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Max Ehrmann (September 26, 1872 – September 9, 1945) was an American writer, poet, and attorney from Terre Haute, Indiana, widely known for his 1927 prose poem "Desiderata" (Latin: "things desired"). He often wrote on spiritual themes.

Max Ehrmann
Born(1872-09-26)September 26, 1872
DiedSeptember 9, 1945(1945-09-09) (aged 72)
Terre Haute, Indiana
Resting placeHighland Lawn Cemetery, Terre Haute, Indiana
39°28′35″N 87°20′52″W / 39.476398°N 87.347801°W / 39.476398; -87.347801Coordinates: 39°28′35″N 87°20′52″W / 39.476398°N 87.347801°W / 39.476398; -87.347801
Alma materDePauw University
Harvard University
OccupationAttorney, businessman
Known forProse poem "Desiderata" (1927)
Home townTerre Haute, Indiana
Spouse(s)Bertha Pratt King Ehrmann



Ehrmann was of German descent; both his parents emigrated from Bavaria in the 1840s. Young Ehrmann was educated at the Terre Haute Fourth District School and the German Methodist Church.

He received a degree in English from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, which he attended from 1890 to 1894. While there, he was a member of Delta Tau Delta's Beta Beta chapter[3] and was editor of the school newspaper, Depauw Weekly.[2]

Ehrmann then studied philosophy and law at Harvard University, where he was editor of Delta Tau Delta's national magazine The Rainbow, circa 1896.[4]

Professional lifeEdit

Ehrmann returned to his hometown of Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1898 to practice law. He was a deputy state's attorney in Vigo County, Indiana, for two years. Subsequently, he worked in his family's meatpacking business and in the overalls manufacturing industry (Ehrmann Manufacturing Co.)[5] At age 40, Ehrmann left the business to write. At age 54, he wrote Desiderata, which achieved fame only after his death.[1][6]


Ehrmann was awarded Doctor of Letters honorary degree from DePauw University in about 1937.[7] He was also elected to the Delta Tau Delta Distinguished Service Chapter, the fraternity's highest alumni award.[3]

Ehrmann died in 1945 and is buried in Highland Lawn Cemetery in Terre Haute, Indiana.

In 2010 the city honored Ehrmann with a life-size bronze statue by sculptor Bill Wolfe. He is depicted sitting on a downtown bench, pen in hand, with a notebook in his lap. "Desiderata" is engraved on a plaque next to the statue and lines from the poem are embedded in the walkway. The sculpture is in the collection of Art Spaces, Inc. – Wabash Valley Outdoor Sculpture Collection.[8] Art Spaces also holds an annual Max Ehrmann Poetry Competition.[9]


  • Max Ehrmann (1898). A Farrago[4]
  • Max Ehrmann (before 1938). A Fearsome Riddle
  • Max Ehrmann (before 1938). A Prayer and Selections
  • Max Ehrmann (before 1938). Breaking home Ties
  • Max Ehrmann (before 1938). The Poems of Max Ehrmann
  • Max Ehrmann (before 1938). A Passion Play
  • Max Ehrmann (before 1938). The Wife of Marobuis
  • Max Ehrmann (before 1938). David and Bathsheba
  • Max Ehrmann (before 1938). Scarlet Women
  • Max Ehrmann (before 1938). Book of Farces
  • Max Ehrmann (before 1938). The Bank Robbery
  • Max Ehrmann (before 1938). The Plumber[7]
  • Bertha Pratt King Ehrmann (1948). The Poems of Max Ehrmann (includes Desiderata)
  • Bertha Pratt King Ehrmann (1951). Max Ehrmann: A Poet's Life
  • Bertha Pratt King Ehrmann (1952). The Journal of Max Ehrmann


  1. ^ a b Drummy, Deborah Curtis (March 1, 1992). "Historical Treasure Article: Terre Haute writer-philosopher remembered". Vigo County Historical Society. Indiana State University. Archived from the original on June 27, 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  2. ^ a b "Max Ehrmann Pamphlets – Biography". Terre Haute, Indiana: Vigo County Public Library. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  3. ^ a b "Alumni: Subpage – Distinguished Service Chapter Citation". Delta Tau Delta. Archived from the original on June 27, 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-30. Max Ehrmann, Beta Beta (DePauw), 1894
  4. ^ a b Matthews, James Newton (1897). "Deltas in Literature". The Rainbow of the Delta Tau Delta. (DTK Beta Upsilon 1878). Delta Tau Delta Fraternity. pp. 298–299. Retrieved 2009-03-30. V. 21. Original from the New York Public Library. Digitized October 25, 2006.
  5. ^ McCormick, Mike (September 8, 2002). "Idealist, philosopher, 'word technician' Max Ehrmann a Terre Haute treasure". Terre Haute Tribune Star. Archived from the original on November 23, 2008. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  6. ^ Katz, Barbara J. (November 27, 1977). "Popular Prose-Poem is No Work of the Ages. 'Desiderata': a Product of an Obscure Lawyer" (Fee). Washington Post. p. 31. Retrieved 2009-03-29. Reproduced by Volkert Braren Archived December 26, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ a b Northwest Territory Celebration Committee, 1938 (1938). "Max Ehrmann Poet, Prophet, Philosopher" (PDF). The Wabash Valley Remembers: A Chronicle, 1787–1938 (PDF). Terre Haute. pp. 52–52. Retrieved 2009-03-30.
  8. ^ Wittmeyer, Sara (August 31, 2010). "Max Ehrmann Statue Unveiled in Terre Haute". Indiana Public Media. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved 2010-09-15.
  9. ^ "2014 Max Ehrmann Poetry Competition Winners Announced". Wabash Valley Art Spaces. Archived from the original on October 12, 2014. Retrieved September 25, 2014.

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