Will Carleton, next to James Whitcomb Riley, was one of the best loved and most popular of America’s native poets. Farm Ballads, City Ballads, and Farm Legends and a dozen other volumes of his verses are classics of the native balladry. Old favorites, such as “The First Settlers Story,” “Over the Hill to the Poorhouse,” and “The Schoolmaster’s Guests” were known and recited across America in schools, churches, and the living rooms of thousands of literate Americans. Carleton’s poetry was also well received in Great Britain, where a series of lectures were delivered in 1884. Canadian poetry lovers also welcomed Carleton; he lectured there a number of times. Crisscrossing the United States from Maine to California, Will lectured as often as five times a week. His fees averaged fifty dollars per lecture from 1870 to his death in 1912. He began writing poetry as a schoolboy, and studied poetry and Latin with two fellow scholars, Alonzo Bragdon and Byron Finney, at the District School in Hudson. Bragdon and Finney became life-long friends and his most severe critics. Later, studying Latin and Greek – among other difficult subjects – at nearby Hillsdale College, he found time to write poetry, to lecture in small nearby towns, and to submit stories to the Hillsdale, Hudson, and Detroit newspapers. Graduating from Hillsdale in 1869, he worked briefly for the Chicago Rural, but returned to Hillsdale, where he published his first book of poems in 1871. The publication of his poem, “Betsey and I Are Out,” in the Toledo Blade and its reprint in Harper’s Illustrated Weekly led to a life-long relationship with the Harpers. The Harpers published dozens of his poems in the Weekly and, later, six volumes of his poetry, which sold a total of 600,000 copies. He married Adora Niles Goodell, the widow of a missionary who had died in Burma, in 1882. They moved to Brooklyn, New York, where they lived happily for the rest of their lives. Will wrote poetry at his home and on the road. He enjoyed speaking – eight times – at the famous Chautauqua Institution in western New York. Carleton and his fellow lecturers helped to shape the American conscience. His concern for the weak and helpless was reflected in a poem, “Over the Hill to the Poor House,” which became popular throughout the English-speaking world and was thought by many to have influenced the passage of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Social Security legislation. In 1894, Carleton started a magazine, Everywhere, which attained a circulation of 50,000, for which he, as editor, produced much of the content.
Dr. Jerome A. Fallon has been a professor at Hillsdale College since 1967. After his retirement in 1997, he was named Professor Emeritus, and has continued to serve the college as a volunteer in numerous areas, including several years as college archivist. He was awarded the Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Michigan State University and the Doctorate from the University of Michigan, where he received a Fellowship in the Center for the Study of Higher Education. He has authored articles or reviews in publications such as Michigan History, The University Bookman, The American String Teacher, and The Superior Student, as well as the alumni magazines of Hillsdale College and Russell Sage College. He also published a sixty-page monograph, “The Will Carleton Poor House,” and numerous stories relating to Carleton in several Michigan and Ohio newspapers.