A Brief Glance at the Life of William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. O Henry

“It ain’t the roads we take; it’s what’s inside of us that makes us turn out the way we do.”

Ed Newman
4 min readDec 1, 2019


He was born on September 11, 1862 in Greensboro, North Carolina. For some reason he didn’t like the spelling of his middle name, Sidney, and at age 36 changed it to Sydney. It hardly matters today how he spelled it since most of us have only known him by his pen name, O. Henry, and his trademark stories with surprise endings.

Public domain.

Who among us doesn’t remember his sentimental Christmas story The Gift of the Magi or his hilarious The Ransom of Red Chief, in which two bad guys kidnap a ten year old boy, the only child of a prominent citizen, and live to regret it.

Like most of us who write, Porter was an avid reader in his youth, drinking in everything from dime store novels to classics. He also had some artistic skills as well. The career to which he initially applied himself was the pharmacy trade at age 19.

Portrait by W. M. Vanderweyde, 1909. Public domain.

For health reasons he moved to Texas when he was 20 where he became a shepherd, ranch hand, cook and baby-sitter. He also continued his love of reading classic literature.

During his bachelor years he had different day jobs and began writing stories on the side. He also enjoyed music — played guitar and mandolin — and even sang in a quartet.

At a certain point in time he fell in love and eloped with the seventeen-year-old daughter of a wealthy family, Athol Estes. The positive here is she encouraged him to keep writing. Unfortunately, the reason her mother objected to their getting married was because she had tuberculosis.

One of Porter’s occupations after they married was drawing maps for the General Land Office based on surveys and fieldnotes. He also took a job at an Austin bank as a teller and bookkeeper. It was while working here that he got into hot water. I don’t know whether it was his creativity that got him into trouble — bookkeeping is not something you should do creatively — or…



Ed Newman

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj