William Porter
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William Sidney Porter (1862 - 1910)

William Sidney "O. Henry, Sydney" Porter
Born in Greensboro, North Carolinamap
Ancestors ancestors
[sibling(s) unknown]
Husband of — married 5 Jul 1887 (to 25 Jul 1897) in Austin, Travis County, Texas, USAmap
Husband of — married 1907 in North Carolinamap
Died in New York Citymap
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Profile last modified | Created 14 Sep 2014
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William Sidney Porter was a prolific and popular short story writer who published in newspapers and magazines most commonly under his best-known pseudonym "O. Henry," but also under the name W. S. Porter and other pen names. His work has been translated world-wide and adapted for stage, movies and television.[1] His stories are noted for typically having a gentle and humorous twist at the end, an O. Henry trademark.

William Sidney Porter was born on September 11, 1862, in Greensboro, North Carolina. He changed the spelling of his middle name to Sydney in 1898. His father was a physician, Dr. Algernon Sidney Porter (1825–88), and his college-educated mother was Mary Jane Virginia Swaim Porter (1833–65). William's parents had married on April 20, 1858. When William was three, his mother died from tuberculosis, and he and his father moved into the home of his paternal grandmother. Dr. Porter became an alcoholic after the death of his wife, and so young William was raised under the care of his aunt, a school teacher, who instilled in him his creative talent and love of reading.[1]

William took a number of different jobs , At age 15 he left school and entered an apprenticeship in a pharmacy, where he earned his license in his uncle's drugstore. it was there that he picked up the social gossip, mannerisms, and oddities of the town's characters, which became material for his cartoons, and later stories. Many of these early sketches were later collected at the Greensboro Public Library. [1]

In 1882 at age 20, Porter went to Texas with family friends. There he worked and learned the skills and lifestyle of a working cowboy, sheepherder, mail deliverer, cook, draftsman and clerk in a real estate firm, absorbing much material for his later stories.[1]

Porter settled in Austin, Texas,, where on July 1, 1887, he eloped with Athol Estes Roach[1] to the home of Reverend R. K. Smoot, where they were married.

The young couple's first child died shortly after, and then in 1889 their daughter Margaret was born.[1]

In 1891 Porter lost his job in the Land Office, and then went to work as a bank teller at the First National Bank of Texas.[1]

In 1894 Porter bought a printing press and the rights to a failing scandal sheet, which he renamed "The Rolling Stone", publishing it as a humorous weekly paper, in which he also did writing and editing.[1]

The paper failed in 1895, leaving Porter jobless and in debt. But in that year it contained several of his early stories and sketches.[1]

Also at that time Porter was indicted for allegedly having embezzled $5,000 from his former bank. Porter was exonerated, and next took a job with the Houston Post for the next year, contributing more stories, sketches and poems. [1]

In 1896 the embezzling charges were reinstated in Austin, but Porter fled to New Orleans, and then to Honduras, which had no extradition treaty. During this time Porter collected material for his several Cajun stories, and other that he wrote set in the fictional South American country "Anchuria," which was Porter's name for Honduras.[1]

Athol Estes Porter died on July 25, 1897, from tuberculosis (then known as consumption). Porter had returned to his wife prior to her death, and was brought to trial. Having little to say in his own defense, was found guilty of embezzlement in February 1898, sentenced to five years in prison, and imprisoned on March 25, 1898 at the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio.[1]

His daughter Margaret was then given to the custody of Athol's parents. [1]

While in prison, Porter, as a licensed pharmacist, worked in the prison hospital as the night druggist. Porter was given his own room in the hospital wing, and there is no record that he actually spent time in the cell block of the prison. He had fourteen stories published under various pseudonyms while he was in prison, but was then becoming best known as '"O. Henry"', a pseudonym that first appeared over the story "Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking" in the December 1899 issue of McClure's Magazine.

Porter was humiliated and ashamed by his prison experience, and although he gathered more material from the unfortunates there, he tried to keep this side of his life a secret. That may be the reason for his use of various pen names, although the derivationn of his pseudonym "O. Henry" remains unknown. There is much speculation about various probable sources, notably among them, the postulation that he took the name from his prison warden, Orrin Henry. [1]

Porter was released from prison in 1901, after having served three years. He then went northeast to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to be with his daughter Margaret and his in-laws, who had since moved there from Texas.[1]

Porter's most prolific writing period started in 1902, when he moved to New York City to be near his publishers. It is that city with which he is most closely identified. While there, he wrote 381 short stories. He was contracted to write a story a week for a few years for the New York World Sunday Magazine, which at that time was the country's largest newspaper.[1] His wit, characterization, and plot twists were adored by his readers, but often panned by critics.

Now well-paid, Porter sent Margaret to an exclusive and very expensive finishing school.[1]

Porter married again in 1907, to Greensboro childhood sweetheart Sarah (Sallie) Lindsay Coleman, whom he met again after revisiting his native state of North Carolina. But the couple separated within the year, Porter remaining in New York.[1]

Porter was a heavy drinker, and his health deteriorated markedly in 1908, which affected his writing. By 1909 Sarah had left him in part as a result of his drinking, and he died on June 5, 1910, of cirrhosis of the liver, complications of diabetes mellitus, and an enlarged heart. Conscious to the end, his last recorded words were, "Turn up the lights. I don't want to go home in the dark."[1]

After funeral services in New York City, he was buried in the Riverside Cemetery in Asheville, North Carolina. His daughter, Margaret Worth Porter, who died in 1927, was buried next to her father.

Within a few years of his death, his collected stories became immensely popular and by 1920 were considered the standard by which all other stories were judged. But by 1940 a counter reaction to this adulation led to his work being critically disdained by scholars as superficial and contrived. By 1960 a critical reassessment has established O. Henry as a unique author of the minor classic in American literature.[1]


  • Source: S800: Horowitz, Paul J. "Introduction" in Collected Stories of O. Henry ; Avenal 1979 Edition ; Avenal, Crown Publishers ; New York ; 1979




  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 Source: #S800: Horowitz, 1979

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Rejected matches › William Marion Porter (1863-1910)

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Categories: Famous Authors of the 20th Century