1932: Massachusetts Memorial Hospital
Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1931 at Massachusetts Memorial Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father, Otto Emil Plath, was a Boston University professor who taught German as well as biology. Otto also authored a book about the science of bumblebees titled Bumblebees and Their Ways. Sylvia’s mother, Aurelia Schober Plath, was a a first-generation American of Austrian descent. Sylia’s parents met while Aurelia was earning her graduate degree in teaching at Boston Univeristy. She was 21 years younger than Otto. Sylvia would be an only child for just over two years. Her younger brother, Warren, was born in April of 1934.
24 Prince Street, Jamaica Plain
24 Prince Street Photos by AEC
Sylvia’s first home was located at 24 Prince Street in Jamaica Plain. The house is located on a quiet, one way street right off the Arborway.
First Church, 6 Eliot Street, Jamaica Plain
First Church Photos by AEC
While living at 24 Prince Street, Sylvia’s family attended the First Church in Jamaica Plain, a Unitarian Universalist congregation located at 6 Eliot Street, just a short walk from their home
92 Johnson Avenue, Winthrop
92 Johnson Avenue, Photo courtesy of Peter K Steinberg
Shortly after Sylvia’s younger brother Warren was born the family relocated to a home at 92 Johnson Avenue in Winthrop, Massachusetts, just east of Boston. The family resided here until 1942. While living here Sylvia submitted a poem to the Boston Herald which was published on August 10, 1941. The short, 4 line poem was the first time Sylvia Plath was published, at age 8 and a half.
1940: Otto's Death
Otto Plath passed away on November 5, 1940 of diabetes mellitus, a very curable disease. Otto was buried at a cemetery in Winthrop. A visit to his grave in 1959 influenced many of her works including the poems Daddy and Electra on Azalea Path.
Listen to author Peter Steinberg discuss Sylvia's visit to her father's grave.
Point Shirley is a neighborhood of Winthrop that lies closest to the sea. It is said that here is where Sylvia’s initial connection with the ocean and water developed. She would later write many poems that would reflect how the sea influenced her life.
1942: 26 Elmwood Road, Wellesley
26 Elmwood Road photo courtesy of Peter K Steinberg
Shortly after the death of her father, Sylvia’s mother moved the family to 26 Elmwood Road in Wellesley, Massachusetts. This is the home that Sylvia would live in until she left for college. This is also where she would spend her summers during college.
1950: Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts
Sylvia was accepted to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts on a full scholarship. She began her studies there in the Fall of 1950. The scholarship she was awarded was made possible by author Olive Higgins Prouty. Once beginning her studies at Smith Sylvia developed a relationship with Olive that would last a lifetime.
It was at Smith that Sylvia's journals developed into what many people know them as today. Listen to author Peter Steinberg discuss that change.
1953: Suicide attempt
Sylvia’s first suicide attempt occurred on August 24, 1953. The event occurred shortly after she had spent a summer in New York City (a time of her life that is closely mimicked in her novel The Bell Jar). Sylvia had been rejected by the Harvard Summer School and had gone to New York instead. It is also said that a visit to her fathers grave shortly before the incident may have been a trigger. Sylvia took a bottle of sleeping pills to the crawl space beneath the screened in porch of 26 Elmwood Road and swallowed all but a few. She was found a day or so later.
McLean Hospital, Belmont
McLean Hospital, photo courtesy of Peter K Steinberg
After the suicide attempt Sylvia was admitted to McLean Hospital. She was treated at the hospital, located in Belmont, Massachusetts until she returned to Smith in the Spring of 1954. Olive Higgins Prouty helped to pay for Sylvia’s stay at McLean. Anne Sexton and Robert Lowell also had stints at McLean.
Summer of 1954, 1572 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge
1572 Massachusetts Avenue, Photo courtesy of Peter K Steinberg
Upon her second try, Sylvia was admitted to Harvard Summer School in 1954. During the Summer of 1954 Sylvia lived in Apartment 4 at 1954 Massachusetts Avenue with roommate Nancy Hunter-Steiner. Nancy would later author A Closer Look at Ariel: A Memory of Sylvia Plath.
Listen to author Peter Steinberg describe Sylvia's time at Harvard.
1955 to 1957: England
After graduating from Smith, Sylvia was awarded a scholarship to study in England. This is where she met and eventually married poet Ted Hughes. They two did not return to the states until 1957.
Summer of 1957: Eastham, Cape Cod
Upon their return to the states, Sylvia and Ted spent 7 weeks vacationing on Cape Cod at Eastham. It was here when Sylvia visited Rick Harbor which inspired her poem Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor. This poem became her first publication in the New Yorker.
Fall of 1957: 337 Elm Street, Northampton
Ted and Sylvia lived at 337 Elm Street in Northhampton, Massacusetts while Sylvia taught at Smith College. Sylvia did not enjoy teaching as much as she had hoped and they stayed in Northampton for just one year.
1958: 9 Willow Street
9 Willow Street, Beacon Hill, Photo by AEC
In the Summer of 1958 Ted and Sylvia moved to 9 Willow Street on Beacon Hill. It is here that the couple devoted most of their time to their craft rather than to their professions.
After moving to Beacon Hill, Sylvia took a part time job working in the psychiatric ward of the Massachusetts General Hospital. It was her time spent working here that inspired two of Plath’s most well known short stories; Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams and The Daughters of Blossom Street.
1958-1959: Boston University Campus, 236 Bay State Road, Room 222
236 Bay State Road, Photo by AEC
During this time Sylvia was accepted to take a graduate poetry writing seminar ledby Robert Lowell. The class was taught in Room 222 at 236 Bay State Road. This class became infamous because Sylvia took the class along side Anne Sexton and both went on to see huge success.
Listen to author Peter Steinberg as he describes Sylvia's time in Lowell's seminar.
Life after Boston
Shortly after 1958 Ted and Sylvia set off for travel and eventually returned to London. Back in London they had two children but ultimately their relationship would fall apart and Sylvia would succeed at what she had tried to do years before. Sylvia committed suicide in her London flat on February 11, 1963.