William Ellery Leonard
Jan 29, 1876 – May 2, 1944
English Professor & Poet
His first wife Charlotte Freeman, the daughter of his landlord, committed suicide.
The former Leonard House on Adams steet in Madison.
Leonard suffered from agoraphobia, caused by being scared by a locomotive as a child. This condition once kept him confined
to the area of his home and campus but then increased to the point that in the last years of his life he conducted all
lectures from his home. In his psychological autobiography, The Locomotive God, he probed his agoraphobia.
Leonard was “among the very few most distinguished American poets.” He spoke Icelandic, Norwegian, German, French and Swedish, and was an expert on Greek and Roman literature. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia and came to the UW in 1906. He authored two plays dealing with Wisconsin history - Glory of the Morning, and Red Bird. His poetry included Two Lives, the story of the Freeman family, recognized as one of the outstanding sonnet sequences of the twentieth century.
When young he was scalded by steam from a train; the incident caused him great insecurity. He “snapped” one day after hearing the whistle of a locomotive while investigating effigy mounds with his friend Charles E. Brown; thereafter, he rarely journeyed farther from his house than a six-block area bounded by Langdon and Park streets. He probed this phobia in a remarkable book called The Locomotive God, used by some universities as a psychology textbook.
Leonard was married to Charlotte Charlton from 1914 to 1934. They remarried in 1940. In between, from 1935 to 1937, he was married to Grace Golden.