Little Bits of History

Oh, Henry

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 24, 2011

William Sidney Porter

July 24, 1901: William Sidney Porter is released from prison. Porter was born in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1862. His father was a doctor and his mother died of tuberculosis when William was only three. Father and son moved in with an elderly relative. Young Porter read voraciously. He graduated from his Aunt’s elementary school in 1876. He went on to high school and then began working in his uncle’s drugstore in 1881. By age 19, William was a licensed pharmacist. He also began to sketch locals. His health was precarious and so he moved.

He ended up in Texas and took odd jobs on a sheep ranch. By 1884, with his health improved, he moved to Austin, Texas and carried on an active social life. He joined acting groups and sang in the Hill City Quartet. He began dating Athol Estes and even though her father disapproved, they secretly wed. They had a son and a daughter, with only the latter surviving infancy. Porter began working for a friend drawing maps from field notes and surveys. He was earning $100 per month. While doing so, he wrote stories for magazines and newspapers.

His writing began to take off and when he lost his job after an election change, he began working for a bank. His bookkeeping was lax, and he was fired but not indicted. He next began his own humorous weekly. Eventually, it reached a circulation of 1,500 which was not enough to support his family. They moved from Austin to Houston in 1895. There, Porter began working for a newspaper at only $25/month. As his popularity increased, so did his salary.

His old bank was audited, and he was charged with embezzlement. His father-in-law posted bail and the day before the trial, Porter fled. He first went to New Orleans and then to Honduras. His wife who suffered from tuberculosis was too ill to travel. When he learned she was dying, he returned to states and was arrested. He maintained his innocence, but without much defense, he was found guilty and sentenced to five years. He worked as a pharmacist in prison and continued to write. He is best known for his writing, which greatly increased after he moved to New York City to be near his publishers. While there, he wrote 381 short stories. His surprise endings were a trademark and today these types of endings are named for Porter. But they and the award given in his name use his pen name. O. Henry.

“A straw vote only shows which way the hot air blows.”

“If men knew how women pass the time when they are alone, they’d never marry.”

“Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.”

“Life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating. – all from O. Henry

Also on this day:
The Manly Peak – In 1911, Machu Picchu was found – again.
Tennessee – In 1866, the first seceded state is admitted back to the Union.