The family of Emily Dickinson was intimately involved in the life of Amherst College from its very origins. Dickinson's grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson, was one of the founders of the College; her father, Edward Dickinson, was College Treasurer from 1835 to 1873; her brother William Austin Dickinson (Class of 1850) took over as Treasurer from 1873 until his death in 1895; and nephew Edward (Ned) Dickinson took courses at Amherst and later served the College as an assistant librarian. The intellectual life of the College had a profound influence on life in the Dickinson home. Beyond the personal papers of Dickinson herself, the Amherst College Archives & Special Collections provides extensive documentation about the faculty, students and other members of the College community who played some role in Dickinson's social and intellectual development.
David Todd (Class of 1875) returned to Amherst College as Instructor in Astronomy and Director of the Observatory in 1881 and brought along his young wife, Mabel Loomis Todd. Although Mabel never met Emily Dickinson face-to-face during her lifetime, she did edit three volumes of Dickinson's poetry and two volumes of her letters during the 1890s.
In 1956 David and Mabel Todd's daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham, gave to Amherst College the Dickinson poems and Dickinson family papers she inherited from her mother. The donation included 850 poems and fragments and 350 letters--the largest collection of Dickinson manuscripts in the world. In addition to manuscripts in Dickinson's own hand, Amherst holds a significant collection of material that documents the editorial work of Mabel Loomis Todd and Millicent Todd Bingham on their editions of Dickinson's poetry. Objects in the collection include the silhouette image of Dickinson cut by Charles Temple (Class of 1845), the only known photograph of Dickinson, a lock of Dickinson's hair, and the original painting of indian pipes by Mabel Loomis Todd.
Emily Dickinson Collections
Amherst College is home to the largest and most varied holdings related to poet Emily Dickinson anywhere in the world. The manuscript holdings include several fascicles and hundreds of letters, but the great strength of the collections at Amherst is the numerous rough drafts and fragments of Dickinson's poetry. She often jotted down single lines and raw snatches of poetry on whatever materials were close at hand.
Her writing materials range from slit open envelopes, such as "The way hope builds his house" (AC 450) shown here, to scraps of wallpaper and a chocolate wrapper. It is impossible for any transcription of these fragments to capture the important details of how Dickinson originally laid out her poetry on the page.
Guides to the Collections
Archives & Special Collections holds a nearly-comprehensive collection of Emily Dickinson's published works, ranging from her first appearance in print in the February 1850 issue of The Indicator to the most recent scholarly editions of her poetry. Archives also holds multiple copies of all of the 1890s editions of the poetry and letters in variant bindings, many of them inscribed by Mabel Loomis Todd. Individual items can be found by searching the Five Colleges Libraries Catalog.
Information about Dickinson materials held by other institutions can be found on the Resources & Bibliography page of the Emily Dickinson Museum website.
Research Access to the Collections & Group Visits
Because of the fragile nature of these unique materials, access to original Dickinson manuscripts is extremely limited. High resolution images of all of the Dickinson manuscripts held by Amherst College are freely available online via Amherst College Digital Collections. Use of the original artifacts is strictly limited to researchers working on the materiality of these objects (paper studies, ink/pencil studies, etc.); all other researchers will be required to use the digital surrogates. Requests to use the original manuscripts must be approved by the Head of Archives & Special Collections. See our Access & Use page for more information about working with our collections.
We are always happy to show our Dickinson holdings to classes and other groups as our schedule allows. Please contact the Archives & Special Collections at least two weeks in advance to schedule a visit. Archives & Special Collections frequently mounts exhibitions of the College's Dickinson holdings, but there are no Dickinson manuscripts on permanent display.
Online Access to the Collections
All of the Dickinson manuscripts held by Amherst College have been fully digitized and are freely available to all through Amherst College Digital Collections.
The Houghton Library at Harvard University has made portions of its Dickinson holdings available online. Visit their Emily Dickinson Collection page for more information.
The Digital Amherst site created by the Jones Library includes a wealth of material about the town during Emily Dickinson's lifetime.
Emily Dickinson. "One sister have I in the house" MS ca. 1859.
The Emily Dickinson Museum
Amherst College purchased the Dickinson Homestead in 1965 and took ownership of the Evergreens in 2003. The merger of the houses and the three acres on which they stand restored the parts of the property to the estate Dickinson herself had known and furthers the College's long-standing and complex associations with the Dickinson family and its stewardship of Emily Dickinson’s poetry and other manuscripts. The Archives & Special Collections works closely with the Museum on a wide range of exhibitions, instruction, and events.
The Emily Dickinson Museum website is a rich resource for information about Dickinson's life. The Museum also runs programs about Dickinson and her work throughout the year.
In 2017, the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City hosted the most ambitious exhibition ever attempted of manuscripts and other material by and about Emily Dickinson. The exhibition featured material drawn from the collections of Amherst College, the Houghton Library at Harvard University, Boston Public Library, New York Public Library, the Emily Dickinson Museum, Mount Holyoke College Archives, and the Morgan Library.
- Amherst College Press published a catalog to accompany the exhibition under the title The Networked Recluse: The Connected World of Emily Dickinson. The book is available as a freely downloadable PDF file from Amherst College Press.
- Read the review of the exhibition published by The New York Times on January 20, 2017.
Amherst magazine frequently includes news items and feature articles about Emily Dickinson and her ties to the College, and makes them available online:
- A New Room for Emily Dickinson. Winter 2015. The poet’s bedroom undergoes historic renovation.
- An even better home at Amherst. Spring 2007. The story of the gift of Dickinson manuscripts from Thomas Michie.
- Looking at Emily. Winter 2006. The daguerreotype, the silhouette, and the lock of Dickinson's hair.
- A Gate for Emily. Spring 2004. The story of the gate around Dickinson's grave.
- Dickinson Homestead and Evergreens Merge. Winter 2003.