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Emily Dickinson at Amherst College
Browse scans all of the Dickinson manuscripts held by Amherst College through Amherst College Digital Collections.
T he 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 to1873; her brother Austin (Class of 1850) took over as Treasurer from 1873 until his death in 1895; and nephew Ned Dickinson 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.
D avid 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. Silhouette. 1845.)
O ur 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.
Emily Dickinson. "The way hope builds his house" MS ca. 1879.
Guides to the Collections
T he Emily Dickinson Collection documents the creative work and personal life of Emily Dickinson, spanning her lifetime, from 1830 to 1886; her family and friends; and the early publication history of her work. It also includes material from Dickinson scholars Mabel Loomis Todd, Millicent Todd Bingham, Jay Leyda, and others. The collection includes original poems, manuscripts, and letters from Dickinson to family and friends; images of the poet, including the daguerreotype and silhouette; physical artifacts related to Dickinson; manuscript transcriptions; printers' copies and proofs; Mabel Loomis Todd's correspondence, research indices, and writings; and material from or about Dickinson's friends and family, including correspondence, photographs, objects, and scrapbooks.
T he collection consists primarily of printed matter associated with Emily Dickinson, her life and work, her home, her family, and any other topics associated with the poet, dating from ca. 1866 to the present.
William Austin Dickinson. Daguerreotype. 1850.
Published Works by Emily Dickinson
A rchives & 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. We hold multiple copies of all of the 1890s editions of the poetry and letters in variant bindings, many of them inscribed by Mabel Loomis Todd. These items can be found by searching the Five Colleges Libraries Catalog.
Emily Dickinson. Poems . Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1890.
Information about Dickinson materials held by other institutions can be found on the Emily Dickinson Museum's excellent Resources & Bibliography page.
Emily Dickinson online
All of the Dickinson manuscripts held by Amherst College have been fully digitized and are now 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.
Access to the Collections
Because of the fragile nature of these unique materials, access to original Dickinson manuscripts is extrememly limited. Researchers who visit the Archives & Special Collections will be allowed full access to the digital surrogates of the entire Emily Dickinson Collection. Those whose research requires access to the original artifacts must contact the Head of Archives & Special Collections to request an appointment for a viewing. See our Access & Use page for more information about working with our collections.
Emily Dickinson. "When what" MS ca. 1881.
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.
The Archives & Special Collections regularly mounts exhibitions of our Dickinson holdings, but we do not have any Dickinson manuscripts on permanent display.
A class visits Archives & Special Collections.
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 web site is a rich resource for information about Dickinson's life. The Museum also runs programs about Dickinson and her work throughout the year: http://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/.
Emily Dickinson's bedroom in the Homestead.
More about Dickinson at Amherst...
Amherst Magazine frequently includes news items and feature articles about Dickinson and her ties to the college. Several of these articles are now available online:
"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.