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"The World Is Not Acquainted With Us"

Kate (Turner) Anthon's transcription of Dickinson's circa March 1859 letter (Johnson 203), detail

“The world is not acquainted with us”:
Emily Dickinson and Kate Scott Turner.
See letters.

The Amherst College Archives and Special Collections welcomes visitors wishing to view a daguerreotype copy of the image shown during the August, 2012 Emily Dickinson International Society conference and proposed there to be Emily Dickinson and her friend Kate Scott Turner.*  The Archives and Special Collections staff saw the original daguerreotype for the first time on July 18, 2007 during a visit and presentation from the owner, a New England collector who purchased the daguerreotype in 1995 and has been researching it ever since.  By the time of that 2007 visit, the owner had identified the sitters in the photograph and made the important leap to Kate as the second sitter.  Subsequently, the owner tracked down a second photograph (a carte-de-visite) of Kate as a young woman (the photograph is at the New York State Historical Association). The original daguerreotype of the two women is thought to have been taken around 1859 during one of Kate's visits to Amherst.

Emily Dickinson & Kate Turner c.1859
 
The evidence for identifying this image as Dickinson is from computer work with detailed scans of the original daguerreotypes (1847 and 1859) and an ophthalmological report (Susan Pepin Report--pdf) facilitated by Polly Longsworth in March, 2010. The addition of a second sitter of whom there are multiple images in existence helps the case: if one can show that it's Kate Turner, a known friend of Dickinson, then it increases the chance that the other sitter who looks like Dickinson is Dickinson. One sure point of contention is the clothing: people will note that the dress "Dickinson" wears seems to be out of date for a late 1850s photograph. However, that evidence may be of less significance when one considers the 23-year-old Dickinson's comment to friend Abiah Root in 1854, "I'm so old fashioned, Darling, that all your friends would stare" (Johnson letter 166).
 
A joint search by Archives and Museum staff members in the Emily Dickinson Museum's textile collection on April 20, 2010 led to the discovery of at least one fabric sample in a blue check that is a candidate for the dress Dickinson wears. Future work by a textile expert might determine whether the sample is the same as the fabric in the dress we see in the daguerreotype, but the original image is very small and it will require special tools to extract the necessary information about the dress. 
 
In the museum sample, magnification revealed that the checks on the blue background consist of 4 white threads crossed with 8 light gray threads.

Dress sample in quilt block
Quilt block
Quilt block verso
Unfortunately, neither woman is wearing much in the way of datable accessories. "Dickinson" seems to have what may be a watch tucked in at her waist (perhaps the "gold watch tucked into her belt" that Martha Dickinson Bianchi mentioned in "Emily Dickinson Face to Face"), and she wears a lace collar with a flower-patterned ribbon around her neck. There is also black lace fringe on her sleeves.  The Museum has samples of similar lace and ribbons but none that appeared to match those in the picture. "Kate" has lace at her cuffs and a comb in her hair. She wears widow's black, as would have been appropriate following the May, 1857 death of her young husband, Campbell Ladd Turner.

We're glad the image has been released to the public and hope that anyone with information about the photograph will come forward. We want to hear the evidence, whether it's favorable or unfavorable to the proposed identification of the image as Emily Dickinson and Kate Scott Turner.  Perhaps someone in the Springfield, Massachusetts area, where the daguerreotype was purchased, will remember something about the provenance of the piece and let us know.

If the daguerreotype is eventually accepted as Dickinson, it will change our idea of her, providing a view of the poet as a mature woman showing striking presence, strength, and serenity. She (whoever she is) seems to be the one in charge here, the one who decided that on a certain day in a certain year, she and her friend would have their likenesses preserved. In fact, even if this photograph is not of Dickinson and Turner, it has still been of use in forcing us to imagine Dickinson as an adult, past the age of the ethereal-looking 16-year-old we have known for so many years.


"The world is not acquainted with us": Letters of Emily Dickinson, Thomas H. Johnson, ed. (1958), Volume II, Letter 203, letter from Emily Dickinson to Kate Scott Turner (Anthon), c. March, 1859.

Kate (Turner) Anthon's transcription of Dickinson's circa March 1859 letter (Johnson 203), page 1
Kate (Turner) Anthon's transcription of Dickinson's circa March 1859 letter (Johnson 203), pages 2-3
Kate (Turner) Anthon's transcription of Dickinson's
circa March 1859 letter (Johnson 203).

 *Catherine Mary Scott, born March 12, 1831 in Cooperstown, New York.  Known as "Kate Scott," "Kate Anthon," "Kate Turner," et al.  Married (1851) Campbell Ladd Turner (1831-1857) and (1866) John Hone Anthon (1832-1874).  Kate spent much of her life abroad and died in England in 1917. 

Additional information

Martha Nell Smith, Professor of English at the University of Maryland, announced that "The Dickinson Electronic Archives 2  is creating a scholarly environment that showcases the possibility of interdisciplinary and collaborative research and explores the potential of the digital environment to reveal new interpretive material, cultural, historical, and theortetical contexts. In doing so, the DEA2 will open a space of knowledge exchange for a networked world of scholars, students, and readers. Dickinson's readers will find an exhibition on the new daguerreotype that will offer essays by and reports on the work of the early principal investigators, essays by scholars beyond the world of Dickinson, a discussion space for comments from all interested readers, and more." 

 

                                                                                                                              -M.R. Dakin

 

 

 

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