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Vachel Lindsay Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: -
Date: unknown

Biographical History

Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931) was an American poet. Born Nicholas Vachel Lindsay in Springfield, Illinois, at an early age he developed a combined interest in religious poetry and art. After graduation from a local high school in 1897, he spent three years at Hiram College in Ohio, a Campbellite college, with the idea of entering the ministry. He then turned to art as a career. He attended the Chicago Art Institute from 1900-1903 and the New York School of Art from 1904-1905. It was also during this period that he experienced the first of his "visions" which were to inspire much of his poetry.

In the spring of 1906, he took his famous walking trip through the South, passing through Georgia, the Carolinas, Kentucky, and ending back home in Springfield. Lindsay also devoted much of his time to lecturing and pamphleteering for causes such as the Anti-Saloon League and the eradication of racism (one of his self-published War Bulletins attacked greed, urbanization, and race prejudice).

His first book, published in 1913, was General William Booth Enters into Heaven and Other Poems. On 1 March 1914 at the Poetry banquet in Chicago he recited another of his well-known poems, "The Congo," inspired by a sermon on the drowning of a missionary in the Congo River. Lindsay soon became famous for his public recitations, for which he employed "a sort of ragtime manner" and which he called "Higher Vaudeville," considering them more of a performance than a simple recitation.

You must hear Mr. Lindsay recite his own "Congo," his body tense and swaying, his hands keeping time like an orchestral leader to his own rhythms, his tone changing color in response to the noise and savage imagery of the lines, the riotous picture of the negro mind set against the weird background of the primitive Congo, the "futurist" phrases crashing through the scene like a glorious college yell --you must hear this yourself, and learn what an arresting, exciting person this new indigenous Illinois poet is.
[Randolph Bourne; quoted in Robert F. Sayre, "Vachel Lindsay: An Essay," p. 8]

Although these performances made up only a small part of his career, they were in great demand and were for many years a good source of income for him both on formal tours and during his peregrinations across the country.

Over Lindsay's career he wrote nine books of poetry, five prose works, and numerous short stories and articles. He received an honorary degree from Mills College in Oakland, California, and in 1930 was made Doctor Honoris Causa by Hiram College. Unfortunately, his mental health had begun to decline in the 1920s, and he eventually committed suicide on December 5, 1931, leaving his wife of six years and two young children.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Vachel Lindsay Papers consist of correspondence, subject files, and writings, both manuscript and published.

Correspondence includes both incoming and outgoing. Incoming consists of correspondence received by Mrs. Lucy M.C. Robinson, literary editor of the Spokane Woman and a cousin to Mr. Lindsay. Outgoing correspondence consists of letters sent by Mr. Lindsay to various individuals.

Subject files consists of material such as autographs, invitations, photographs, and programs.

Manuscripts consists of typescripts of notes and poems by Lindsay and by his cousin, Lucy M.C. Robinson.

Published material consists of magazines and magazine articles by and about Lindsay as well as by and about others. Newspaper articles by and about Lindsay and his work are also in this series, as are newspaper clippings of poems by Lindsay and others. Printed pamphlets, poems, posters and programs by Lindsay conclude this series.

Arrangement of the Collection

Incoming letters to Lucy Robinson are in alphabetical order according to the last name of the sender of the letter or the name of the organization; outgoing correspondence is in chronological order. Subject files are arranged according to physical type. Manuscripts and Published material are each in alphabetical order by type and then by title.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Lindsay, Vachel, 1879-1931.


American poetry -- 20th century.
Authors, American.
Poets, American.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Vachel Lindsay Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Table of Contents


Subject file


Published material