Fanny Elizabeth Appleton Longfellow was born 6 October 1817 in Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts to Nathan Appleton (1779-1861) and Maria Theresa Gold (1786-1833) and died 10 July 1861 House Fire of Severe Burns. She married Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) 13 July 1843 in Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts.
Fanny Appleton was noteworthy for two major events -
- Marriage to famous American Poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
- First subject to use obstetric ether anesthesia during childbirth procedure.
Courtship of Frances Appleton
Longfellow met Boston industrialist Nathan Appleton and his family, including his son Thomas Gold Appleton, in the town of Thun, Switzerland. There, he began courting Appleton's daughter, Frances "Fanny" Appleton. At first, the independent-minded Appleton was not interested in marriage but Longfellow was determined. In July 1839, he wrote to a friend: "[V]ictory hangs doubtful. The lady says she will not! I say she shall! It is not pride, but the madness of passion". His friend George Stillman Hillard encouraged Longfellow in the pursuit: "I delight to see you keeping up so stout a heart for the resolve to conquer is half the battle in love as well as war". During the courtship, Longfellow frequently walked from Cambridge to the Appleton home in Beacon Hill in Boston by crossing the Boston Bridge. That bridge was replaced in 1906 by a new bridge which was later renamed the Longfellow Bridge.
Marriage to Longfellow
On May 10, 1843, after seven years, Longfellow received a letter from Fanny Appleton agreeing to marry him and, too restless to take a carriage, walked 90 minutes to meet her at her house. They were soon married. Nathan Appleton bought the Craigie House as a wedding present to the pair. Longfellow lived there for the rest of his life. His love for Fanny is evident in the following lines from Longfellow's only love poem, the sonnet "The Evening Star", which he wrote in October 1845: "O my beloved, my sweet Hesperus! My morning and my evening star of love!" He once attended a ball without her and noted, "The lights seemed dimmer, the music sadder, the flowers fewer, and the women less fair.
When the younger Fanny was born on April 7, 1847, Dr. Nathan Cooley Keep administered ether as the first obstetric anesthetic in the United States to Fanny Longfellow.
Death in Cambridge
On July 9, 1861, a hot day, Fanny was putting locks of her children's hair into an envelope and attempting to seal it with hot sealing wax while Longfellow took a nap. Her dress suddenly caught fire, though it is unclear exactly how; it may have been burning wax or a lighted candle that fell on her dress. Longfellow, awakened from his nap, rushed to help her and threw a rug over her, though it was too small. He stifled the flames with his body as best he could, but she was already badly burned.
Over a half a century later, Longfellow's youngest daughter Annie explained the story differently, claiming that there had been no candle or wax but that the fire had started from a self-lighting match that had fallen on the floor. In both versions of the story, however, Fanny was taken to her room to recover and a doctor was called. She was in and out of consciousness throughout the night and was administered ether.
The next morning, July 10, 1861, she died shortly after 10 o'clock after requesting a cup of coffee. Longfellow, in trying to save her, had burned himself badly enough for him to be unable to attend her funeral. His facial injuries led him to stop shaving, thereafter wearing the beard which became his trademark.
Devastated by her death, he never fully recovered and occasionally resorted to laudanum and ether to deal with it. He worried he would go insane and begged "not to be sent to an asylum" and noted that he was "inwardly bleeding to death". He expressed his grief in the sonnet "The Cross of Snow" (1879), which he wrote eighteen years later to commemorate her death:
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes And seasons, changeless since the day she died