Biographical fast facts
Full or original name at birth: William Sidney Porter*
Date, time and place of birth: September 11, 1862,
at approximately 9 p.m., Worth Place plantation, Guilford County,
near Greensboro, North Carolina, U.S.A.
Date, time, place and cause of death: June 5, 1910,
at 7:06 a.m., New York Polyclinic Hospital, New York City,
New York, U.S.A. (Diabetes / Cirrhosis of the liver)
Spouse: Athol Estes (m. July 5, 1887 - July 25, 1897) (her death)
Wedding took place in the front parlor of Reverend Richmond Smoot's
home on West 6th, Austin, Texas.
Spouse: Sara Lindsay Coleman (m. November 27, 1907 - June 5, 1910) (his death)
Son: Anson Porter (b. and d. 1888, a few hours after his birth)
Daughter: Margaret Worth Porter (b. September 30, 1889 - d. 1927) (daughter)
Father: Algernon Sidney Porter (a physician) (b. August 22, 1825 -
d. September 30, 1888, at 1:40 a.m.)
Mother: Mary Jane Virginia (Swaim) Porter (b. February 12, 1833 -
d. September 26, 1865, at 7:30 p.m.)
Burial site: Riverside Cemetery, 53 Birch Street,
Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.A.
Error correction or clarification
* His middle name was originally spelled Sidney,
but he later changed it to Sydney. Contrary to many reports,
he was not born William Sydney Porter.
Source information: The majority of the above times of birth and
death were gleaned from the Porter family Bible.
Biography - Selected writing credits
When William Sidney Porter was three, his mother died of
tuberculosis, and the Porter family moved to the home of
his paternal grandmother, Ruth Porter. William's grandmother
and unmarried aunt, Evelina Maria Porter, would now be
responsible for raising the children. William was an
avid reader, and developed a lifelong love of books.
Following his schooling, he began working as a bookkeeper
and pharmacist's assistant at his uncle's drugstore,
W.C. Porter and Company Drug Store. By 1881, he'd become
a licensed pharmacist. During this period, he became
known locally for the cartoons and sketches he would
produce of the townspeople, while working at the store.
After relocating to Texas in 1882, he held various jobs,
including ranch hand, pharmacist, draftsman, journalist,
and a teller in an Austin bank.
He began writing in the late 1880s, while continuing
his freelance illustrating and cartooning. In 1887, he
married Athol Estes. The following year she would give
birth to a son, but he lived just a few hours. Their
daughter Margaret was born September 30th, 1889.
In 1894, he began publishing a humorous weekly called
The Rolling Stone. He was working as a teller
at the First National Bank of Austin during the day,
and producing sketches, satire, and stories for his
publication by night. As bills began mounting at
The Rolling Stone, evidence shows he began
altering the books at the bank so he could "borrow"
funds to cover the debts. He did it with the intent
of repaying the money in the future, but an audit
revealed the shortages before he could reimburse
the stolen money. He resigned his position with the
bank in 1894 after he was accused of embezzling funds.
The Rolling Stone ceased publication the next
year, and he went to work for the Houston Daily
He was arrested on charges of embezzlement in 1896.
While released on bond, he skipped town, escaping
to New Orleans, and then Honduras. The next year,
when he learned his wife was dying, he returned to
face the charges. His wife Athol died July 25th,
1897, at 6 p.m., of tuberculosis.
Porter was found guilty of embezzlement of funds
from the bank and sentenced to five years in jail.
He was imprisoned at the Ohio State Penitentiary
beginning April 25th, 1898. He used much of his
free time in jail to write, and saw several of
his stories published while behind bars. He was
released from prison July 24th, 1901, for good
behavior, after serving a little more than three
years of his five year sentence.
By early 1902, Porter was living in New York City.
Over the next few years, he would turn out literally
hundreds of short stories and gain fame as one of
America's favorite short story writers. He would
marry again in 1907 to his childhood sweetheart,
Sara Lindsay Coleman. He wrote prodigiously for
several years, but his output declined as his life
was increasingly marred by ill health, debts, and
alcoholism. Despite O. Henry's fame and enormous
success as a writer, he died a poor man.
The author's pseudonym, O. Henry, allegedly originated
from his habit of calling "Oh, Henry" to the family
cat. Other sources report the inspiration for his
pen name came from one of the prison guards who was
named Orrin Henry.
In addition to his more famous works, such as,
The Gift of the Magi, The Last Leaf,
The Furnished Room,
The Ransom of Red Chief, and A Municipal Report, his writing
credits include, The Miracle of Lava Canyon
(1897), Georgia's Ruling (1900), Cabbages and Kings (1904),
The Four Million (1906), The Trimmed Lamp (1907),
The Voice of the City (1907), Heart of the West (1907),
Roads of Destiny (1909), Options (1909), Strictly
Business (1910), Whirligigs (1910), Let Me Feel
Your Pulse (1910), and Rolling Stones (published
posthumously in 1912).
Many of his stories have been adapted into motion
pictures, television series and TV-movies. The Cisco
Kid was one of the most famous characters he created
in The Caballero's Way from Heart of the West, his
book of Western short stories. The Cisco Kid that O. Henry
created, and the one that appeared years later in films
and television, were significantly different
Half a century after his death, new generations
would become familiar with O. Henry-type endings
thanks to Rod Serling's award-winning The Twilight
Zone, and its use of surprise twist endings.
To memorialize his place in American literature,
in 1918, the Society of Arts and Sciences established
the O. Henry Award. It has gone on to become one
of the most prestigious short story awards in America.
Visit these works by O. Henry
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