May 7, 2008
Contact: Caroline Jenkins Hanna
Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.—Polly Longsworth, member of the board of governors of Amherst College’s Emily Dickinson Museum and prolific Emily Dickinson scholar, will receive the school’s Medal for Eminent Service during its commencement exercises on Sunday, May 25. The award is presented to a member of the Amherst community who has demonstrated extraordinary devotion to the college.
Longsworth began her involvement with Amherst’s Emily Dickinson Museum in 2003, when she served as founding chair of its board of governors. First the chair of the Evergreens, the home of Dickinson’s brother Austin and sister-in-law Susan, she oversaw its merger with the Dickinson Homestead, the birthplace of the poet, to create what is now the Emily Dickinson Museum. (Today, both properties are owned by the trustees of Amherst College, and the museum is overseen by its separate board of governors who are charged with raising its operating and capital funds.) She led the recruiting of the organization’s professional staff, the launch of its first capital campaign and the development of a master plan that serves as the long-range blueprint for restoration and improvement of the museum’s buildings and grounds. While she stepped down from the chairmanship in 2006, she remains a member of the board.
In addition to her work with the museum, Longsworth has studied the life and writing of Dickinson for many years. Her book Austin and Mabel: The Amherst Affair and Love Letters of Austin Dickinson and Mabel Loomis Todd (1984) tells the dramatic tale of Todd’s 13-year affair with the poet’s brother and illuminates Todd’s role in the posthumous publication of Dickinson’s poetry. The story—which was hailed by The New York Review of Books as “one of the most explosive books ever published about social and sexual mores in nineteenth-century America”—reads like a racy novel in detailing a sub rosa passion that drastically affected the canon of America’s great, reclusive lyric poet. Longsworth has published three other Dickinson titles and is at present working on a single, comprehensive biography of the poet.
While a resident of Amherst from 1961 to 1977, Longsworth was a founding trustee of The Common School and served as trustee and chair of the Amherst Historical Society, which bestowed on her in 2007 its first annual Conch Award for her contributions to the town’s history. A graduate of Emma Willard School and Smith College, she now lives with her husband, Charles R. Longsworth, Amherst College Class of 1951, in Royalston, Mass.
Each year, the Amherst College Board of Trustees, in consultation with the secretary of the Society of the Alumni, selects a recipient for the Medal for Eminent Service, which is awarded at Amherst’s Commencement ceremony. The medal was established in 1934 as a means of recognizing exceptional and distinguished service to the college for a great period of time, often in a variety of areas.