Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, 1830 - 1886

portrait of Emily Dickinson
Daguerreotype taken at Mount Holyoke (winter 1846-1847)
1995

Born: 10 December 1830, Amherst, Massachusetts
Died: 15 May 1886, Amherst, Massachusetts

Dickenson's parents were prominent but not wealthy, her grandfather Samuel had founded Amherst College, her father Edward was treasurer of the college, often a state legislator, and would serve a term in Congress. Emily had an older brother, Austin, and a younger sister, Lavinia, all three started life on the family homestead and spent most of it on the property their father bought on North Pleasant Street. Emily attended a primary school in town and she and Lavinia started at Amherst Academy in 1840 where Emily would spend most of the next seven years. She then spent most of a year at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, about ten miles from home. On her return she took up domestic duties for the family, excelling at baking and gardening. In 1855, Emily, Lavinia, and their mother went to Washington City for three weeks where Edward was serving in Congress, then two weeks in Philadelphia to visit family. Soon after, her mother became bedridden, her close friend Susan Gilbert married Austin and setup house next door, and Emily may have never again left the grounds of the family home.

She had begun writing poetry early, often including poems in letters to friends or to accompany gifts of flowers from her garden, but fewer than a dozen were seen by the public. Those that were published were anonymous, heavily edited, and sometimes without her permission. During the 1850s she wrote a great deal of poetry and started carefully copying her earlier work into forty manuscript books. About this time she stopped seeing anyone other than family, she would speak to visitors from behind a door left ajar, including Mabel Loomis Todd who was an important friend and became Austin's lover, but her written correspondence continued. In the 1860s her mother died, Austin's affair became known and split the family, and Emily became depressed over a series of deaths. After several months confined to bed, Emily died of "Bright's disease", a chronic renal nephritis. She had instructed Lavinia to burn her papers, which was done, but not the forty volumes of poetry. There ensued a bitter rivalry over the rights to publish her work with Lavinia, Mabel Todd, and Susan Gilbert Dickinson all publishing parts of the work, generally editing it extensively in the process. It wasn't until 1891 that Ralph W. Franklin carefully reassembled the original manuscript books and her poems were first published in the sequence and wording that the poet had created.

Biography from Wikipedia and Poets.org

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