Born in Newark, New Jersey, on November 1, 1871, Stephen Crane was his parents' fourteenth (and last) child. His father, Dr. Jonathan Townley Crane, was a Methodist minister, as were his maternal grandfather and other relatives on
both sides of his family. Dr. Crane's successive ecclesiastical appointments led the family to move in 1876 to Paterson, New Jersey, and in 1878 to Port Jervis, a town in upstate New York that, with its surrounding countryside, would become the setting for a number of Crane's works, including Whilomville Stories, the novel The Third Violet, and one of his greatest short stories, "The Monster." After Dr. Crane's death in 1880, his widow moved the family to Asbury Park, New Jersey. Crane attended the Hudson River Institute in Claverack, New York, from 1888 to 1890, where he was taught history by John B. Van Petten, who had been an officer in the Civil War.
He would later look back on his time at Claverack as "the happiest period of my life although I was not aware of it."
In September 1890, he enrolled at Lafayette College to study mining engineering, but left without completing his first semester. He entered Syracuse University in January 1891, where he showed more interest in catching for the varsity baseball team than in his studies. In his single semester at Syracuse, he passed only one course of six—English literature, for which he received an A.
He had also begun to write for the New York Tribune, and even though he was to lose that position the following year
for writing a satirical account of a parade by the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, journalism would remain one of his principal means of support and avenues to fame for the rest of his brief life. Crane later maintained that he wrote his first major work of fiction, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, in two days just before Christmas of 1891. He borrowed money from one of his brothers to have it printed, since he was unable to publish it commercially because of its bleak and uncompromising presentation of life in the slums of New York City: the title character is forced to turn to prostitution after being self-righteously rejected by everyone she has loved and trusted. The book appeared early in 1893 under the pseudonym Johnston Smith, and, while very few copies were sold, it won favorable attention from the influential novelists Hamlin Garland and William Dean Howells.