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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 March 29, 2009.
  2. ^ a b "Max Ehrmann Pamphlets – Biography". Terre Haute, Indiana: Vigo County Public Library. Retrieved March 29, 2009.
  3. ^ a b "Alumni: Subpage – Distinguished Service Chapter Citation". Delta Tau Delta. Archived from the original on June 27, 2009. Retrieved March 30, 2009. 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 March 30, 2009. 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 March 29, 2009. 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 March 30, 2009.
  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 September 15, 2010.
  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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