Zitella Cocke was born and raised in Marion, Ala., on her father’s plantation. Cocke began writing poetry as a child, leaving poems under her mother's breakfast plate. She was a good student and graduated from Judson Female Institute (now Judson College) at age sixteen. In 1856, Cocke traveled to Europe to study music. On her return, she began teaching at Judson, becoming principal of the music department in 1868. After her father’s death in 1867, Cocke assumed responsibility for her mother and her youngest sisters. She began publishing poems in periodicals to supplement her teaching salary. After her sisters were grown and married, Cocke left Marion, writing and teaching music in other towns, including Chicago and Baltimore. She also began writing and publishing musical compositions. In 1890, Cocke moved to Boston to be closer to the publishers located there. She taught music to Harvard University students and did translations of French and German works, many for the Boston Public Library.
Cocke’s poems and essays were published in magazines such as The New England Magazine, Current Literature, Lippincott’s Magazine, and The Reader’s Magazine. Her short stories for children were published in The Youth’s Companion, St. Nicholas, and Harper’s Young People. Cocke published her first book of poems, Doric Reed, in 1895. The Grasshoppers’ Hop, a collection of poems for children, was published in 1901. Cherokee Rose, published in 1907, contained poems on Southern subjects. Cocke’s eyesight began failing in 1916, and she became blind, although she continued to write. In 1918, she moved back to Alabama to live with relatives. Cocke was living in Mobile in 1921 when the Alabama legislature adopted a resolution expressing appreciation for her work. At the time of her death, Cocke was living in Gadsden, Ala., with a niece. She is buried in Marion.
Zitella Cocke wrote poems about grief, religion, and nature. She also wrote nonfiction essays, poems and short stories for children, and musical compositions.
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Photo courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History.
Last updated on Sep 18, 2009.