A Timeline of Emily Dickinson’s Life and Legacy

Emily Dickinson's Life and Legacy

1813

1813

Samuel Fowler Dickinson, Emily Dickinson’s paternal Grandfather, builds the Homestead on Main Street in Amherst. 

 

“To ascertain the House

and if the soul’s within

and hold the Wick of mine to it

to light, and then return -” (Dickinson, Fr802)

Illustration of the Amherst College campus in 1821

1821

Amherst College opens with Samuel Fowler Dickinson as a principle founder. 

1828, May 6

Marriage of Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross, Emily Dickinson’s parents. 

1829, 16 April

1829, 16 April

Birth of William Austin Dickinson, Emily Dickinson’s brother 

1830, 10 December

1830, 10 December

Birth of Emily Elizabeth Dickinson 

black and white photograph of Lavinia Dickinson wearing a checkered shawl and holding a cat

1833, 28 February

Birth of Lavinia Norcross Dickinson, Emily Dickinson’s sister

 

Emily Dickinson homestead, a yellow house, viewed from the sidewalk in autumn

May 1833

The Homestead is sold to the Mack family. The Dickinson family continues to live in the Homestead as tenants of the Macks, living in the eastern half of the house.

White house captured from North Pleasant Street with a fence in front

1840, April

The Dickinsons purchase and move to a house (no longer standing) on North Pleasant Street in Amherst.

An artist's rendering of Mount Holyoke Women's seminary

1847, September

Emily Dickinson enrolls for one year at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley.

 

“This term is the longest in the year and I would not wish to live it over again, I can assure you. I love this Seminary and all the teachers are bound strongly to my heart by ties of affection. There are many sweet girls here and dearly do I love some new faces, but I have not yet found the place of a few dear ones filled, nor would I wish it to be here.” (Dickinson, L59)

 

1850, February

The earliest record of Emily Dickinson’s poetry in publication. “Magnum bonum, harem scarem” is published in the Amherst College Indicator as a valentine letter. 

1851, February

1851, February

Emily Dickinson’s earliest known message to Susan Huntington Gilbert. Susan, a lifelong friend and early champion of Dickinson’s poetry, would go on to receive more than 250 poems from Dickinson, more than sent to any other correspondent.

 

“Don’t forget all the little friends who have tried so hard to be sisters, when indeed you were alone!” (Dickinson in an early letter to Susan, L101)

1852, February 20

The Springfield Daily Republican publishes Dickinson’s “Sic transit gloria mundi” anonymously as “A Valentine.” 

1852, December 17

1852, December 17

Election of Edward Dickinson as a member of the Whig Party to the United States Congress (1853-1855). Edward represented Massachusetts’ Tenth Congressional District. 

1855, February and March

Emily and Lavinia Dickinson visit Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. 

1855, November

1855, November

Following the death of David Mack, the Dickinson family purchases and returns to the Homestead on Main Street. Edward Dickinson remodels the house and constructs a small conservatory for Emily and Lavinia. 

1856, July 1

1856, July 1

Austin Dickinson marries Susan Gilbert in Geneva, New York. A new home for the newlyweds, named the Evergreens, is built by Edward Dickinson to the west of the Homestead. 

Handwritten pages

About 1858

Emily Dickinson begins collecting her poems into small packets, today called “fascicles.” This practice continues until 1864. 

 

1861, April 12

The Civil War begins 

 

Sorrow seems more general than it did, and not the estate of a few persons, since the war began; and if the anguish of others helped one with one’s own, now would be many medicines …” (Dickinson, L436)

Early 1860s

Emily Dickinson’s reclusiveness increases. While the origin of this departure from social life is specifically unknown, Dickinson’s withdrawal from society also marks the beginning of one of her most productive times, artistically. 

 

“A Charm invests a face 

Imperfectly beheld – 

The Lady dare not lift her Vail – 

For fear it be dispelled – 

But peers beyond her mesh – 

And wishes – and denies – 

Lest interview – annul a want – 

That Image – satisfies-” (Dickinson, Fr430A)

Ned Dickinson

1861, June 19

Birth of Edward “Ned” Dickinson, Emily Dickinson’s nephew 

 

Is it true, dear Sue? 

Are there two?

I shouldn’t like to come 

For fear of joggling Him! 

If you could shut him up

In a Coffee Cup, 

Or tie him to a pin

Till I got in – 

Or make him fast 

To “Toby’s” fist –

Hist! Whist! I’d come!” (Dickinson, Fr189)

1862, April 15

1862, April 15

Emily Dickinson initiates a life-long correspondence with Thomas Wentworth Higginson

1863, September

From late April to November, 1864, Emily Dickinson spends many months in Cambridge, Massachusetts for treatment of a severe, disabling eye condition. During these two months with Boston’s leading ophthalmologist, Dr. Henry Willard Williams, Dickinson lives with her cousins Louisa and Frances Norcross in Cambridge. 

 

“The eyes are as with you, sometimes easy, sometimes sad. I think they are not worse, nor do I think them better than when I came home. The snow light offends them, and the house is bright … Vinnie [is] good to me, but ‘cannot see why I don’t get well.’ This makes me think I am long sick, and this takes the ache to my eyes.” (Dickinson, L430, 433, 439) 

1865

The Civil War ends. 

1865, November 29

1865, November 29

Birth of Martha Dickinson Bianchi, Emily Dickinson’s niece

 

black and white illustration of a dog

1866, 27 January

Death of Carlo, Emily Dickinson’s Newfoundland 

 

“Carlo died – […] would you instruct me now?” (Dickinson, L454)

1869

The Dickinson family hires Margaret Maher as their primary domestic help. She would remain with the Dickinsons for thirty years.

 

 

1874, June 16

Edward Dickinson dies in a Boston boarding house following his collapse while giving a speech in the Massachusetts state legislature. Edward’s death away from Amherst strikes Emily Dickinson and the rest of the Dickinson family as particularly tragic; the family has been robbed of a proper goodbye, all together, left only with the “Silence” of death. 

 

There marauds a sorer Robber – 

Silence -” (Dickinson, Fr1315)

1875, 15 June

1875, 15 June

Emily Norcross Dickinson suffers a stroke that produces “a partial, lateral paralysis.” The next summer she falls and breaks her hip, becoming permanently bedridden, and requiring further care. For the next seven years, until her death in 1874, Emily and Lavinia cared for their mother in her convalescence. 

 

“…have never seen a daughter so devoted.” (Harriet Jameson, Lavinia’s neighbor, 11-10-[1882], Container 5, Jameson Papers)

Thomas Gilbert (Gib) Dickinson

1875, August 1

Birth of Gilbert (“Gib”) Dickinson, Emily Dickinson’s nephew 

 

“Emily and all that she has are at Sue’s service, if of any comfort to Baby – Will send Maggie, if you will accept her.” (Dickinson, in a message to Susan)

A portrait of Judge Otis Phillips Lord, a Dickinson love interest

Late 1870s

Emily Dickinson’s romance with Judge Otis Phillips Lord begins. Dickinson’s relationship with Lord is one among many which continue to intrigue scholars. Dickinson and Lord continue to exchange letters until his death in March 1884. 

 

 

 

 

1881

1881

Mabel Loomis Todd and David Todd move to Amherst. Mabel Loomis Todd later becomes co-editor of the first volumes of Dickinson’s published poetry. 

1882, 14 November

Death of Emily Norcross Dickinson 

1883, 5 October

At barely eight years old, Gilbert (“Gib”) Dickinson dies tragically of typhoid fever. Gib was a delightful, intelligent little boy, whose “fascinating ways” and “witty little sayings” charmed everyone. Beyond the great love his father and mother had for him, Gib was also the last hope for Austin and Susan to carry on the Dickinson name. 

 

“Gilbert rejoiced in Secrets – 

His Life was panting with them …

No crescent was this Creature – He traveled from the Full – 

Such soar, but never set …

Without a speculation, our little Ajax spans the whole…” (Dickinson, L800-801) 

1886, 15 May

1886, 15 May

Death of Emily Dickinson 

1884, 13 March

Death of Judge Otis Phillips Lord 

1886, 19 May

Funeral for Emily Dickinson in Amherst, MA 

1890, November 12

1890, November 12

Mabel Loomis Todd publishes the first edition of Poems by Emily Dickinson (Boston: Roberts Brothers). The popular reception of this first edition of Poems initiates the publication of the Second Series  (1891) and the Third Series  (1896) of Poems. Mabel Loomis Todd, as editor, publishes Letters of Emily Dickinson in two volumes in 1894. 

 

Martha Dickinson Bianchi in garden

1914

Emily’s niece Martha Dickinson Bianchi publishes poems sent by her aunt to her mother, Susan Gilbert Dickinson in A Single Hound: Poems of a Lifetime. Martha Dickinson Bianchi would go on to publish many subsequent editions of her aunt’s poetry and letters, renewing the 20th century public’s interest in the life and work of Emily Dickinson.

The Evergreens house behind a huge tree in autumn

1965

The Homestead is purchased by Amherst College and is open to the public for tours. In 1991, The Evergreens is passed to a private testamentary trust, the Martha Dickinson Bianchi Trust, which began developing the house as a museum. 

2003, July 1

2003, July 1

The Emily Dickinson Museum is founded after the Homestead and The Evergreens are merged under the ownership of Amherst College. 

2013, October 13

The launch of the Emily Dickinson Online Archive. The Online Archive is a free-access resource, allowing online visitors to view digitized images of Dickinson manuscripts held in multiple libraries and archives across the country. 

Emily's bedroom with her dress and bed and writing table

Today

We live in an incredibly exciting time for Emily Dickinson scholarship. Through the efforts of many, Dickinson’s work is thriving throughout an international readership, forever securing her a place in literature and in a wider culture.