Elizabeth Akers Allen

1832 –

Elizabeth Anne Chase Akers Allen, née Elizabeth Anne Chase, was born on October 9, 1832, in Strong, Maine. She grew up in Farmington, Maine, where she attended Farmington Academy.

In 1851 Allen married Marshall Taylor, though the marriage soon ended in divorce. In 1855 she got a job as writer and associate editor for the Portland Transcript, and the following year she published her first poetry collection, Forest Buds From the Woods of Maine, under the pseudonym Florence Percy. The collection was a financial success. With the earnings from her book, Allen traveled in Europe from 1859 to 1860, serving as a correspondent for the Portland Transcript and Boston Evening Gazette. While in Rome, she dispatched the poem “Rock Me to Sleep, Mother” to the Saturday Evening Post in Pennsylvania. The poem—with its famous opening lines “Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight, / And make me a child again, just for to-night!”—would become her most well-known work. It was eventually set to music and became a popular Civil War song.

In 1860, Allen married Maine sculptor Benjamin Paul Akers, whom she met overseas. Their marriage, however, was also short-lived, as he died from tuberculosis the following year. Allen moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a government clerk from 1863 to 1865. She married Elijah M. Allen in 1865.

In 1866, Allen faced legal controversy over the publication of her new poetry collection, Poems (Ticknor & Fields), which she published under the name Elizabeth Akers. Poems included Allen’s “Rock Me to Sleep,” to which a man named Alexander M. W. Ball claimed authorship. Allen underwent legal proceedings to reclaim the copyright to her work.

After living in Richmond, Virginia, for several years, Allen returned to Portland in 1874, where she served as literary editor for the Daily Advertiser for seven years. In 1881 she moved to Tuckahoe, New York, and in the subsequent years published several more collections of poetry, including The Sunset Song and Other Verses (Norwood Press, 1902), The High-Top Sweeting and Other Poems (C. Scribner’s Sons, 1891), and The Silver Bridge and Other Poems (Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1886). She also published the novel The Triangular Society: Leaves from the Life of a Portland Family (Portland, Hoyt, Fogg & Dunham, 1886).

Allen died in Tuckahoe on August 7, 1911.