Bessie Anderson Stanley

Bessie Anderson Stanley (born Caroline Elizabeth Anderson, March 25, 1879 – October 2, 1952) was an American writer, the author of the poem Success (What is success? or What Constitutes Success?), which is often incorrectly attributed[1] to Ralph Waldo Emerson[2][3] or Robert Louis Stevenson.[4]

She was born in Newton, Iowa, and married Arthur Jehu Stanley in 1900, living thereafter in Lincoln, Kansas. Her poem was written in 1904 for a contest held in Brown Book Magazine,[5] by George Livingston Richards Co. of Boston, Massachusetts[2] Mrs. Stanley submitted the words in the form of an essay, rather than as a poem. The competition was to answer the question "What is success?" in 100 words or less. Mrs. Stanley won the first prize of $250.[6]

Written in verse form, it reads:

He achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth's beauty or failed to express it;
Who has left the world better than he found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.

The poem was in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations in the 1930s or 1940s but was mysteriously removed in the 1960s.[5] It was again included in the seventeenth edition. However, it does appear in a 1911 book, More Heart Throbs, volume 2, on pages 1–2.[7]

Bessie Anderson Stanley died in 1952, aged 73. The verse is inscribed on her gravestone in Lincoln Cemetery, Kansas.

Ann Landers (and her sister Abby) are also said to have misattributed the poem to Emerson and her concession to a public correction is in The Ann Landers Encyclopedia.[5]


  1. ^ Such as in this memorial: Max Kreger, a memorial Archived September 24, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, Sandusky District Library, Sandusky, Michigan
  2. ^ a b "What Constitutes Success": A $250 Prize Story by a Lincoln Woman Archived September 29, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Lincoln Sentinel, November 30, 1905 (archived by Bill and Diana Sowers on Lincoln County, Kansas Genealogy & History website)
  3. ^ In Search of Success, extensive research by Dirk H. Kelder (personal website)
  4. ^ Reader's Digest Admits Mistake Archived September 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, Lincoln Sentinel-Republican, November 5, 1953 (archived by Bill and Diana Sowers on Lincoln County, Kansas Genealogy & History website)
  5. ^ a b c The Truth behind the Poem "Success" (email exchange between Robin Olson and Bethanne Larson, Stanley's great-granddaughter, on "Robin's Web" website)
  6. ^ The winning paid off the mortgage on her house. "Bessie Stanley's Famous Poem" Archived September 29, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Grosset & Dunlap of New York, 1911, by Chapple Publishing Company Ltd. of Boston, MA (from Success: Finding a Gem among the Litter in the Literature, Chuck Anastasia, Coolspark blog, February 24, 2007)

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