James Whitcomb Riley
James Whitcomb Riley

Celebrity Profile

Name: James Whitcomb Riley
Occupation: Children's Author
Gender: Male
Birth Day: October 7, 1849
Death Date: Jul 22, 1916 (age 66)
Age: Aged 66
Birth Place: Greenfield, United States
Zodiac Sign: Libra

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James Whitcomb Riley

James Whitcomb Riley was born on October 7, 1849 in Greenfield, United States (66 years old). James Whitcomb Riley is a Children's Author, zodiac sign: Libra. Find out James Whitcomb Rileynet worth 2020, salary 2020 detail bellow.


An Indiana native, he earned the nickname, "The Hoosier Poet," for his incorporation of local dialect into his work.

Does James Whitcomb Riley Dead or Alive?

As per our current Database, James Whitcomb Riley died on Jul 22, 1916 (age 66).

Net Worth

Net Worth 2020


Salary 2020

Not known

Before Fame

He ended his schooling after the eighth grade. He began his career as a poet after appealing to the famous Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for literary and publishing advice.

Biography Timeline


James Whitcomb Riley was born on October 7, 1849, in the town of Greenfield, Indiana, the third of the six children of Reuben Andrew and Elizabeth Marine Riley. Riley's father was an attorney, and in the year before his birth, he was elected a member of the Indiana House of Representatives as a Democrat. He developed a friendship with James Whitcomb, the governor of Indiana, after whom he named his son. Martin Riley, Riley's uncle, was an amateur poet who occasionally wrote verses for local newspapers. Riley was fond of his uncle who influenced his interest in poetry.


Shortly after his birth, the family moved into a larger house in town. Riley was "a quiet boy, not talkative, who would often go about with one eye shut as he observed and speculated". His mother taught him to read and write at home before sending him to the local community school in 1852. He found school difficult and was frequently in trouble. Often punished, he had nothing kind to say of his teachers in his writings. His poem "The Educator" tells of an intelligent but sinister teacher and may have been based on one of his instructors. Riley was most fond of his last teacher, Lee O. Harris. Harris noticed Riley's interest in poetry and reading and encouraged him to pursue it further.


Riley's school attendance was sporadic, and he graduated from grade eight at age 20 in 1869. In an 1892 newspaper article, Riley confessed he knew little of mathematics, geography, or science, and his understanding of proper grammar was poor. Later critics, like Henry Beers, pointed to his poor education as the reason for his success in writing; his prose was written in the language of common people which spurred his popularity.


Riley's father returned from the war partially paralyzed. He was unable to continue working in his legal practice, and the family soon fell into financial distress. The war's negative affects soon caused his relationship with his family to deteriorate. He opposed Riley's interest in poetry and encouraged him to find a different career. The family finances finally disintegrated. They were forced to sell their town home in April 1870 and return to their country farm. Riley's mother was able to keep peace in the family, but after her death in August from heart disease, Riley and his father had a final break. He blamed his mother's death on his father's failure to care for her in her final weeks. He continued to regret the loss of his childhood home. He wrote frequently of how it was so cruelly snatched from him by the war, subsequent poverty and his mother's death. After the events of 1870, he developed an addiction to alcohol and struggled with it for the rest of his life.

Becoming increasingly belligerent toward his father, Riley moved out of the family home and briefly took a job painting houses before leaving Greenfield in November 1870. He was recruited as a Bible salesman and began working in the nearby town of Rushville, Indiana. The job provided little income and he returned to Greenfield in March 1871 where he started an apprenticeship to a painter. He completed it and opened a business in Greenfield creating and maintaining signs. His earliest known poems are verses he wrote as clever advertisements for his customers.


Riley began participating in local theater productions with the Adelphians to earn extra income. During the winter months, when the demand for painting declined, Riley began writing poetry which he mailed to his brother who lived in Indianapolis. He acted as Riley's agent and offered the poems to the Indianapolis Mirror newspaper free of charge. His first poem was featured on March 30, 1872, under the pseudonym "Jay Whit". Riley wrote more than 20 poems to the newspaper, including one that was featured on the front page.

In July 1872, after becoming convinced sales would provide more income than sign painting, he joined the McCrillus Company based in Anderson, Indiana. The company sold patent medicines that they marketed using small traveling shows around Indiana. Riley joined the act as a huckster, calling himself the "Painter Poet". He traveled with the act, composing poetry and performing at the shows. After his act he sold tonics to his audience, sometimes employing dishonesty. During one stop, Riley presented himself as a formerly blind painter who had been cured by a tonic, using himself as evidence to encourage the audience to purchase it.


Riley began sending poems to his brother again in February 1873. About the same time he and several friends began an advertisement company. The men traveled around Indiana creating large billboard-like signs on the sides of buildings and barns and in high places that were visible from a distance. The company was financially successful, but Riley was continually drawn to poetry. In October, he traveled to South Bend where he took a job at Stockford & Blowney painting verses on signs for a month; the shortness of his stay at this job may have been due to his frequent drunkenness at that time.


In early 1874, Riley returned to Greenfield to become a full-time writer. In February, he submitted a poem titled "At Last" to a Connecticut newspaper the Danbury News. The editors accepted it, paid him for it, and wrote him a letter encouraging him to submit more. Riley found the note and his first payment inspiring. He began submitting poems regularly to the editors, but after the newspaper shut down in 1875, Riley was left without a paying publisher. He began traveling and performing with the Adelphians around central Indiana to earn an income while he searched for a new publisher. In August 1875, he joined another traveling tonic show run by the Wizard Oil Company.


The editors of the Anderson Democrat discovered Riley's poems in the Indianapolis Journal and offered him a job as a reporter in February 1877. Riley accepted. He worked gathering local news, writing articles, and assisting with typesetting. He continued to write poems regularly for the newspaper and to sell other poems to larger newspapers. During the year, Riley spent working in Anderson, he met and courted Edora Mysers. The couple became engaged, but ended the relationship after they had decided against marriage in August.


Without a steady income, his financial situation worsened. Riley began submitting his poems to more prominent literary magazines, including Scribner's Monthly, but was informed that although it showed promise, his work was still short of the standards required for use in their publications. Locally, he was still dealing with the stigma of the Poe plot. The Indianapolis Journal and other newspapers refused to accept his poetry, leaving him desperate for income. On the advice of a friend, in January 1878 Riley paid an entrance fee to join a traveling lecture circuit where he could give poetry readings. In exchange, he received a portion of the profit his performances earned. These circuits were popular at the time, and Riley quickly earned a local reputation for his entertaining readings.

In August 1878, he followed Indiana Governor James D. Williams as speaker at a civic event in a small town near Indianapolis. He recited a recently composed poem, "A Childhood Home of Long Ago", telling of life in pioneer Indiana. The poem was well received and was given good reviews by several newspapers.


Flying Islands of the Night is the only play Riley wrote and published. Written while he was traveling with the Adelphians but never performed, the play has similarities to A Midsummer Night's Dream, which Riley may have used as a model. It concerns a kingdom besieged by evil forces of a sinister queen who is defeated eventually by an angel-like heroine. Most reviews were positive. Riley published the play, and it became popular in the central Indiana area during late 1878, helping him to convince newspapers to accept his poetry again. In November 1879, he was offered a position as a columnist at the Indianapolis Journal and accepted after being encouraged by E.B. Matindale, the paper's chief editor.


By 1880 his poems were published nationally and receiving positive reviews. "Tom Johnson's Quit" was carried by newspapers in twenty states, thanks in part to the careful cultivation of his popularity. Riley became frustrated that despite his growing acclaim he found it difficult to achieve financial success. In the early 1880s, in addition to his steady performing, Riley began producing many poems to increase his income. Half of his poems were written during this period. The constant labor had adverse effects on his health, which was worsened by his drinking. At the urging of Maurice Thompson, he again attempted to stop drinking liquor, but was unable to give it up for more than a few months.

Riley renewed his relationship with Bottsford in 1880, and the two corresponded frequently. Their relationship remained unstable, but Riley became deeply attached to her. She inspired his poem "The Werewife", which told of a perfect wife who could suddenly become a demonic monster. Bottsford pressed Riley for marriage several times, but he refused. They broke off their relationship a second time in 1881 when she discovered his correspondence with two other women, and found he had taken a secret vacation to Wisconsin with one of them.

Riley undertook occasional reading tours around Indiana, and in August 1880 he was invited to perform at Asbury University. His performance there so impressed the local Phi Kappa Psi chapter, he was invited to join as an honorary member. Through the fraternity he met Robert Jones Burdette, a writer and minister in the Indianapolis area. Burdette was a member of the Redpath Lyceum Bureau of Boston, a prominent lecture circuit whose regular speakers included Ralph Waldo Emerson. Burdette encouraged Riley to join the circuit through its Chicago branch. Riley's accumulated debt and low income began causing him trouble in 1881, and he decided that rejoining a lecture circuit would provide much needed funds. His agreement for continued employment with the circuit depended on his ability to draw audiences during the first season, beginning in April 1881. He succeeded, drawing the largest crowds in Chicago and Indianapolis.


Riley moved to Indianapolis at the end of 1879 to begin his employment with the Indianapolis Journal. It was the only metropolitan newspaper there with daily editions and had a wide readership. He wrote a regular society column that often included verses of poetry. Thereafter Riley met many prominent people and began a close friendship with Eugene V. Debs. He enjoyed Riley's works and often complimented his sentiments. Riley had used the pseudonym "Jay Whit" since he began writing poetry but finally began to use his own name in April 1881.


Because of his success in the Midwest, the circuit leaders invited him to make an east coast tour, starting in Boston at the Tremont Temple in February 1882. Riley agreed, signing a ten-year agreement and granting half his receipts to his agent. Before his performance, he traveled to Longfellow's home in Massachusetts and convinced him to agree to a meeting. Their brief meeting was one of Riley's fondest memories, and he wrote a lengthy article about it after Longfellow's death only a month later. Longfellow encouraged Riley to focus on poetry and gave him advice for his upcoming performance where Riley was well received. His poems were greeted with laughter and praised in the city's newspaper reviews. Boston was the literary center of the United States at the time, and the impression Riley made on the city's literary community finally encouraged prestigious periodicals to publish his work. The Century Magazine was the first to do so, running "In Swimming-Time" in its September 1883 issue. Until the 1890s, it remained the only major literary magazine to publish Riley's work. Knowing the high standards of the magazine, Riley reserved his best work each year to submit to it, including one of his favorites, "The Old Man and Jim" in 1887.


By the end of 1882, Riley's finances began improving dramatically, thanks largely to the income from his performances. During 1883 he began writing his "Boone County" poems under the pseudonym "Benjamin F. Johnson of Boone". They were almost entirely written in dialect and emphasized topics of rural life during the early nineteenth century, often employing nostalgia and the simplicity of country life as elements. "The Old Swimmin'-Hole" and "When the Frost Is on the Punkin'" were the most popular and helped earn the entire series critical acclaim. The topics were popular with readers, reminding many of them of their childhood. Merrill, Meigs & Company (later renamed Bobbs-Merrill Company) approached Riley to compile the poems into a book. Riley agreed and his first book was published in August 1883, titled The Old Swimmin'-Hole and 'Leven More Poems. The book's popularity necessitated a second printing before the end of the year. During this period Riley determined that his most popular poems were those on topics of rural life, and he began to use that as a common theme throughout his future work.

Riley renewed his relationship with Bottsworth for a third and final time in 1883. The two corresponded frequently and had secret lovers' rendezvous. He stopped visiting other women and their relationship became more dedicated and stable. Bottsworth became convinced Riley was seeing another woman, however, and they ended their relationship in January 1885. Riley's sister, Mary, had become a close friend of Bottsworth and scolded him for his mistreatment of her. Her reputation was tarnished by the affair, and she found it difficult to find employment once their relationship was over.


In 1884, Riley toured the major cities in the eastern United States again. Following the lectures, he began compiling a second book of poetry. He completed it during July, and Bowen-Merrill published it in December with the title The Boss Girl, A Christmas Story and Other Sketches. The book, which contained humorous poetry and short stories, received mixed reviews. It was popular around Indiana, where most of its copies were sold. One reviewer, however, called the poems "weird, nightmarish, and eerie" and compared them to Edgar Allan Poe's works.


Through the association, Riley became acquainted with most of the notable writers in the Midwestern United States, including humorist Edgar Wilson Nye of Chicago. After completing his lecture circuit in 1885, Riley formed a partnership with Nye and his agent to begin a new tour. The Redpath Bureau agreed to allow Riley to tour with Nye, provided he maintained his financial agreements with them. In addition to touring, Riley and Nye collaborated on a book, Nye and Riley's Railway Guide, a collection of humorous anecdotes and poems intended to parody popular tourist literature of the day. Published in 1888, the book was somewhat successful and had three reprints.


In October 1887, Riley and the association joined with other writers to petition the United States Congress to attempt to negotiate international treaties to protect American copyrights abroad. The group became known as the International Copyright League and had significant success in its efforts. When traveling to one of the league's meetings in New York City that year, Riley was struck by Bell's palsy. He recovered after three weeks but remained secluded to hide the effects of the sickness which he believed was caused by his alcoholism. He made another attempt to stop drinking alcohol with the help of a minister, but soon returned to his old habit.


After returning home from his tour in early 1888, Riley finished compiling his third book, titled Old-Fashioned Roses. Arranged to appeal to British readers, it included only a few of his dialect poems and consisted mostly of sonnets. The book reprinted many poems Riley had already published but included some new ones he wrote specifically for the book, including "The Days Gone By", "The Little White Hearse", and "The Serenade." The book was Riley's favorite because it included his finest works and was published by the prestigious Longmans, Green Publishers with high quality printing and binding.

In late 1888 he finished work on a fourth book, Pipes o' Pan at Zekesbury which was released to great acclaim in the United States. Based on a fictional town in Indiana, Riley presented many stories and poems about its citizens and way of life. It received mixed reviews from literary critics who wrote of it that Riley's stories were not of the same quality as his poetry. The book was very popular with the public and went through numerous reprints.

Riley was quickly becoming wealthy from his books and touring, earning nearly $20,000 in 1888. He no longer needed his job at the journal and left it near the end of that year. The newspaper had served to earn him fame and had published hundreds of his articles, stories, and poems.

In March 1888, Riley traveled to Washington, D.C. where he had dinner at the White House with other members of the International Copyright League and President Grover Cleveland. Riley gave a brief performance for the dignitaries at the event before speaking about the need for international copyright protections. Cleveland was enamored by Riley's performance and invited him back for a private meeting during which the two men discussed cultural topics. In the 1888 Presidential Election campaign, Riley's acquaintance Benjamin Harrison was nominated as the Republican candidate. Although Riley had shunned politics for most of his life, he gave Harrison a personal endorsement and participated in fund-raising events and vote stumping. The election was exceptionally partisan in Indiana, and Riley found the atmosphere of the campaign stressful; he vowed never to become involved with politics again.

Riley and Nye made arrangements with James Pond to do two national tours during 1888 and 1889. They were popular and generally sold out, with hundreds having to be turned away. The shows were usually forty-five minutes to an hour long and featured Riley reading often humorous poetry interspersed by stories and jokes from Nye. The shows were informal, and the two men adjusted their performances based on their audiences' reactions. Riley memorized forty of his poems for the shows to add to his own versatility. Many prominent literary and theatrical people attended the shows. At a New York City show in March 1888, Augustin Daly was so enthralled by it he insisted on hosting the two men at a banquet with several leading Broadway theater actors.


Walker began monitoring Riley and denying him access to liquor, but he found ways to evade him. At a stop at the Masonic Temple Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, in January 1890, Riley paid the hotel's bartender to sneak whiskey to his room. He became too drunk to perform and was unable to travel to the next stop. Nye terminated their partnership and the tour in response. The reason for the breakup could not be kept secret, and hotel staff reported to the Louisville Courier-Journal they saw Riley in a drunken stupor walking around the hotel. The story made national news and Riley feared his career was ruined.

By 1890, Riley had authored almost all his famous poems. The few poems he wrote during the 1890s were generally less well received by the public. As a solution, Riley and his publishers began reusing poetry from other books and printing some of his earliest works. When Neighborly Poems was published in 1891, a critic working for the Chicago Tribune pointed out the use of Riley's earliest works, commenting that he was using his popularity to push his crude earlier works onto the public only to make money. Riley's newest poems published in the 1894 book Armazindy received very negative reviews that referred to poems like "The Little Dog-Woggy" and "Jargon-Jingle" as "drivel" and to Riley as a "worn out genius". Most of his growing number of critics suggested that he ignored the quality of the poems for the sake of making money.


Riley's poetry had become popular in Britain, in large part due to his book Old-Fashioned Roses. In May 1891 he traveled to England to tour and made what he considered a literary pilgrimage. He landed in Liverpool and traveled first to Dumfries, Scotland, the home and burial place of Robert Burns. Riley had long been compared to Burns by critics because they both used dialect in their poetry and drew inspiration from their rural homes. He then traveled to Edinburgh, York, and London, reciting poetry for gatherings at each stop. Augustin Daly arranged for him to give a poetry reading to prominent British actors in London. Riley was warmly welcomed by its literary and theatrical community, and he toured places that Shakespeare had frequented.


Although Riley was wealthy from his books, he was able to triple his annual income by touring. He found the lure hard to resist and decided to return to the lecture circuit in 1892. He hired William C. Glass to assist Henry Eitel in managing his affairs. While Eitel handled the finances, Glass worked to organize his lecture tours. Glass worked closely with Riley's publishers to have his tours coincide with the release of new books and ensured his tours were geographically varied enough to maintain his popularity in all regions of the nation. He was careful not to book busy schedules; Riley only performed four times a week and the tours were short, lasting only three months.

Riley was influential in helping other poets start their careers, having particularly strong influences on Hamlin Garland, William Allen White, and Edgar Lee Masters. He discovered aspiring African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar in 1892. Riley thought Dunbar's work was "worthy of applause" and wrote him letters of recommendation to help him get his work published.


During his 1893 tour, Riley lectured mostly in the western United States, and in his 1894 tour in the east. His performances were major events, and generally sold out within days of their announcements. In 1894 he allowed the author Douglass Sherley to join his tour. Sherley was a millionaire who published his own books. The literary community had dismissed his work, but Riley was instrumental in helping him gain acceptance.

Riley returned to live near Indianapolis later in 1893, boarding in a private home in the Lockerbie district, then a small suburb. He developed a close friendship with his landlords, the Nickum and Holstein families. The home became a destination for local schoolchildren to whom Riley would regularly recite poetry and tell stories. Riley's friends often visited his home, and he developed a closer relationship with Eugene Debs.


Although the play and his newspaper work helped expose him to a wider audience, the chief source of his increasing popularity was his performances on the lecture circuit. He gave both dramatic and comedic readings of his poetry, and by early 1879 could guarantee large crowds when he performed. In an 1894 article, Hamlin Garland wrote that Riley's celebrity resulted from his reading talent saying, "his vibrant individual voice, his flexible lips, his droll glance, united to make him at once poet and comedian—comedian in the sense in which makes for tears as well as for laughter". Although he was a good performer, his acts were not entirely original in style; he frequently copied practices developed by Samuel Clemens and Will Carleton. His tour in 1880 took him to every city in Indiana where he was introduced by local dignitaries and other popular figures, including novelist Maurice Thompson with whom he began to develop a close friendship.

Following the death of his father in 1894, Riley began regretting his choice not to marry or have children. To compensate for this, he became a doting uncle, showering gifts on his nieces and nephews. He had repurchased his childhood home in 1893 and allowed his divorced sister, Mary, his widowed sister-in-law, Julia, and their daughters to live in it. He provided for all their needs and spent the summer months of 1893 living with them. He took on his nephew Edmund Eital as a personal secretary and gave him a $50,000 wedding gift in 1912. Riley was well loved by his family.


In 1895 Riley undertook his last tour, making stops in most of the major cities in the United States. Advertised as his final performances, there was incredible demand for tickets and Riley performed before his largest audiences during the tour. He and Sherley continued a show very similar to those that he and Nye had done. Riley often lamented the lack of change in the program. He found when he tried to introduce new material, or left out any of his most popular poems, the crowds would demand encores until he agreed to recite their favorites.

Riley had become very wealthy by the time he stopped touring in 1895 and was earning $1,000 a week. Although he retired, he continued to make minor appearances. In 1896, Riley performed four shows in Denver. Most of the performances of his later life were at civic celebrations. He was a regular speaker at Decoration Day events and delivered poetry before the unveiling of monuments in Washington, D.C. Newspapers began referring to him as the "National Poet", "the poet laureate of America", and "the people's poet laureate". Riley wrote many of his patriotic poems for such events, including "The Soldier", "The Name of Old Glory", and his most famous such poem, "America!". The 1902 poem "America, Messiah of Nations" was written and read by Riley for the dedication of the Indianapolis Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument.


In 1897, Riley's publishers suggested that he create a multi-volume series of books containing his complete life works. With the help of his nephew, Riley began working to compile the books. There were eventually sixteen volumes, which were finally completed in 1914. Such works were uncommon during the lives of writers, attesting to the uncommon popularity Riley had achieved.


In 1901, Riley's doctor diagnosed him with neurasthenia, a nervous disorder, and recommended long periods of rest as a cure. Riley remained ill for the rest of his life and relied on his landlords and family to aid in his care. During the winter months he moved to Miami, Florida, and during summer spent time with his family in Greenfield. He made only a few trips during the decade, including one to Mexico in 1906. He became very depressed by his condition, writing to his friends that he thought he could die at any moment, and often used alcohol for relief.


His works had become staples for Ivy League literature courses and universities began offering him honorary degrees. The first was Yale in 1902, followed by a Doctorate of Letters from the University of Pennsylvania in 1904. Wabash College and Indiana University granted him similar awards. In 1908 he was elected a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters; in 1912 they conferred upon him a special medal for poetry.


In March 1909, Riley was stricken a second time with Bell's palsy and partial deafness, the symptoms only gradually eased over the course of the year. He was a difficult patient, and generally refused to take any medicine except the patent medicines he had sold in his earlier years; the medicines often worsened his conditions, but his doctors could not sway his opinion. On July 10, 1910, he suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body. Hoping for a quick recovery, his family kept the news from the press until September. Riley found the loss of use of his writing hand the worst part of the stroke, which served only to further depress him. With his health so poor, he decided to work on a legacy by which to be remembered in Indianapolis. In 1911 he donated land and funds to build a new library on Pennsylvania Avenue. By 1913, with the aid of a cane, Riley began recovering his ability to walk. His inability to write, however, nearly ended his production of poems. George Ade worked with him from 1910 through 1916 to write his last five poems and several short autobiographical sketches as Riley dictated. His publisher continued recycling old works into new books, which remained in high demand.


Since the mid-1880s, Riley had been the nation's most read poet, a trend that accelerated at the turn of the century. In 1912 Riley recorded readings of his most popular poetry to be sold by the Victor Talking Machine Company. He was the subject of three paintings by T. C. Steele. The Indianapolis Arts Association commissioned a portrait of Riley to be created by the world-famous painter John Singer Sargent. His image became a nationally known icon and many businesses capitalized on his popularity to sell their products; Hoosier Poet brand vegetables became a major trade-name in the Midwest.

In 1912, the governor of Indiana instituted Riley Day on the poet's birthday. Schools were required to teach Riley's poems to their pupils, and banquet events were held in his honor around the state. In 1915 and 1916 the celebration was national after being proclaimed in most states. The annual celebration continued in Indiana until 1968. In early 1916 Riley was filmed as part of a movie to celebrate Indiana's centennial, the video is on display at the Indiana State Library.


On July 22, 1916, Riley suffered a second stroke. He recovered enough during the day to speak and joke with his companions. He died before dawn on July 23. Riley's death shocked the nation and made front page headlines in major newspapers. President Woodrow Wilson wrote a brief note to Riley's family offering condolences on behalf of the entire nation. Indiana Governor Samuel M. Ralston offered to allow Riley to lie in state at the Indiana Statehouse—Abraham Lincoln is the only other person to have previously received such an honor. During the ten hours he lay in state on July 24, more than thirty-five thousand people filed past his bronze casket; the line was still miles long at the end of the day, and thousands were turned away. The next day a private funeral ceremony was held and attended by many dignitaries. A large funeral procession then carried him to Crown Hill Cemetery where he was buried in a tomb at the top of the hill, the highest point in the city of Indianapolis.


Riley's contemporaries acclaimed him "America's best-loved poet". In 1920, Henry Beers lauded the works of Riley "as natural and unaffected, with none of the discontent and deep thought of cultured song". Samuel Clemens, William Dean Howells, and Hamlin Garland, each praised Riley's work and the idealism he expressed in his poetry. Only a few critics of the period found fault with Riley's works. Ambrose Bierce criticized Riley for his frequent use of dialect. He accused Riley of using dialect to "cover up [the] faulty construction" of his poems. Edgar Lee Masters found Riley's work to be superficial, claiming it lacked irony and that he had only a "narrow emotional range". By the 1930s popular critical opinion towards Riley's works began to shift in favor of the negative reviews. In 1951, James T. Farrell said Riley's works were "cliched". Galens wrote modern critics consider Riley to be a "minor poet, whose work—provincial, sentimental, and superficial though it may have been—nevertheless struck a chord with a mass audience in a time of enormous cultural change". Thomas C. Johnson wrote that what most interests modern critics was Riley's ability to market his work, saying he had a unique understanding of "how to commodify his own image and the nostalgic dreams of an anxious nation".


Within a year of Riley's death, many memorials were created, including several by the James Whitcomb Riley Memorial Association. The James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children was created and named in his honor by a group of wealthy benefactors and opened in 1924. In the following years, other memorials intended to benefit children were created, including Camp Riley for youth with disabilities.

James Whitcomb Riley High School opened in South Bend, Indiana, in 1924. In 1950, there was a James Whitcomb Riley Elementary School in Hammond, Indiana, but it was torn down in 2006. East Chicago, Indiana, had a Riley School at one time, as did neighboring Gary, Indiana, and Anderson, Indiana. One of New Castle, Indiana's, elementary schools is named for Riley as is the road on which it is located along with Riley Elementary School in La Porte, Indiana. There is also Riley elementary school in Arlington Heights, Illinois, so named for James. Many other elementary schools in District 21 are also named for American authors and poets. The former Greenfield High School was converted to Riley Elementary School and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.


In 1940, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 10-cent stamp honoring Riley.


Among the earliest widespread criticisms of Riley were opinions that his dialect writing did not actually represent the true dialect of central Indiana. In 1970 Peter Revell wrote Riley's dialect was more like the poor speech of a child rather than the dialect of his region. He made extensive comparisons to historical texts and Riley's dialect usage. Philip Greasley wrote that while "some critics have dismissed him as sub-literary, insincere, and an artificial entertainer, his defenders reply that an author so popular with millions of people in different walks of life must contribute something of value, and that his faults, if any, can be ignored".


The memorial foundation purchased the poet's Lockerbie home in Indianapolis, and it is now maintained as a museum. The James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home is the only late-Victorian home in Indiana that is open to the public. It is the United States' only late-Victorian preservation, featuring authentic furniture and decor from that era. His birthplace and boyhood home, now the James Whitcomb Riley House, is preserved as a historical site. A Liberty ship commissioned April 23, 1942, was christened the SS James Whitcomb Riley. It served with the United States Maritime Commission until being scrapped in 1971.

Family Life

James grew up in Greenfield, Indiana with five siblings. James's father was a Democratic nominee to the Indiana House of Representatives.

🎂 Upcoming Birthday

Currently, James Whitcomb Riley is 172 years, 8 months and 21 days old. James Whitcomb Riley will celebrate 173rd birthday on a Friday 7th of October 2022. Below we countdown to James Whitcomb Riley upcoming birthday.


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