Emily Dickinson, at Home in Her ‘Full-Color Life’
“I didn’t intend to write about what I’m doing now,” says Dickinson in this essay on the life of a woman who is a poet, a painter, and a teacher and — all at once — an ardent feminist and a self-proclaimed abolitionist. “I’m not an abolitionist. That sounds like a paradox,” she declares, laughing.
An unabashed abolitionist, Dickinson was born in 1810 in Amherst, Massachusetts. Her parents were Quakers, and while she was still a small child, she was sent to school in England. At age 14, she left England and moved to Philadelphia — a move that would forever change the course of her life.
After school, Dickinson studied at the Philadelphia Female College and then at Vassar College for only a few months. Like Vassar graduates of the era, Dickinson left the college to marry a man in order to avoid being ostracized by their families. She and her husband settled in the small town of Steuben in upstate New York, where she taught school for a year.
A year later, she started her first poem, “Kine.” It was written for her husband on June 15, 1836. It was one of four poems she never completed. The other three were “Sally’s Triumph,” “Our Town,” and “Hymn to Liberty.”
Even as she began to write poetry, Dickinson kept up with her life’s many other activities, teaching and painting. By 1845, when she was 29, she had published an account of her husband’s burial as a soldier in the Revolutionary War, as well as an essay on the role of women in the Revolutionary War that would make her reputation. She held a teaching position at Smith College, where she tutored her friend, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
In the meantime, Dickinson moved to Baltimore, where she had a job as a