Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I. O.Henry: The Early Years

The following is the first part of a series of posts on William Sydney Porter (O. Henry), informing readers of O'Henry's life, accomplishments and federal conviction. Readers are encouraged to join the PardonPower blog and GritsforBreakfast in our effort to secure a presidential pardon for this Great American writer. Sign our petition here!

William Sydney Porter  was born on September 11, 1862, at  "Worth Place," a plantation in Greensboro, Guilford County, North Carolina. “Will” was named after his mother’s father, William Swaim (a journalist), and his father’s father, Sidney Porter. Will’s mother, Mary Jane, was a college graduate. His father, Dr. Algernon Sidney Porter, qualified for the medical profession by clerking in a drugstore. But, eventually, Dr. Porter was known as a leading physician in his county (O, 6).

With the exception of Will’s imagination, wit and humorous pen and pencil sketches, there is little about his childhood that translates into storybook idealism. His mother died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty. Her own mother had died from the same malady and, throughout his teens, Will was notable for his hacking cough. Many did not think he would live long himself (O, 14).

Will was only three years old when Mary Jane Porter died and his six-month old brother died soon thereafter. There was an older brother as well, who worked as a construction worker in lumber camps. It appears Will was often bullied by the older brother and the two never really got along. On top of all of this, Dr. Porter struggled with depression and alcoholism.

As he once put it, Will received a “common school education” (S, 71), his one and only teacher being his aunt Miss Evelina Maria Porter (aka “Miss Lina”). This private “education” ended, however, when he turned 15. Will went to the pharmacy to work with his father and became a “licensed pharmacist” by the age of nineteen (1881).

In 1882, the 5’6”, dark-hair, freckle-faced pharmacist decided to visit La Salle County, Texas for a change of pace. After living some time on a sheep ranch managed by Jesse Lee “Red” Hall, Porter took a position as pharmacist at Morley Brothers Drug Store (in Austin), a position he held for almost two years.

Porter then worked a couple of years (till January of 1887) as a bookkeeper for an Austin real estate firm Maddox Brother and Anderson.

At 25, he landed a position as Assistant Draftsman for the State Land Commissioner (State of Texas), where he served from January 1887 to January 1891. There, his artistry skills were tested in map making. The job in the Land Office ended, however, when there was a change in administrations (O,37).

On July 5, 1887, Porter married a 19-year old "German," Athol Estes. He then took a position as a teller for First National Bank(Austin). He held that position for three years, 1891-1894. Along the way, Porter and James P. Crane started a humor weekly, The Rolling Stone, which published from April 28, 1894 till April 1895. After resigning from his position at the bank, Porter wrote part-time for the Cleveland Plain Dealer before landing a full time position with the Houston Daily Post, from October 1895 to June 22 1896.

See Also:
II. O.Henry: Trial and Conviction
III. O.Henry: Prisoner 30664
IV. O. Henry: The American Writer

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