Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts & died on May 15, 1886, was an American poet. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, to a successful family with strong community ties, she lived a mostly introverted and reclusive life. After she studied at the Amherst Academy for seven years in her youth, she spent a short time at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary before returning to her family’s house in Amherst. Thought of as an eccentric by the locals, she became known for her penchant for white clothing and her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, even leave her room. Most of her friendships were therefore carried out by correspondence.
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born at the family’s homestead into a prominent, but not wealthy, family. Two hundred years earlier, the Dickinsons had arrived in the New World—in the Puritan Great Migration—where they prospered. Emily Dickinson’s paternal grandfather, Samuel Dickinson, had almost single-handedly founded Amherst College. In 1813 he built the homestead, a large mansion on the town’s Main Street, that became the focus of Dickinson family life for the better part of a century. Samuel Dickinson’s eldest son, Edward, was treasurer of Amherst College for nearly forty years, served numerous terms as a State Legislator, and represented the Hampshire district in the United States Congress. On May 6, 1828, he married Emily Norcross from Monson.
Dickinson attended primary school in a two-story building on Pleasant Street. Her education was “ambitiously classical for a Victorian girl”. Her father wanted his children well-educated and he followed their progress even while away on business. When Emily was seven, he wrote home, reminding his children to “keep school, and learn, so as to tell me, when I come home, how many new things you have learned”. While Emily consistently described her father in a warm manner, her correspondence suggests that her mother was regularly cold and aloof. In a letter to a confidante, Emily wrote she “always ran Home to Awe [Austin] when a child, if anything befell me. He was an awful Mother, but I liked him better than none.”
On September 7, 1840, Dickinson and her sister Lavinia started together at Amherst Academy, a former boys’ school that had opened to female students just two years earlier. At about the same time, her father purchased a house on North Pleasant Street. Emily’s brotherAustin later described this large new home as the “mansion” over which he and Emily presided as “lord and lady” while their parents were absent. The house overlooked Amherst’s burial ground, described by one local minister as treeless and “forbidding”.
Dickinson spent seven years at the Academy, taking classes in English and classical literature, Latin, botany, geology, history, “mental philosophy,” and arithmetic. She had a few terms off due to illness: the longest absence was in 1845–1846, when she was only enrolled for eleven weeks.
Although she continued to write in her last years, Dickinson stopped editing and organizing her poems. She also exacted a promise from her sister Lavinia to burn her papers. Lavinia, who also never married, remained at the Homestead until her own death in 1899.
The 1880s were a difficult time for the remaining Dickinsons. Irreconcilably alienated from his wife, Austin fell in love in 1882 with Mabel Loomis Todd, an Amherst College faculty wife who had recently moved to the area. Todd never met Dickinson but was intrigued by her, referring to her as “a lady whom the people call the Myth”. Austindistanced himself from his family as his affair continued and his wife became sick with grief. Dickinson’s mother died on November 14, 1882. Five weeks later, Dickinson wrote “We were never intimate … while she was our Mother – but Mines in the same Ground meet by tunneling and when she became our Child, the Affection came.” The next year, Austinand Sue’s third and youngest child, Gilbert—Emily’s favorite—died of typhoid fever.
As death succeeded death, Dickinson found her world upended. In the fall of 1884, she wrote that “The Dyings have been too deep for me, and before I could raise my Heart from one, another has come.” That summer she had seen “a great darkness coming” and fainted while baking in the kitchen. She remained unconscious late into the night and weeks of ill health followed. On November 30, 1885, her feebleness and other symptoms were so worrying that Austin canceled a trip to Boston. She was confined to her bed for a few months, but managed to send a final burst of letters in the spring. What is thought to be her last letter was sent to her cousins, Louise and Frances Norcross, and simply read: “Little Cousins, Called Back. Emily”. On May 15, 1886, after several days of worsening symptoms, Emily Dickinson died at the age of 55.Austin wrote in his diary that “the day was awful … she ceased to breathe that terrible breathing just before the whistle sounded for six.” Dickinson’s chief physician gave the cause of death as Bright’s disease and its duration as two and a half years.
Dickinson was buried, laid in a white coffin with vanilla-scented heliotrope, a Lady’s Slipper orchid, and a “knot of blue field violets” placed about it. The funeral service, held in the Homestead’s library, was simple and short; Higginson, who had only met her twice, read “No Coward Soul Is Mine”, a poem by Emily Brontë that had been a favorite of Dickinson’s. At Dickinson’s request, her “coffin not driven but carried through fields of buttercups” for burial in the family plot at West Cemetery on Triangle Street.