Credit: Lowell Historical Society

Photo taken in Lowell, ca. 1878

Becoming "Annie"

By Walter V. Hickey

As so often happens, when researching one thing, you find something totally unexpected. Recently I was looking at the Register of Female Voters in 1879 when women were first allowed to vote - for School Committee. On October 17, Almeda Gage, housewife, was the first to register. She was the lone registrant on that day.

The next registration date was November 12 when 117 were registered. On that date, the first to register was Annie L. Richmond, housewife, residing at 190 Andover street. She was 59 years old and was born in Westford. I immediately recognized her as Poe's "Annie", and decided to look for anything other than the Poe connection as I really had no interest in that. That would soon change when I found a reference to an 1879 Probate case in Middlesex Superior Court

A little background: Nancy Locke Heywood was born in Westford, Ma in 1820. She married Charles B. Richmond in 1840. They had one daughter, Caroline. Charles died in 1873. After his death, Nancy began calling herself "Annie" and even signed correspondence as "Annie", believing that she was the person that Poe's poem "For Annie" referred to. At least one source stated that she had legally changed her name. That is Incorrect. After the death of her husband in 1873, and before September of 1879, she simply took it upon herself to change her name. There have been reports that her daughter, Caroline, was upset when her mother collaborated in a biography of Poe that referred to the platonic affair between her mother and Poe, believing it an insult to her father, but no primary documents about this have been located.

The Petition

On 8 July 1879 Nancy Locke Richmond filed a petition in Middlesex Probate court asking that her name be changed to Annie Locke Richmond, stating that "She has been known by this name for the last thirty years among all her friends and acquaintances and is addressed by that name by letter and otherwlses [sic]".

The procedure was rather cut and dried. After filing, she was directed to appear in court on 1 September 1879.

On 2 September, she was directed to give public notice by publishing her notice "once a week, for three successive weeks" in a newspaper. She chose to use the New England Farmer, a Boston newspaper devoted to agriculture and general intelligence. The notice was published on 19 July, 6 September, and 13 September. (Presumably a very limited readership in Lowell.)

On 25 September, her petition was granted and she legally became Annie Locke Richmond.

To this point, a fairly straightforward tale. It was known that she changed her name, but the actual date was seemingly not known. Now we know.

However, many new questions are raised.

In 1879, Lowell had nine newspapers, both daily and weekly. Why did she choose a (relatively obscure?) Boston paper? [*See Editor's Note below the document images.]

Was it done in order that her daughter, Caroline, would not be aware of it? As mentioned above, it was reported that Nancy's referring to herself as Annie upset her daughter who considered it an insult to her father, though no documentation of this has been found.

The final decree was issued on 25 September, but seemingly by a New Hampshire Probate Court.

"Middlesex" is crossed out and "Strafford" written in as the issuing court.

Her attorney is B.W. Ball of New Hampshire. Benjamin W. Ball had been an attorney in Lowell and sometime after 1870 removed to Rochester, NH.

The "Justice of the Peace" is crossed out and replaced by A Notary Public named Charles B. Gafney, also a resident of Rochester, NH.

WHY is the Strafford Probate court involved? The Probate Index for that court does not have any reference to either Nancy or Annie Richmond.

Annie's death record as well as the inscription on the monument in the Lowell Cemetery both have her name as "Annie".

Her daughter, Caroline Coffin, died in 1914. Her death certificate lists her mother's maiden name as Annie Heywood. One cannot help but wonder what Caroline might have thought of that!

From the New England Farmer. The notice was published on 19 July, 6 September, and 13 September 1879.

*Editor’s Note:


When researching Poe’s visits to Lowell, I was intrigued by a quote about “Annie" from a 1943 article by Lowell author and historian Frederick W. Coburn -


“. . . she was a rather great lady in Lowell and a friend of foremost liberal men and women of New England, an active Unitarian layman and prominent in local charities, a widow after the early 1870's, greatly averse to newspaper publicity after her unpleasant experience with J. H. Ingram in the matter of publication of her letters.”


Now, thanks to Walter Hickey, we have a concrete example of this aversion to newspaper and other types of publicity.

Frederick W. Coburn. Poe as Seen by the Brother of "Annie". The New England Quarterly , Vol. 16, No. 3 (Sep., 1943), pp. 468-476.

For more information about Poe's three visits to Lowell, please see


Jane Ermina Locke and Her “Requiem for Edgar A. Poe” By Frederick W. Coburn at