Twas the Night Before Christmas - 1912 edition of the poem, illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith
"A Visit from St. Nicholas", more commonly known as "The Night Before Christmas" and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" from its first line, is a poem first published anonymously in 1823 and later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, who claimed authorship in 1837.
The poem has been called "arguably the best-known verses ever written by an American" and is largely responsible for some of the conceptions of Santa Claus from the mid-nineteenth century to today. It has had a massive impact on the history of Christmas gift-giving. Before the poem gained wide popularity, American ideas had varied considerably about Saint Nicholas and other Christmastide visitors. "A Visit from St. Nicholas" eventually was set to music and has been recorded by many artists.
"A Visit from St. Nicholas" (also known as "’Twas the Night Before Christmas") was originally published in the Troy Sentinel, on December 23, 1823. It appeared without attribution and continued to do so for the next fourteen years. In 1837, Charles Fenno Hoffman identified his friend Clement Moore as the author of this now widely circulated holiday poem. Henry Livingston, who died in 1828, just five years after the poem first appeared in the Troy newspaper, never claimed authorship either. But by the turn of the century, members of the Livingston clan had begun to publicly insist that he was the one who had actually written it, citing family lore and other possible proofs. The controversy has never been definitively settled, though it's been raised periodically over the years. In 1919, the Dutchess County Historical Society wrote: "A critical comparison of the 'Visit from St. Nicholas' with the acknowledged verses of Henry Livingston adds internal evidence supporting the correctness of the family’s position."
Jessie Willcox Smith was born in Philadelphia. After school, she briefly holds a job as a kindergarten teacher but unhappy with teaching, she returns to Philadelphia and enrolled at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, and soon switched to the more intensive Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts. She joined Howard Pyle’s class at the Drexel Institute, alongside Elizabeth Shippen Green and Violet Oakley. Howard Pyle set up Smith and Oakley to collaborate on the 1897 illustration of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Evangeline. The group of female illustrators grew and to become known as the Red Rose Girls - a synonym of the Golden Age of American illustration, a time when magazines were richly illustrated. The four member-women lived together from 1897 to 1911. Two group members, Smith and Cozens resided together from their days at the Red Rose Inn until their deaths. Jessie Willcox Smith received great respect and achieved financial success. Along with her companions, she was a member of the prestigious Philadelphia Plastic Club, an organization of women artists. Her illustrations graced the covers and pages of such publications as Harper’s, Scribner’s, Collier’s, Woman's Home Companion, Century, and McClure’s. Smith’s career lasted until 1933, when her eyesight began to fail. Smith died in 1935.