Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe – Truth About Edgar Allan Poe’s Late Wife

Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe was the wife of the literary critic, writer, and editor, Edgar Allan Poe who was well known as the first American writer to earn a living through writing alone. Following the nature of her marriage which caused much debate then, Virginia gained public recognition having married her first cousin, Poe as a minor. She later contracted pulmonary tuberculosis which she succumbed to at the age of 24. Here’s all there is to know about the wife of the famed writer whose works influenced literature across the globe.

Family Background

Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe who was the daughter of William Clemm Jr. and Marie Poe was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the United States on 15th August 1822. Prior to marrying Virginia’s mother, Maria, her father was previously married to Harriett, a first cousin of Virginia’s mom whose demise led to the second marriage of William Clemm. Through her father’s first marriage, Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe had five siblings and then two from her mother’s union to Clemm. Following the demise of her father, Virginia’s family faced a period of financial difficulty as they only survived through her mother’s income from her profession as a seamstress.

Her family also made a living from the pension received by Virginia’s granny; Elizabeth Cairness on behalf of her late husband, David Poe. Elizabeth who was suffering from paralysis then married a former Maryland quartermaster who had given financial aid to the State and as a result, he received an annual pension of about $240. A few years later, the financial state of the family regressed as Elizabeth Cairness passed on. This contributed a lot to the family deciding to give Virginia’s hand in marriage despite her being a minor. 

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Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe’s Marriage

Edgar Allan Poe who was Virginia’s first cousin came in contact with his future wife for the first time in August 1829 when she was seven years of age. At the time, Poe was already a published author having kick-started his writing work by publishing his second book entitled, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems after he was discharged from the military on April 15th, 1829. He lived with Virginia’s family for some years until the demise of her granny which prompted him to relocate to Richmond.

Having made his intention of marrying young Virginia known to her family, Neilson Poe who was the husband of Virginia’s half-sister, Josephine Clemm offered to accommodate Virginia and equally carter for her education. Hearing of this, Poe proposed to financially support Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe’s family if they would allow him to marry her. Then in September 1835, Poe Obtained Baltimore’s marriage license as he moved on to marry Virginia on 16th May 1836 in Richmond.

The wedding ceremony was officiated by Rev. Amasa Converse, a Presbyterian Church minister. The couple who were 27 and 13 years of age then, traveled to Petersburg, Virginia for their honeymoon. Their marriage stirred many debates among some biographers of which some suggested that the couple viewed each other as brother and sister as a result of their age difference and blood ties.

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Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe
Virginia and her husband, Poe

However, a friend of Poe suggested that the couple actually began having a normal married life when Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe turned 16. It was also revealed that Poe loved his wife to death as he expressed his love for her in several of his literary works. Nevertheless, he was involved in amorous improprieties while still married to Virginia which dented his reputation during such time. Following the scandal, it was reported that Virginia exclaimed on her death bed that one of the women, Elizabeth Ellet whom her husband had a string with had murdered her.

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Her Death

Virginia who was an instrumentalist first showed the signs of pulmonary tuberculosis while playing the piano as she bled from the mouth which Poe termed a mere rupture of a blood vessel. As years roll by, her health condition deteriorated and she was cared for by a nurse called Marie Louise Shew. Sadly, on 30th January 1847, Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe passed away at age 24. She was buried in the following month, precisely on 2nd February in a structural underground tomb. In 1875, the cemetery where she was buried was demolished and Virginia’s remains were discovered and kept in a box. Her remains were later buried beside her husband’s in January 1885 at Westminster Hall and Burying Ground located in Virginia.

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