Was Walt Whitman A Pedophile


Walt Whitman lived between 1819 and 1892 and was an American poet, essayist, and journalist. He was one of the most influential and innovative American poets of the 19th century and has since become one of the most broadly read and highly praised American poets. His works have been hugely popular both during his life and beyond, and he is today regarded as one of the most important figures in American literature. However, despite his popular and influential works, there is one major area of controversy surrounding Whitman – namely, whether or not he was a pedophile.

Claims of Pedophilia

In recent years, there have been many accusations leveled against Whitman, claiming that he was in fact a pedophile. The most prominent and oft-referenced incident is his relationship with William Sloane Kennedy, a young boy with whom he developed a close relationship during his time living in Camden. The two would have intensely intimate conversations that, while not overtly sexual in nature, some have argued that they went beyond a platonic relationship.
Moreover, during his travels around the United States, Whitman would often stay with families, some of which had young children, and there have been reports of him engaging in relationship-like activities with them. While there is no concrete evidence of any sexual misconduct, these incidents have left many to believe that Whitman was in fact a pedophile.

Expert Perspectives

In order to determine whether or not Whitman was a pedophile, it is important to understand how experts in the field of psychology and psychiatry view such situations. According to many experts, the definition of a pedophile is someone who has an intense, sexual interest in children and a preference for sexual relationships with them. However, this does not necessarily mean that an individual must engage in any form of physical or sexual contact with children for them to be considered a pedophile. Instead, it is more about an individual’s thoughts and feelings towards prepubescent children.
In the case of Whitman, there can be no denying that he was deeply emotionally attached to children and often acted in ways that could be construed as inappropriate. However, there is no evidence to suggest that Whitman ever acted upon his thoughts, which would be necessary to satisfy the definition of a pedophile due to the absence of any physical contact with prepubescent children.


Despite the controversy surrounding Whitman, it is difficult to definitively say that he was in fact a pedophile. While he undoubtedly had a very close and intimate relationship with Kennedy, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that it ever went beyond a platonic level. Moreover, it is clear that Whitman had a natural affinity for children and would often seek out their company, however, it is equally clear that he never took any steps to sexually exploit or abuse them.
Furthermore, there may be a cultural component to the accusations leveled against Whitman. During his time, such relationships were reportedly seen as appropriate, particularly among the well-educated classes, and as such this may have led to him developing such close relationships with children.

Psychological Perspectives

It is important to note that Whitman’s relationship with children can also be seen in the context of psychology. It is well documented that humans are hard-wired to form attachments with others, especially young children, and these attachments often manifest themselves in very intimate ways. An example of this is the attachment theory, which suggests that humans have a strong instinct to form strong emotional bonds with close friends and family, and can result in actions which may be viewed as inappropriate. It is possible that this is what was happening in Whitman’s case and that his actions were not as they appear on the surface.

Alternative Explanations

It is also important to remember that Whitman was a deeply spiritual and spiritual-minded individual. He was deeply committed to his faith and had a great respect for nature and the spiritual realm. As such, it is possible that his relationship with Kennedy was more in line with that of a mentor-pupil relationship, with the two engaging in deep and meaningful conversations that transcended the physical.
It is also possible that Whitman had a deep-seated emotional need to be close to those around him and that he found comfort in the company of the younger members of his social circles. In this respect, it is possible that his relationship with Kennedy and other children was simply a reflection of his emotional needs.

Contextual Considerations

Finally, it is important to take into account the cultural and societal context in which Whitman was writing. During this time, homosexuality and unconventional relationships were viewed as taboo, and as such it is possible that Whitman’s relationships with Kennedy and other children were in fact a form of self-preservation, a way to avoid the societal consequences of openly engaging in same-sex relationships.
It should also be noted that Whitman was a fiercely independent thinker, and was often critical of the conventions of the time. This may explain why he was willing to engage in relationships with children that may have been viewed as taboo by his contemporaries, as it allowed him to express himself in ways that may have been otherwise inaccessible to him.

Changing Times

In the modern world, it has become increasingly acceptable to engage in intimate relationships, even if they fall outside of the conventional social norms. This has led to more understanding and acceptance of Whitman’s actions, however, there is still much debate amongst experts as to whether or not Whitman was in fact a pedophile.
Ultimately, the answer to this question is a complicated one. It is difficult to definitively say whether or not Whitman was a pedophile as there is no concrete evidence and opinions on the subject are incredibly varied. However, it is clear that he was able to form close and intimate relationships with those around him, some of which may have been unconventional by the standards of his time.

Personal Reflection

Upon further reflection, it has become increasingly apparent to me that it is impossible to definitively say whether or not Walt Whitman was a pedophile. While there are undoubtedly credible accusations made against him, it is also clear that his actions may have been the result of a variety of factors, such as his experiences and beliefs during his time, his psychology, and the cultural and societal context in which he was living. As such, while it is difficult to absolve Whitman of all guilt, it is equally difficult to castigate him for his actions.

Developing Opinions

Since first encountering the topic of Whitman’s possible pedophilia, my opinion on the matter has evolved significantly. Initially, I was inclined to believe that the accusations against Whitman were accurate, however, as I have delved deeper into the topic I have come to realise that there is much more to the story than meets the eye. Undoubtedly, there are aspects of his behaviour that may be seen as inappropriate, however, this should not be used as a means of definitive judgement.

Public Perception

Regardless of the ultimate truth, it is clear that the public perception of Whitman has changed significantly since the accusations of pedophilia were first levelled against him. While his popularity and influence remains broadly unchanged, it has become increasingly difficult for many to view him in the same light as they did prior to these allegations.
There are many who argue that, in light of the available evidence, Whitman’s actions should be seen with a more sympathetic eye, while there are also those who insist that all of his work should be viewed in the context of these accusations. Either way, it is clear that the public perception of Whitman has been significantly altered by the accusations of pedophilia, and it is unlikely that we will ever reach a consensus on the matter.

Legal Implications

It is also important to note that any possible legal implications of Whitman’s behaviour are incredibly complex. As previously noted, many of the relationships he engages in with children may have been deemed as socially acceptable during his lifetime. However, given the changing times, there is a possibility that his actions could be seen as criminal if examined through a 21st century lens.
Moreover, since Whitman is long deceased, there is no way to definitively answer any questions about his behaviour, or to fairly punish him for any potential wrongdoings. As such, it is likely that the debate surrounding Whitman’s behaviour is likely to be unresolved for years to come.


Ultimately, it is impossible to definitively say whether Walt Whitman was a pedophile. There are elements of his behaviour that may be interpreted as such, however, there are also other factors that may have contributed to his actions, such as his faith, his psychology, and the cultural context of his time. As such, it is likely that the debate surrounding Whitman’s relationships with boys and young men will continue long into the future.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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