July 24

This Day in History

Literary

Jul 24, 1901:

O. Henry is released from prison

William Sydney Porter, otherwise known as O. Henry, is released from prison on this day, after serving three years in jail for embezzlement from a bank in Austin, Texas.

To escape imprisonment, Porter had fled the authorities and hidden in Honduras, but returned when his wife, still in the U.S., was diagnosed with a terminal illness. He went to jail and began writing stories to support his young daughter while he was in prison.

After his release, Porter moved to New York and worked for New York World, writing one short story a week from 1903 to 1906. In 1904, his first story collection, Cabbages and Kings, was published. His second, The Four Million (1906), contained one of his most beloved stories, The Gift of the Magi, about a poor couple who each sacrifice their most valuable possession to buy a gift for the other.

Additional collections appeared in 1906 and 1907, and two collections a year were published in 1908 until his death in 1910. He specialized in stories about everyday people, often ending with an unexpected twist. Despite the enormous popularity of the nearly 300 stories he published, he led a difficult life, struggling with financial problems and alcoholism until his death in 1910.

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