A Wolfe Family Album

Mother and Father – Married in 1885

W. O. & Julia Wolfe - 1900.

A turn-of-the-century image of Thomas Wolfe's parents, William Oliver and Julia Westall Wolfe, taken around the time Tom was born.

"The strange figure of Oliver Gant cast its famous shadow through the town . . . And what Eliza endured in pain and fear and glory no one knew . . . . For from the first, deeper than love, deeper than hate, as deep as the unfleshed bones of life, an obscure and final warfare was being waged between them."

- T. W., Look Homeward, Angel

An Early Tragedy – Leslie's Death

Julia & Leslie, ca. 1885-1886.

Julia Wolfe and her first-born child, Leslie E. Wolfe.

Nine months after W. O. and Julia were married, the first of eight Wolfe children was born. Sadly, Leslie lived just nine months before she died of infant cholera.

"The first, a girl, died . . . of infant cholera . . . . The others outlived the grim and casual littering."

- T. W., Look Homeward, Angel

The Second Child – Demure, Shy, Maidenly . . .

Effie Nelson Wolfe (1887-1950).

Effie became the oldest sister in a large, rambunctious family. Quiet by nature, she was married at the age of 21 in the Old Kentucky Home.

"She was a timid, sensitive girl, looking like her name—Daisy-ish industrious and thorough in her studies . . . . She had very little fire, or denial in her; she responded dutifully to instruction; she gave back what had been given to her. She played the piano without any passionate feeling for the music, but she rendered it honestly with a beautiful rippling touch." 

- T. W., Look Homeward, Angel

The Third Child – The Wandering Rebel

Frank Cecil Wolfe (1888-1956).

Frank had a difficult position in the Wolfe family. As the oldest boy, a good deal of responsibility was placed on his shoulders at an early age.

"Angered by [Eliza's] pregnancy [with Eugene], Gant went almost daily to Elizabeth's house in Eagle Crescent, whence he was delivered nightly by a band of exhausted and terrified prostitutes into the care of his son Steve . . . . 'Son,' said Elizabeth, shaking Gant's waggling head vigorously, 'don't you carry on, when you grow up, like the old rooster here. But he's a nice old boy when he wants to be.'"

- T. W., Look Homeward, Angel

The Fourth Child – The Dependable Performer

Mabel Elizabeth Wolfe (1890-1958).

"But do I get so much as Go To Hell for it? Do I?"

The family often relied on Mabel. She took over the running of her father's house on Woodfin Street and was frequently called into service at the boardinghouse as well. For several winters she escaped by touring in a Vaudeville group. Image ca. 1914-1916, "Singer—Ragtime to Opera."

"Helen . . . a tall thin girl, with large hands and feet, big-boned, generous features, behind which the hysteria of constant excitement lurked. The bond between the girl and her father grew stronger every day . . . . Her face was full of heartiness and devotion, sensitive, whole-souled, hurt, bitter, hysterical, but at times transparently radiant and handsome."

- T. W., Look Homeward, Angel

The Twins - Forever Young 

Grover Cleveland Wolfe (1892-1904).

The fifth and sixth children in the Wolfe family were twins. Fond of politics, W. O. named his boys after the presidential candidates of 1892—Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison. In 1904 Julia opened her boardinghouse in St. Louis for the World's Fair. Grover, then 12 years old, contracted typhoid and died while the family was in St. Louis.

"Eugene grew conscious of a gentle peering face, a soft caressing voice, unlike any of the others in kind and quality, a tender olive skin, black hair, sloeblack eyes, exquisite, rather sad, kindliness . . . . This was Grover—the gentlest and saddest of the boys."

- T. W., Look Homeward, Angel

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again . . . .

Benjamin Harrison Wolfe (1892-1918).


"A brief nod upwards and to the side to the companion to whom he communicated all his contemptuous observation — his dark satiric angel: 'O my God! Listen to this, won't you.'"


Ben worked for the Asheville Citizen, as well as a newspaper in Winston-Salem, N.C. During the influenza epidemic of 1918, he contracted pneumonia while on a visit home from Winston-Salem. He died in an upstairs bedroom of the Old Kentucky Home, one week short of his 26th birthday.

"So, to Ben dead was given more care, more time, more money than had ever been given to Ben living . . . And as the wind howled in the bleak street, and Eliza wove a thousand fables of that lost and bitter spirit, the bright and stricken thing in the boy twisted about in horror, looking for escape from the house of death. No More! No More! (it said). You are alone. You are lost. Go find yourself, lost boy, beyond the hills."

- T. W., Look Homeward, Angel

The Seventh Child – The Salesman and the Sailor

Frederick William Wolfe (1894-1980).

"It's a d-d-d-damn shame!"

Fred was a good natured, outgoing "natural born salesman" who had a long and colorful life. As an adult, he settled in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Active in establishing the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Association, he remained involved with the Memorial until his death at the age of 85.

"Luke had been the [local] agent [for the Saturday Evening Post] since his twelfth year: his reputation for salesmanship was sown through the town; he came with wide grin, exuberant vitality, wagging and witty tongue, hurling all his bursting energy into an insane extraversion. He lived absolutely in event: there was in him no secret place, nothing withheld and guarded—he had an instinctive horror of all loneliness."

- T. W., Look Homeward, Angel

The Eighth Child – The "Book-Brooder"

Thomas Clayton Wolfe (1900-1938).

Tom, the youngest of the eight Wolfe children, was born to a mother in her early forties and a father over fifty. His mother attempted to keep a close reign over his early years. The self-described "studious one" of the family, Tom escaped his tumultuous home life by turning to reading. It was through books that Tom learned of the world beyond Asheville's mountains . . .

"By 1900, Oscar Wilde and James A. McNeill Whistler had almost finished saying the things they were reported as saying, and that Eugene was destined to hear, twenty years later."

- T. W., Look Homeward, Angel