b. 30 Apr 1838, d. March 1840 of scarlet fever
6. Constance Fenimore Woolson, b. 5 March 1840 in Claremont, NH, and d. 24 January 1894 in Venice, Italy. Writer. [see biography above]
7. Clara Woolson, b. 20 Dec 1843; m. 31 Jan 1867 to George Stone Benedict. Had issue.
8. Alida Woolson, b. 8 June 1845, d. 1846
9. Charles Jarvis Woolson, b. 7 Sep 1846, d. 6 Aug 1869 unmarried
[Editor’s note: article updated January 2014]