Thursday, 24 October 2019

Robert Underwood Johnson (1853-1937) - American poet, editor and diplomat

Born on 12th January 1853, Robert’s father was Nimrod Hoge Johnson, a lawyer and judge and his mother was Catherine Coyle Underwood, a Suffragette. The family lived in Indiana.  Educated at Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, Robert then joined the staff of “The Century” magazine (known then as “Scribner’s Monthly”), where he became Associate Editor in 1881 and edited the magazine from 1909 – 1913.   A prolific writer, Robert became Permanent Secretary to the American Academy of Arts.

America’s entry into the First World War gave Robert the chance to “present the little-known facts of Italy’s important contributions to the Allied cause, and that in general I had written much in prose and verse in admiration of that country and her people.” 
American Poets’ Ambulances in Italy poster 

In 1917 Robert organized and was chairman of the American Poets' Ambulance in Italy. The organization presented 112 ambulances to the Italian army in four months. In 1918–19 he was president of the New York Committee of the Italian War Relief Fund of America. He served as the U.S. Ambassador to Italy from April 1920 to July 1921, and represented the United States as observer at the San Remo conference of the Supreme Council of the League. He was decorated by the Italian government in recognition of his work in behalf of good relations between Italy and the United States.

In later life, Robert devoted his time to writing and publishing poetry and his memoirs – “Remembered Yesterdays”.  He died on 14th October 1947.

” After being shown a photograph of a child holding ‘the only doll in the valley’ (Bezecca) Robert wrote a poem by that name, sent out a press appeal and ‘hundreds of dolls’ were distributed to the Val.”

“The only Doll in the Valley” poem reproduced here by kind permission of Delaware University Library, where Underwood Johnson's papers are held -

MSS 121, Robert Underwood Johnson Collection, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library, Newark, Delaware

Works by Robert Underwood Johnson

Poems of War and Peace (Indianapolis and New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1916)
Italian Rhapsody and Other Poems of Italy (Published: By The Author, 745 Fifth Avenue, NY, 1917)
Collected Poems, 1881–1919 (New Haven: Yale University, 1920).
"Collected Poems, 1881-1992" (New Haven: Yale University, 1923)
Remembered Yesterdays (Boston: Little, Brown, 1923)