First Woman and Second Person Named New Hampshire Poet Laureate: Eleanor Winthrop Vinton (1899-1977)

Photograph of Eleanor Winthrop Vinton, taken at the time of her being named Poet Laureate of New Hampshire

Photograph of Eleanor Winthrop Vinton, taken at the time of her being named Poet Laureate of New Hampshire. Property of Janice W. Brown at blog: Cow Hampshire.

At the age of eight years, Eleanor Winthrop Vinton moved with her family from her birthplace of Stoneham, Massachusetts to Concord, New Hampshire. Her father was an upholsterer by profession. She was a direct descendant of John Vinton of Lynn MA as shown in the genealogy below.

On her 73rd birthday (August 1972), by then a sixty-five year resident of Concord, she was appointed the second New Hampshire Poet Laureate, the first women to be awarded this honor.  Then-Governor Walter Peterson telephoned her on July 25th to notify her of her appointment.

Gov. Walter Peterson of NH

Gov. Walter Peterson of NH who appointed Eleanor Vinton as poet laureate, from Manual for the General Court 1969.

The no-salaried position of poet laureate had been established in 1967, as a life-time appointment.  After Eleanor’s appointment, it was determined that future poet laureates would serve in five year terms.  A 1973 Telegraph newspaper (Nashua NH) article by Brenda W. Rotzoll quotes Eleanor:  “I promised them I’d try to die within five years…”  The article also mentions that she was “whitehaired, delicate, soft-spoken and possessed of a wicked wit.”

Concord High School, Concord NH

Concord High School, Concord NH

Various newspaper articles provide biographies that say Eleanor W. Vinton began to write poems at age 11, and that she wrote a poem for each of the members of her Concord High School graduation class in 1918.

She had started in business school, but her formal education came to a standstill when she had to remain home to look after her ailing mother, then her father. She did work outside of the home at times, as a “practical” nurse and also as a bookseller. But her focus was caring for various members of her family.  She never stopped writing poetry.

Starting in the 1920s her poetry was published in newspapers, both local and distant (such as The Chicago Daily News, the Gastonia Daily Gazette, the Olean Times Herald, et al),  in The Granite Monthly, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Ladies Home Journal. She did not make much money from her poetry, though she had many readers.  Even the Journal of the American Medical Association printed one of her jingles.

The same 1973 newspaper story about her states, “the largest single check was $36 from the Ladies’ Home Journal–but the real reward was the acclaim of her friends and the knowledge of being widely read.”  And it turns out, that the title of that poem was called Ancestry, where she describes her great-great grandfather marrying “his green-eyed scatter-brained love,” and producing descendants with “fire of a scatterbrain, wild and proud.”

Reportedly she was honored at a reception at the MacDowell Colony on October 22, 1972, that was co-hosted by the MacDowell Colony director and Governor and Mrs. Walter Peterson. Eleanor had never worked at the colony. Much of her writing was done while at a camp on the Contoocook River.  The newsletter, “Book Notes,” includes more biographical information on Eleanor Vinton, and several of the other poet laureates of New Hampshire, and is well worth reading. She was frequently asked to read her poetry to various local groups.

In 1978 her obituary stated (partly): Her poems commented on the changing seasons and her impressions of people, characterized in “Sounding Piquant Verse,” published in 1940.  A collection of her work, “On the Contoocook,” including poetry on New Hampshire places and people, was published in 1974. The book critic, Bernard R. Carman, was not especially complimentary about that collection, disliking her use of “rocking-chair rhythms.”  He did, however, enjoy her poem entitled, “Swallows” that did “achieve grace and felicity.”

It is my personal opinion that the beauty of poetry, similar to art, is in the eye of the viewer or listener.  I found some of Eleanor Vinton’s poems to be rustic and simplistic but always  enjoyable.  She was not a Harvard graduate, like some of her poetry critics, and perhaps that is where the criticism lies–among the snobbish who consider themselves to be literary superiors.

I especially enjoyed the following poem. On September 1921 The Granite Monthly (page 395) published Eleanor Vinton’s poem, THE CAMPER’S RAIN SIGNS.

There’s a weird, uncanny whisper from the odding pines
and hemlocks,
While the oaks are sobbing softly in the spell the night winds weave,
For the trees are telling stories of unfathomable mystery
And the rain will fall tomorrow, without ceasing, I believe.

Do they tell of warring Red Men they have sheltered ‘neath
their branches,
Or of comrades crashing earthward in mad storms of
by-gone days?–
Round their feet the pygmy campers gather kindlings for the fire-place
And prepare for rainy weather in a hundred little ways.

‘Tis a sign among the campers by the beautiful Contoocook
When the trees are reminiscent as they hold their heads aloof
That before the morn’s gray dawning they will hear the sound of raindrops
With a dull, incessant rhythm, like a drum-beat on the roof.

Walter Skold at the grave of Eleanor Vinton in Blossom Hill Cemetery, Concord NH. Photograph copyright Sean Hurley, used with his written permission.

Walter Skold at the grave of Eleanor Vinton in Blossom Hill Cemetery, Concord NH. Photograph copyright Sean Hurley, used with his written permission.

In 2015 Walter Skold, along with poets, Jessica Purdy of Exeter and S. Stephanie from Manchester, searched for and located Eleanor Vinton’s burial site in Blossom Cemetery in New Hampshire. Mr. Skold, from Freeport Maine, is the founder of the Dead Poets Society of America, and was in New Hampshire to participate in the annual Dead Poets Remembrance Day.

*ADDITIONAL READING*

Poem: Spring Mist, by Eleanor Vinton (The Granite Monthly, April 1922)

Poem: Inspiration, by Eleanor Vinton (The Granite Monthly, May 1922)

Poem: Lady Slippers, by Eleanor Vinton (The Granite Monthly, June 1925)

Poem: At an August Dawning, by Eleanor Vinton (The Granite Monthly, July 1928)

Poem: Hopkinton Fair, by Eleanor Vinton (The Granite Monthly, July 1928)

=====GENEALOGY OF ELEANOR WINTHROP VINTON=====

John Vinton of Lynn (1620-1664) & Ann –.

John Vinton of Woburn MA (1650-1727) & Hannah Green (1659/60- [see p. 14]

Capt. Samuel Vinton (1695-) & Elizabeth French (1698/9-) [see p. 35]

Capt. John Vinton, son of Capt. Samuel & Elizabeth Vinton of Braintree MA; b. 11 Feb 1734-5; baptized 16 Feb 1734-5, d. 6 Dec 1803, aged 69; m. abt 1755 Hephzibah French, daughter of Benjamin & Hephzibah (White) French of Braintree. She d. 17 Feb 1809, aged 75. [They were French cousins both descended from John and Grace French, early settlers in Braintree]. “Yeoman” living a mile and a half southwest of Rev. Dr. Storrs’ meeting-house, near the Randolph MA line. He raised corn and fat oxen. He bought and sold land frequently. He was captain in the training bands and justice of the peace. He was Deputy Sheriff under the king in 1774. By 1775 he came to be known as Capt. Vinton, in charge of a company of sixty-two men, including officers, men mostly from Braintree MA and 2 from Stoughton, and is mentioned in letters between John Adams [later President] and his wife. Read the Vinton memorial [page 60-61] for a more thorough description of his service.
—————————-
Children of Capt. John & Hephzibah (French) Vinton:
1. Sarah Vinton, b. 29 Sep 1755; m. Moses Arnold
2. Rhoda Vinton, b. 28 Feb 1757; m. James Holbrook
3. Hephzibah Vinton, b. 20 Sep 1758; m. Jacob Allyn
4. Elizabeth Vinton, b. 27 Apr 1761; m. Jacob Hayden
5. +John Vinton, b. 6 Jan 1765
6. Rebecca Vinton, b. 4 May 1767; m. Jonathan Bowditch
7. Samuel Vinton, b. 18 May 1769; d. 8 Dec 1786
8. Eunice Vinton, b. 14 Mayh 1771; m. Moses French
9. Hannah Vinton, b. 12 June 1773; d. 9 July 1773
10. Benjamin Vinton, b. 14 Oct 1774; m. Sarah Webb

John Vinton, son of Capt. John & Hepzibah (French) Vinton, b. 6 Jan 1765 in Braintree, Norfolk MA, and d. 17 Nov 1826 in Braintree, Orange Co. VT, aged 62. He m. about 20 March 1784 [published] in Braintree MA to Hannah Ripley of Weymouth MA. She d. 23 July 1828, aged 63. He was a “yeoman.” They lived in Braintree MA until April 1809 when they moved to Braintree VT. [SEE #263, page 104 of The Vinton Memorial]
————————-
Children of John & Hannah (Ripley) Vinton:
1. Hannah Vinton, b. 12 March 1785; m. her cousin Samuel Holbrook
2. Hephzibah Vinton, b 1791; m1) Zachariah Bicknell; m2) Orin Amidown
3. John Vinton, b. 2 Sep 1793; m. 1816 Charlotte Lamb
4. Elizabeth Vinton, b. 1795; m. Eliphalet Flint
5. Nancy Vinton, b. 1798; m. Deacon Augustus Flint
6. +Samuel Vinton, b. 30 Sep 1799
7. Benjamin Vinton, b. 12 Oct 1802; m. Eliza Grinnell

Samuel Vinton, son of John & Hannah (Ripley) Vinton, b. 30 Sep 1799 in Braintree, Norfolk Co. MA, d. 25 Feb 1826 in Braintree, Orange Co. VT, “aged 26 yrs 4 mos 25 days.” He m. 7 September 1820 to Martha Flint, dau of William, granddaughter of Nathaniel. She was b. 1 February 1801 in Hampton, Windham Co. CT and d. Dec 1895 in East Bethel VT. The Vinton Memorial-Samuel Vinton
————————-
Children of Samuel & Martha (Flint) Vinton:
1. Samuel N. Vinton, b. 25 March 1821 in Braintree, Orange Co. VT; d. 1832.
2. Zopher Viton, b. 5 July 1822 in Braintree VT; d. 6 May 1889 in Elm, Camden Co. NJ; m. 27 June 1847 to Melissa I. Harding.
3. +Harvey Lyon Vinton
4. Althera Martha Vinton, b. 9 Nov 1825 in Bristol VT; d. 14 Jan 1887 VT. She married 13 Oct 1846 to Philander Chase House of Stockholm, St. Lawrence Co NY. They resided in Bethel VT and had 2 sons, Harvey P., and Clayton P.

Harvey Lyon Vinton, son of Samuel & Martha (Flint) Vinton, b. 13 Sep 1823 Braintree, VT, d. 31 October 1864 Savannah GA; m. 13 June 1850 to “Clare” “Clarie” Clarissa F. Stevens/Stephens, daughter of Jonathan & Sarah (Fox) Stevens of Dracut MA. She b. January 1825 in Groton NH, and d. 6 September 1901 in Stoneham MA. He was a Painter. In 1860 living in Newton Massachusetts. He served in the Massachusetts Calvary during the Civil War, being captured and dying in a Confederate prison in 1864.
—————————
1860 US Census > MA > Middlesex > Newton
Harvey F. Vinton M 37 VT painter
Clarissa F. Vinton F 35 NH
Samuel H. Vinton M 9 MA
Clarence D. Vinton M 0 MA
—————————
1890 Special Census, Union Veterans and Widows
Clara Vinton, widow of Harvey L. Vinton. Rank: Private, Company G., 1st Mass Calavary, served Sep 23, 1861 to January 31, 1864 [pension]. His Civil War pension indicates that he was taken prisoner on 9 May 1864 and died in “Rebel Prison” at Savannah GA on the 31 Oct 1864. Two underage sons, Samuel H. Vinton and Clarence D. Vinton mentioned in pension papers. Harvey’s “loyalty” is listed as Ireland.
—————————
Children of Harvey L. & Clarissa F. (Stephens) Vinton:
1. Clarence Vinton, b. 13 June 1856 Newton MA, prob died young
2. Samuel H. Vinton, b. 20 April 1851 in Newton Corner, Middlesex MA, and d. 12 April 1883 in Somerville MA; painter
3. +Clarence Douglass Vinton b 21 Nov 1859 Newton MA

Clarence Douglass Vinton, son of Harvey L. & Clara “Clarissa” “Clarissy” F. (Stevens) Vinton, b. 21 November 1859 in Newton MA, d. 29 April 1935 in Concord NH; m. Anne Maude Downs, daughter of John & Elizabeth “Eliza” (Brown) Downs, and a direct descendant of John Downs (1630-1679 of New Haven CT through John-7, Joseph-6, Joseph-5, Seth-4, Seth-3, Ebenezer-2, John-1). She b. 16 August 1865 in New Haven CT, d. 25 April 1925 in Concord NH. Clarence was an upholsterer.
—————————
1900 US Census > MA > Middlesex > Stoneham
Clarence D. Vinton Head M MA VT NH b Nov 1859 married 19 yrs upholsterer
Annie M. Vinton wife F 36 CT CT NY b Aug 1864 marr 19yrs 5 ch 5 living
Frank D. Vinton son M 18 CT, b. July 1882 17 single student
Harvey S. Vinton son M 15 MA b June 1885 single student
Ruth Vinton dau F 13 MA dau b June 1887 single
Clara E. Vinton dau F 19 MA b May 1881 single
Eleanor W. Vinton dau F 11 MA dau b July 1889 10/12
Clarie Vinton Mother F 75 MA b Jan 1825 widow 9 ch 1 living
—————————
1930 US Census > NH > Merrimack > Concord > 55 Pillsbury Street
Clarence Vinton 69 widow MA VT VT upholsterer Rep shops
Frank D. Vinton 47 son single
Eleanor M. Vinton 30 dau single
—————————
1940 US Census > NH > Merrimack > Concord > 55 Pillsbury Street
Frank D. Vinton 58 M W single b. CT h4 upholsterer for B&M RR
Elinor W. Vinton 40 F W sister single h4
—————————
Children of Clarence D. & Anne M. (Downs) Vinton:
1. Frank Donald Vinton, b July 1882 CT
2. Harvey Samuel Vinton, b. June 1885 MA, d. 14 July 1959 in Laconia, Belknap Co. NH; m. 14 Sep 1915 in Waltham, MA to Eileen Mary Hennelly, daughter of John & Annie E. (Collins) Vinton.
3. Ruth Vinton, b. June 1887 MA, d. 9 April 1959 in Concord, Merrimack Co. NH; m. 21 March 1916 in Concord NH to Germoe Abram Richards, so of Thomas & Arvilla (Smith) Richards. He b. abt 1885 in Lyman NH. He was a carpenter, and she was a saleslady at the time of their marriage.
4. Clara Eliza Vinton, b 19 May 1891 Stoneham, MA, d. November 1978 (SSDI); m. 11 March 1916 in Manchester NH to Russell Alexander Sims, son of George & Bessie (Johnson) Sims. He was b. 5 October 1891 in Concord NH.
5. +Eleanor Winthrop Vinton, b. 25 July 1899

Eleanor Winthrop Vinton [this story is about her, see photograph at top of page], daughter of Clarence D. & Anne “Annie” M. (Downs) Vinton, b. 25 July 1899 in Stoneham MA, d. 12 September 1977 Concord NH; named poet laureate of New Hampshire by Gov. Walter Peterson. She was class poet of her high school graduating class in 1918. Lived in Concord NH, never married. [Poet Laureate of NH from August 1972 to December 1978]. She is buried in Saint Paul’s School Cemetery [or Blossom Hill Cemetery.

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3 Responses to First Woman and Second Person Named New Hampshire Poet Laureate: Eleanor Winthrop Vinton (1899-1977)

  1. Pingback: March 2016: Celebrating Women’s History Month in New Hampshire | Cow Hampshire

  2. Amy says:

    That poem certainly has a New England/New Hampshire feel to it. Having lived in New England my entire adult life, I really enjoy reading your posts.

  3. 22Pamela says:

    Thank you so much for this information and expose’ on her! Great to know.

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