Throughout the month of March, in celebration of Women’s History Month, every Friday in Stanza we’re highlighting important women in American poetry. This week, we remember the women who have served in one of the most honored literary posts in the country, U.S. poet laureate.

The U.S. poet laureateship was first known as the consultantship in poetry in the English language, created in 1936. Louise Bogan, who held the post from 1945 to 1946, was the fourth poet and the first woman to hold the position, and five more women poets would later hold the position as well: Léonie Adams (1948–1949), Elizabeth Bishop (1949–1950), Josephine Jacobsen (1971–1973), Maxine Kumin (1981–1982), and Gwendolyn Brooks (1985–1986), who was also the first black female consultant in poetry.  

In 1985, the position became changed to U.S. poet laureate, a change that occurred at the end of Brooks’s appointment. During her last lecture as consultant, she addressed the title change and any worries about what the shift may have implied: “The administration of the Library of Congress in the past has shown great intelligence in selecting sane, talented, and discriminating people to this post—after all, it selected me, didn’t it?—and it will continue to do so.”

Mona Van Duyn became the first female U.S. poet laureate (1992–1993), immediately followed by Rita Dove, the first black female U.S. laureate, as well as the youngest to hold the position (1993–1995). Dove was honored in a similar position again, along with Louise Glück and W. S. Merwin, from 1999 to 2000, when all three served as special bicentennial consultants. Since then, Glück has served as poet laureate from 2003 to 2004, later followed by Kay Ryan (2008–2010) and Natasha Trethewey (2012–2014).

For more on some of the historic and contemporary women poets who have influenced the history of American literature, visit our Women’s History Month page.

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