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John M. Olin Library, Level 1, Julian Edison Department of Special Collections Reading Room

Life in St. Louis 1888-1905: T.S. Eliot’s First Waste Land

The Waste Land by St. Louis native TS Eliot was published in 1922 and forever changed literature. The Life in St. Louis 1888-1905: T.S. Eliot’s First Waste Land exhibition commemorates the poem’s centennial by examining St. Louis during Eliot’s formative years, 1888-1905.

St. Louis in the late 19th century was a loud, messy, and rapidly changing city. Electrified street trolleys traveled streets along with horse-drawn wagons. A new train station greeted travelers. Plans were in the works to host a World’s Fair. And at the same time, corrupt politicians made deals, coal smoke filled the air, and racial segregation grew.

Born in 1888 to Charlotte and Henry Eliot, Thomas Stearns Eliot lived at 2635 Locust Street in St. Louis, Missouri, until he left home in 1905. From age 10 to 16, he attended school at nearby Smith Academy. T.S. Eliot would later recall, “…in my childhood, before the days of motor cars, … for nine months of the year my scenery was almost exclusively urban, and a good deal of it seedily, drably urban at that. My urban imagery was that of St. Louis, upon which that of Paris and London have been superimposed” (Frances Dickey, “T. S. Eliot and the Color Line of St. Louis,” 2021).

Header Image Credit: Collier’s Weekly, St. Louis Strike, June 2, 1900.