Mary Esma Williams, always called May, was born January 26, 1882, in Holden, Missouri. Throughout her childhood, she moved often as her family followed job opportunities. They settled at one point in Montezuma, Kansas where she received notice that the first poem she had ever submitted for publication was accepted by Life magazine. “Youth Wants Summer” appeared in Life’s February 17, 1921, issue. Soon, her poems were appearing in Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Judge, Country Gentleman, American Magazine, the New York Sun, and the Kansas City Star.
Within just four years, her talent was recognized nationally. In 1925, she received an invitation to spend a month at the MacDowell in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and was there alongside Pulitzer Prize-winning poets Edwin Arlington Robinson, Stephen Vincent Benet and Sara Teasdale. By 1926, Ward had produced over 300 poems published in 35 magazines and was represented in four distinguished anthologies. In 1926, Ward became editor of The Harp, a national poetry magazine published in Larned, Kansas.
Ward’s first book of poetry, Seesaw, was published in 1929. Also that year, Ward produced by hand another book, In Double Rhythm, which included around 30 poems, each accompanied by a block print designed and hand-carved by Ward to illustrate the rhythm and meaning of her verses. Five more books followed: From Christmas-Time to April (winner of the Kaleidograph book publication contest, 1938), Approach to Social Studies Through Choral Speaking (1945), Wheatlands (1954), No Two Years Alike (1960) and In That Day (1969). Ward received The Poetry Society of America’s first place award on two different occasions, first in 1937 for a series of poems, “Dust Bowl,” and again in 1946 for “In That Day.”
She left behind a legacy of over 2,000 poems and seven published books during a literary career that lasted fifty years. Ward died in 1975 at the age of 93.