Also writes as: John Oland ; Edith Harper
Born: Established: 7 May 1883 Wimbledon, London,
Anna Wickham was a poet, singer, social worker and feminist activist. She was the only child of Geoffrey Harper, a musician, and Alice Whelan who had an interest in spirituality and the paranormal. When the family moved to Australia from England in 1889, they settled in Maryborough (Queensland) where Wickham attended a convent school, and later All Hallows, a Catholic girls' school in Brisbane. Wickham took her pseudonym from Wickham Terrace, Brisbane, where she promised her father at the age of ten that she would write poetry. The Harpers moved to Sydney in 1896 and Wickham attended Sydney Girls' High School as a scholarship student.
Wickham returned to London in 1904, successfully auditioning for a place at Herbert Beerbohm Tree's Academy of Acting, but she left for Paris the next year with 'the vague plan of going, like Bernhardt, to the Conservatoire' (Jennifer Vaughan Jones, Anna Wickham). In 1906 Wickham married Patrick Hepburn, a solicitor, in London and they had four sons. Wickham's first book of poetry, Songs of John Oland (1911), was published privately and printed by the Women's Printing Society. Hepburn was so vehemently opposed to his wife's writing poetry that he had her certified insane in May 1913 and admitted to Brooke House asylum in Upper Clapton.
Despite several months in the asylum, Wickham continued to write. Some of her poems were composed as songs; 'Domestic Economy' was set to music by Enid Luff in Swn dwr = The Sound of Water (1980), and 'A Love Letter' by the contemporary Australian composer Theodore Dollarhide (1990). Her early work was admired by many, including Walter de la Mare, Dylan Thomas and D. H. Lawrence (q.v.), who became a 'soul mate' for Wickam (Anne Pender, 'The Poetry of Anna Wickham'). She described their friendship and analysed Lawrence's attitude to women in an essay, 'The Spirit of the Lawrence Women: A Posthumous Memoir'.
In 1926, Wickham and Hepburn separated. 'The question of Wickham's status as poet and as a woman, and particularly as a woman poet,' writes Pender, 'dogged her all her life, although her powerful personality has been the subject of interest. In 1947, with her three sons [one had died in 1921] safely home after the War, Wickham hanged herself.' She had written over one thousand poems in 'a distinctive modernist poetic voice'. Although critically neglected, her poetry has been widely anthologised in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. Andrew Field argues that some of her poetry published in 1915 was written in Australia and that she has an 'unmistakably Australian tone' ('A Wild Colonial Girl'). She is increasingly seen as a leading feminist poet of modernism who gained early recognition in America and has been subjected to critical reassessment in the last two decades after a period of neglect.