(Born: March 12, 1790 - Died:
February 16, 1871
Poe's aunt and, after he married his cousin
Poe called her "Muddy." Although there is some debate as to whether or
not she was a positive influence on Edgar, there seems no doubt that
cared for him like a son and that Poe certainly thought of her as a
The poem "To My Mother" (first published July 7, 1849) is clearly
to her. In 1844, she apparently sold a bound volume of the Southern
Literary Messenger Poe had borrowed from William Duane. Duane
managed to buy the book back through a series of deals, with his own
still on the title page. Poe, however, continued to insist that Mrs.
had returned it and his refusal to apologize to Duane caused a
rift in the friendship. Despite such difficulties, Sarah Helen Whitman
recalled that "Poe always spoke of her with grateful and affectionate
I believe that she loved him devotedly" (Ticknor, Poe's Helen,
171). She married William Clemm, Jr on July 13, 1817, becoming
second wife. William Clemm died on February 8, 1826. They had three
Henry (born September 10, 1818), Virginia Marie (born August 22, 1820)
and Virginia Eliza (born August 13, 1822). Virginia Marie died in
only a few months after the birth of Virginia Eliza, who ultimately
Mrs. Shew, in 1875, described her as "You see she [Mrs.
bitterly of Mrs. Clemm, who was like a cat, often, treacherous and
She had a hard side to her nature like many Southern persons, who are,
or have been brought up with slaves as servants and associates in
(Mrs. Shew to J. H. Ingram, March 28, 1875).
After Poe's death in October of 1849, Mrs. Clemm was
source of income. She survived largely from the generosity of Poe's
and admirers. Among those who sent her small sums were Henry W.
and Charles Dickens.
She claimed that she had burned hundreds of letters
written to Poe
various literary women. Griswold had apparently offered her $500 for
letters of Frances S. Osgood. She did this act to avoid any possibility
that "by poverty [I might] be induced to do anything so dishonorable"
(Maria Clemm to Neilson Poe, Aug. 26, 1861).
This photograph, one of the only two known, is from a
originally owned by Annie Richmond and sent to John H. Ingram in 1876.
It was probably taken in Lowell, MA in 1849. The second, reprinted in
Didier's The Poe Cult and Other Papers, shows her in 1868,
aged but wearing a remarkably similar dress.
Where did Mrs. Clemm live after Poe's death?
Mrs. Shew, now Mrs. Houghton, wrote to Mrs. S. H.
Whitman on May 20, 1875: "Did you see Mrs Clemm after she went to
Lowell the last time? She left my house in the spring of /52, as I
removed west at that time She not wishing to go with us, immediately.
Mrs. Clemm spent the winter, and part of the summer of 1850 with us,
and the winter of 1851, when she went to Lowell again." (see Miller, Poe's
Helen Remembers, p. 296).
On March 30, 1874, Mrs. S. H. Whitman wrote to J. H.
Ingram: "I enclose the first letter I ever received from Mrs. Clemm. It
is dated from Lowell, & was written 19 days after Edgar's death.
She was then visiting Mrs. Charles Richmond in Lowell. When I next
heard from her she was in New York, but returned, I think, the
following winter to Lowell. She subsequently passed some time, I think,
in the family of Mr. W. Strong, Milford, Conn. Some years afterward she
lived for a time with Mrs. Lewis" (see Miller, Poe's Helen Remembers,
In 1852, Mrs. Clemm was indeed living in Milford, CT,
with the family of William Strong. (see her letter of Nov. 7, 1852 in
Miller, Building Poe Biography, pp. 40-41)
On May 27, 1875, Mrs. S. H. Whitman wrote to J. H.
Ingram: ". . . I looked among Mrs. Clemm's earlier letters for dates of
her residence with Mrs. Lewis. In Dec. 1854 I find a letter from Mrs.
MacCready, the actress & elcoutionist, who brought credentials to
me from Mrs. Clemm in the autumn of that year. She says under date Dec.
8, 1854, 'I have passed, since my return, two or three evenings with
dear Mrs. Clemm at the house of Mrs. Lewis.' etc., etc." (see
Miller, Poe's Helen Remembers, p. 296).
About 1857, it appears that Mrs. Clemm was living with
Mrs. S. A. Lewis (see the first postscript of the April 9, 1875 letter
of Mrs. Shew, by this time Mrs. Houghton, in Miller, Building Poe
Biography, pp. 127-131). Mrs. S. H. Whitman wrote to J. H. Ingram
on Feb. 16, 1874: "In the Winter and Spring of 1858 Mrs. Clemm resided
for a time with Mr. & Mrs. Lewis in Lafayette Place (I think) in
New York. Mr. and Mrs. Lewis separated soon after, & Mrs. Clemm,
having, I believe, taken part with Mr. Lewis against the lady, was made
very uncomfortable & wrote me that he situation as a guest in the
house was becoming very embarrasing. She left them soon after Mrs.
Lewis went abroad" (see Miller, Poe's Helen Remembers, pp.
In 1859, Mrs. Clemm was living in Alexandria, VA. (see
her letters of April 14, 1859, August 19, 1860 and August 26,
1860 in Miller, Building Poe Biography, pp. 41-54). On
May 27, 1875, Mrs. S. H. Whitman wrote to J. H. Ingram: "In 1858 Mrs.
Clemm was still living with Mrs. Lewis & had only recently left
forthe home of friends in Alexandria when Mr. Davidson & I called
on Mrs. Lewis at her home on Irving Place, New York, but did not find
her at home" (see Miller, Poe's Helen Remembers, p. 296).
By June 29, 1861, Mrs. Clemm was living in Putnam, OH,
in the home of Sallie E. Robins (see her letter of this date in Miller,
Building Poe Biography, pp. 54-55). Miss Robins had
devoted herself to the task of writing a biography of Poe, but was
overcome by fits of madness and confined in an asylum in 1861. At this
point, Mrs. Clemm was left without a clear means of support. By the
Spring of 1863, she had returned to Baltimore, where she hoped to be
admitted to the Baltimore Widow's Home. Unable to procure the $150 fee,
she instead became a resident of the Episcopal Church Home, which had
taken over the building in which Poe died in 1849.
A note from the Daily National Intelligencer
(Washington, DC), states: "DICKENS, it is
reported, has sent $1,000 to Mrs. Clemm, the mother-in-law of Edgar A.
Poe, who is an inmate of a charitable institution in Baltimore, and has
been for years in extremely indigent circumstances." (Tuesday, February