Jean Starr Untermeyer

Jean Starr Untermeyer was an important Jewish-American poet known for her various volumes of poetry, including Job’s Daughter and Winged Child.

Photo: Jean Starr Untermeyer, from Yale University Beinecke Library.

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Jean Starr Untermeyer was born into a family of German Jewish immigrants on May 13, 1886 in Zanesville, Ohio. As a child, she was deeply involved in her academic and musical studies, and hoped to pursue a career as a lieder singer. While living in New York City, NY to attend college, Jean met Louis Untermeyer, an anthologist, editor, and poet. Shortly after their marriage in 1907, Jean became inspired to write poetry after establishing relationships with her husband’s colleagues and hearing Edna St. Vincent Millay recite her poetry. However, much of Untermeyer’s personal life was tumultuous; in 1926, her and Louis filed for divorce, and her son passed away the following year. These personal events inspired themes of fear, love, self-reflection, and loss in her poetry.  Jean Starr Untermeyer passed away on July 27, 1970 at the age of 84. 

Jean Starr Untermeyer is well known for her six volumes of poetry that follow largely traditional forms. Her poetry career began in 1918 when her first volume of poetry, Growing Pains was published. However, Untermeyer still wished to pursue a career in lieder singing, leading her and Louis Untermeyer to travel to Vienna, Austria in 1924. Her lieder singing career was ultimately unsuccessful, and she and Louis returned to the United States by the end of 1924. After returning to America, Untermeyer dedicated herself to her career in poetry, publishing her third volume of poetry, Steep Ascent, in 1927. She also taught at several colleges, including Olivet College and the New School for Social Research and served on the board of the Poetry Guild. 

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