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Timeline

Dec 10, 1830

Emily Dickinson Born

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson is born in Amherst, Massachusetts. She is the second of three children of Edward and Emily Norcross Dickinson.

Sep 7, 1840

School

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.

Apr 1844

Cousin Dies

Dickinson's second cousin and good friend Sophia Holland dies of typhus. Thirteen-year-old Emily is deeply shaken by the girl's death.

1846

Meets Leonard Humphrey

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."

Aug 10, 1847

Mount Holyoke

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.

Mar 25, 1848

Return to Amherst

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.

1850

Leonard Humphrey Dies

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

1855

Travels Outside Massachusetts

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.

1856

Marriage of William Dickinson and Susan Gilbert

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.

1858

Copies Poems

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.

Apr 1862

Literary Friendship

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.

1864

Poems Published

Poems appear in Drum Beat to raise money for Union soldiers' medical expenses. Dickinson also publishes poems in the Brooklyn Daily Union.

1867

Isolation

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.

1870

Meets Higginson

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

1872

Meets Judge Otis

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.

Jun 16, 1874

Father Dies

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.

Nov 14, 1882

Mother Dies

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.

1883

Nephew Dies

Gilbert Dickinson, William and Susan's son and Emily's favorite nephew, dies of typhoid fever.

Mar 1884

Judge Otis Dies

Dickinson's maybe-boyfriend, Judge Otis Phillips Lord, dies.

May 15, 1886

Emily Dickinson 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.

1890

Book of Poetry Published

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.

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