Emily Elizabeth Dickinson is born in Amherst, Massachusetts. She is the second of three children of Edward and Emily Norcross Dickinson.
Emily and her sister Lavinia begin classes at Amherst Academy, a converted boys' school. In her seven years of schooling there, she is frequently absent due to illness.
Dickinson's second cousin and good friend Sophia Holland dies of typhus. Thirteen-year-old Emily is deeply shaken by the girl's death.
Leonard Humphrey, an educator in his early twenties, takes over as principal of Amherst Academy. Dickinson grows close to him as a friend and mentor. He is one of several older men she refers to throughout her life as a "master."
Dickinson completes her studies at Amherst Academy and enrolls at the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (later Mount Holyoke College). Mount Holyoke classifies its students into three religious categories: women who were "established Christians," women who "expressed hope," and those "without hope." Dickinson is a No Hoper.
Less than a year into college, Dickinson quits her studies for reasons that remain unclear—possibly poor health, homesickness, her parents' wishes or her dislike of the school. Her brother Austin arrives at Mount Holyoke to escort her home.
Dickinson's friend and former principal, Leonard Humphrey, dies unexpectedly at the age of 25. "The tears come, and I cannot brush them away; I would not if I could, for they are the only tribute I can pay the departed Humphrey," Dickinson writes to her friend Abiah Root.32
For the first and only time in her life, Dickinson travels outside the borders of her home state. With her mother and sister, she spends three weeks in Washington, D.C. visiting her Congressman father; she then spends two weeks with relatives in Philadelphia. After their return, Dickinson's mother falls ill.
Dickinson's brother, William, marries Emily's friend, Susan Gilbert. The new sisters-in-law have an intense, tempestuous relationship. Though Dickinson craves Gilbert's approval, the aloof, brooding Gilbert frequently hurts her delicate sister-in-law's feelings.
Dickinson starts making formal copies of her poems. Some of her verses appear in the Springfield Republican, a paper edited by her friend, Samuel Bowles.
After reading an essay by literary critic and abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson in The Atlantic Monthly, Dickinson writes him to ask him to review her poetry. They strike up a correspondence that lasts for years.
Poems appear in Drum Beat to raise money for Union soldiers' medical expenses. Dickinson also publishes poems in the Brooklyn Daily Union.
Dickinson begins to voluntarily withdraw from social life, preferring to speak with visitors through a door rather than face-to-face. It is her most productive period of writing. She stays socially active by sending numerous letters to favorite correspondents.
After repeatedly declining his requests for a meeting or photograph, Dickinson meets Thomas Wentworth Higginson, her pen pal of eight years. "She came toward me with two day-lilies, which she put in a childlike way into my hand, saying softly, under her breath, 'These are my introduction,'" Higginson recalled of their unusual meeting.33
In 1872 (or possibly in 1873), Dickinson makes the acquaintance of Massachusetts Supreme Court Judge Otis Phillips Lord. They exchange numerous letters over the years. Scholars speculate that the two may have become romantically involved after the death of Otis's wife in 1877.
Dickinson's father, Edward, dies of a stroke in Boston at the age of 71. He is buried in Amherst. Emily Dickinson does not attend her father's services, listening to the funeral instead from her room upstairs.
Dickinson's mother, Emily Norcross Dickinson, dies. Her death relieves Emily, who had spent much of the last 30 years caring for her bedridden mother.
Gilbert Dickinson, William and Susan's son and Emily's favorite nephew, dies of typhoid fever.
Dickinson's maybe-boyfriend, Judge Otis Phillips Lord, dies.
Emily Dickinson dies of Bright's Disease—a kidney ailment now known as nephritis. After her coffin is carried—per her instructions—through fields of buttercups, she is buried in West Cemetery in Amherst.
Dickinson's sister, Lavinia, discovers hundreds of Emily's unpublished poems in her desk after her death. They are published together for the first time four years after Emily's death and become wildly successful, going through eleven printings in two years.