We were quickly able to confirm that the quote was properly attributed to Bessie Anderson Stanley of Lincoln, Nebraska* by Ralph Keyes the author of the Quote Verifier, Who said what where and when, published by St. Martin's Griffin, NY in 2006. My local reference librarian tells me that Ralph Keyes is considered a very reliable source. According to Keyes, Bessie Stanley was awarded a $250 prize for her definition of success in contest sponsored by Brown book Magazine of Boston, circa 1904. (* See Post Script)
My curiosity grew when I read online that Bessie Stanley’s granddaughter, Bethanne Larson had written to Robin Olsen of Robinsweb.com indicating that the poem appeared in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations in the 1930’s but had been removed for some unknown reason by the 1960’s editions. I tried unsuccessfully to locate a 1930’s copy of Bartlett’s, but I learned that the quote had been re-published in 1911 in a book called Heart Throbs, Volume 2, which is a collection of verse and prose submitted by readers in response to an earlier edition published in 1905. Volume 2 was published by Grosset & Dunlap of New York and copyrighted in 1911 by Chapple Publishing Company Ltd. of Boston, MA.
I'm able to provide images from this collection because my contact at the Providence Public Library Reference Desk found a copy of Volume 2 in the stacks, right next to volume 1; although the second volume wasn’t listed in their computerized card catalog.
One final ironic twist is that in the index, of Heart Throbs Volume 2, the author of What is Success is listed as Anon (short for Anonymous)!
From this I re-learned the importance of confirming references, and was reminded how much fun it is to go to the library. The Providence Public Library located a fairly old book in their collection that they didn't know they had.
Post Script added March 23, 2007. Greg Williams of the Tampa Tribune was kind enough to comment on this post. He pointing out to me that Bessie Anderson Stanley actually lived in Lincoln. Kansas, not Lincoln, Nebraska as is written above. My first reaction was that I had probably mistakenly written Nebraska when I read Lincoln. Lincoln, NB stuck in my mind because I visited the city for a conference back in my college days. It was my first flight on a commercial airliner, from Boston to Lincoln, NB. I think it was in 1978 or 1979, but that's another story. At any rate, I went back and checked the Quote Verifier, and sure enough, Ralph Keyes had in fact written Lincoln, NB, as you can see in the following image. Greg has obtained copies of the original publication of "Success" by Bessie A. Stanley in the Lincoln Sentinel Lincoln ,Kansas . Greg and I traded several emails with some of the details about how difficult it is to track down what really happened, and when.
It would be very interesting to see if someone can turn up the original magazine article. Here is a site containing an online history of Brown Book Magazine which merged with Modern Women around the time of publication of Bessie A. Stanley's writing on Success. The URL's below provide some some cover images.
I think its possible that an old library, has copies of the original magazine. The history of Brown Book company also suggests that copies may be located at the Library of Congress.