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“Aunt Abbie”

A free Black woman called “Aunt Abbie” served as Ned’s first nurse. Though her tenure as a Dickinson employee was short, this letter gives insight into her relationship with the Dickinson family. Abbie inquires after toddler Ned (“Jacky”), Clara and Anna Newman (“the young ladies”)–two Dickinson cousins who lived at The Evergreens for several years—and Irish maid “Bridget” and her cats:

“I long to know how he gets along – Whether he has grown fat + whether he can laugh + play yet? … I have so many many times thought of you + wondered how you were situated, whether you had to be much con-fined with Jacky or not? … I think very often of the young ladies + shall never forget their many little kindnesses to me – I am glad they had so pleasant a visit away this Summer – I wish they would remember “poor old Aunt Abby” often in the way of a little note occasionally – I really fell in love with them – How do Bridget + the four cats get along now? Please give much love to Bridget for me -”

Abbie also tells Susan that she is uncertain of her next position, noting that a previous employer and friend of Susan’s has not responded to her request for referrals. The livelihood of domestic laborers like Abbie was regularly at the mercy of the good word and connections of their employers.

“Writings by Susan Dickinson: Letter from ‘Aunt Abbie,’ Dickinson Electronic Archive,

Letter on lined paper in narrow script. Labeled a different hand: “From Ned’s old black nurse “Aunt Abby.”