Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

Max Ehrmann


dust jacket photograph

Max Ehrmann, the Wife of Marobius and Other Plays
(Boston: Bruce Humphries, Inc., 1949)

Susan Dehler, archivist at the Vigo County Public Library (Indiana) has provided the following biographical sketch of Max Ehrmann:

Max Ehrmann was born in Terre Haute, Indiana on September 26, 1872. He was the fifth and last child of Maximilian Ehrmann, Sr. and Margaret Barbara Lutz Ehrmann, both of whom emigrated to the United States in the late 1840s from Bavaria, Germany.

Ehrmann received his early education from the Terre Haute Fourth District School and the German Methodist Church. Between 1890-94 he attended De Pauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. While at De Pauw, Ehrmann became editor of the school newspaper, Depauw Weekly.

Upon graduation, Ehrmann studied law and philosophy at Harvard and edited The Rainbow, a national college fraternity magazine. While at Harvard, he also published his first book, A Farrago, in 1898.

Returning to Terre Haute in 1898, Ehrmann practiced law as Deputy States Attorney for two years. He then worked for a number of years as credit manager and attorney for his brother's manufacturing business.

At the age of 40, Ehrmann left the family business and returned to writing full-time. Throughout his career, he wrote more than 20 books and pamphlets and many essays and poems that were published separately in newspapers and magazines. His most acclaimed work was "Desiderata" originally published in 1927. This prose-poem brought Ehrmann national attention because of its identification with Adelai Stevenson and because of the confusion regarding its copyright and authorship. "Desiderata" has been published in numerous magazines, newspapers, and anthologies and was produced as a single record by Warner Brothers in 1971.

Max Ehrmann died September 9, 1945.

[The biographical sketch appears here with the permission of Susan Dehler]

Max Ehrmann

The Confused History of "Desiderata"

DePauw University News


"A Prayer"


"Idealist, philosopher, 'word technician' Max Ehrmann a Terre Haute treasure"

Mike McCormick
September 8, 2002

Terre Haute native Max Ehrmann is an international treasure. The last time anyone counted, at least two of his works — "A Prayer" and "Desiderata" — have been translated into 32 languages. That number surely has increased. In the modern world of the Internet, a simple search unearths about 3,000 Web sites around the world featuring the man or his work.

Ehrmann deeply cared for Terre Haute. It was the site of his birth, death, friends and most profound thoughts. In return, the city provided Ehrmann with an arena to witness life as it passed before him. He was a discerning observer. About his hometown, Ehrmann once wrote:

"What various aspirations man pursues!
It matters not what visions lure,
Here may ambition all its talent use;
Here is the world in miniature."

Born on Sept. 26, 1872, at a home on North Fourth Street, Ehrmann died Sept. 9, 1945, just before his 73rd birthday. He was the youngest child of Maximilian Ehrmann Sr. and Margaret Barbara Lutz Ehrmann, both natives of Bavaria.

The Ehrmann family embodied much of what Terre Haute was in the late 19th century: a bustling city of railroads, coal mines, meat packers, craftsmen, manufacturers and a large contingent of German immigrants.

Ehrmann's father was a fine cabinet maker, fashioning woodwork for Pullman palace cars for the Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad at the Vandalia Shops. Ehrmann's oldest brother, Charles, became a coal mine owner, meat packer and, for awhile, president of the State Bank of West Terre Haute. He platted the community of Ehrmanndale in Nevins Township, near mines operated by the Ehrmann Coal Co. Brothers Emil and Albert became garmentmakers, founding Ehrmann Manufacturing Co. in 1888 that made, among other things, overalls. For several years, Emil Ehrmann owned the former site of Fort Harrison, now the site of the Terre Haute Elks Country Club. Sister Mathilda, called "Tillie," married Frederick Reckert, who became associated with the overalls company. Shortly after the turn of the century, Ehrmann Manufacturing Co. erected the building at 929 Wabash Ave., now occupied by Glidden Furniture Co.

Into this industrious, affectionate family stepped Max, idealist, philosopher and "word technician."

During college days at DePauw University and then at Harvard University, Ehrmann resolved not to become rich—everyone's "conventional goal"—but to "write beautiful books."

Unable to eke out a living despite publishing six books in the first 10 years, Ehrmann studied law and was admitted to the bar. For two years, he was a Vigo County deputy prosecutor but that life did not enthrall him. So he became the credit manager for his brothers' factory, writing poems and essays after each 10-hour working day. Meanwhile, he forged strong intellectual bonds with Eugene V. Debs, James Whitcomb Riley and several Indiana State professors.

Months before his death, Ehrmann married Bertha Pratt King, founder of the King Classical School. After his death, his widow dedicated the rest of her life to disseminating his work, republishing some of it, writing his biography and editing "The Journal of Max Ehrmann." Bertha K. Ehrmann died on Jan. 16, 1962.

Next weekend [September 14-15, 2002], Terre Haute will commemorate Ehrmann's 130th birthday. Coincidentally, 75 years ago—on Jan. 3, 1927—Ehrmann secured the copyright for "Desiderata" (a Latin word for "things to be desired"), his most popular work.

Ehrmann's relatives from four states, including Florida and California, will participate in the festivities as honored guests. The public is invited to attend all scheduled activities.

Coordinated by a committee headed by Gene Vaughn, the celebration will begin Saturday with a wreath presentation at the Ehrmann plot in Highland Lawn Cemetery.

Family mementos will be displayed at cemetery chapel following a brief service.

Ehrmann often visited his parents' graves at Highland Lawn. The cemetery offered solace to the spirit and a refuge for reflection. Fairbanks Park overlooking the Wabash, Deming Park and Turkey Run were among Ehrmann's other sanctuaries.

At 10:30 a.m. Sept. 15, local author Dorothy Jerse will present an address covering highlights of Ehrmann's life and work at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation Church, 1825 S. Fruitridge Ave.

Frog's Bistro at 810 Wabash Ave. will be the site of a "brunch break" at 12:30 p.m.

David Lewis, of the Vigo County Public Library, will chaperone a walking tour of several Ehrmann landmarks in Farrington's Grove. Those desiring to participate are requested to meet at 2 p.m. at the Vigo County Historical Museum, 1411 S. Sixth St.

At 3:30, interested parties, including members of the family, will attend a "Readings From and Conversations About Max Ehrmann" session in the Coffee Grounds at 423 Wabash Ave.

[Thanks to Mike McCormick for forwarding this news article to us and for alerting us to the Max Ehrmann commemoration ceremony.]


Max Ehrmann, Breaking Home Ties (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1904)(New York: Dodge Publishing Co., 1904) [online text]

___________, Poems (Terre Haute: Viquesney Publishing Co., 1906)

___________, A Prayer and Other Selections (New York: Dodge Pub., 1906)

___________, The Poems of Max Ehrmann (New York: Dodge Publishing Company, 1906)(1910) [online text]

___________, A Virgin's Dream, and Other Verses by Scarlet Women (New York, 1922)

___________, The Poems of Max Ehrmann (Boston: Crescendo Publishing Co., 1948)(Bertha K. Ehrmann ed.)

___________, Desiderata (Los Angeles, Brooke House (1972)

___________, The Desiderata of Happiness, a Collection of Philosophical Poems (Blue Mountain Press, 1979)(Illustrated by Stephen Schutz)(New York: Crown Publishing Group, 1992)

___________, The Desiderata of Happiness. Poems of Inspiration from the Author of Desiderata (London: Souvenir Press Ltd., 1986)(illustrated by Paul Saunders)

___________, The Desiderata of Love: A Collection of Poems for the Beloved (Toronto, Canada: Crown Publishing Group, 1995)

___________, The Desiderata of Faith: A Collection of Religious Poems (Toronto, Canada: Crown Publishing Group, 1996)

___________, The Desiderata Of Hope: A Collection Of Poems To Ease Your Way In Life (New York: Crown Publishers, 1997)


Max Ehrmann, A Farrago (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cooperative Publishing Co., 1898)

___________, The Blood of the Holy Cross (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Co-operative Pub. Co., 1899)

___________, The Mystery of Madeline Le Blanc (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Co-operative Publishing Company, 1900)

___________, A Fearsome Riddle (Indianapolis: Bowen-Merrill Co., 1901) [online text]

___________, Who Entereth Here (New York: Dodge Pub. Co., 1907)

___________, The Wife of Marobius: A Play (New York: Mitchell Kennerly, 1911) [online text]

___________, Jesus: A Passion Play (New York: Baker & Taylor Co., 1915) [online text]

___________, His Beautiful Wife, and Other Stories (Terre Haute, Indiana: Indiana Pub. Co., 1925)

___________, The Gay Life (Terre Haute, Indiana: Indiana Pub. Co., 1925)

___________, Scarlet Sketches (Terre Haute, Indiana: Indiana Pub. Co., 1925)

___________, A Goose with a Rose in Her Mouth, and Other Stories (Terre Haute, Indiana: Indiana Pub. Co., 1925)

___________, Being Coversations of Max Ehrmann (Terre Haute, Indiana: Indiana Publishing Co., 1926)(Edna Smith ed.)

___________, Journal (Boston: Bruce Humphries, 1952)(Bertha K. Ehrmann ed.)

___________, Wife of Marobius and Other Plays (Boston: Bruce Humphries, 1949)

___________, Worldly Wisdom: Being the Wisdom of Jesus Sirach (Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Company, 1934)(Little Blue Book No. 1735)


"Max Ehrmann," in Arthur W. Shumaker, A History of Indiana Literature 227-232 ([Indianapolis]: Indiana Historical Society, 1962)

"Max(imilian Ehrmann" in Philip A. Greasly, Dictionary of Midwestern Literature 168-169 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001)

Research Resources

Max Ehrmann Inventory
Vigo County Public Library
Terra Haute, Indiana

Ehrmann Papers
Manuscripts Department, Lilly Library
Indiana University
Bloomington, Indiana

Max Ehrmann Papers
Archives and Special Collections
DePauw University
Greencastle, Indiana

Digital Images Collection
Indiana Historical Society
Indianapolis, Indiana