Susan Dickinson's Obituary

An Old and Honored Resident of Am-
herst, Who Was Also Widely Honored Abroad.
(May 12, 1913)

Mrs. Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson, widow of William Austin Dickinson, died at her home, the Evergreens, in Amherst yesterday, in her 83rd year, from heart disease. She had been seriously ill for a number of weeks, and for several days her life has been slowly, peacefully fading away. She was a woman of rare quality and truly a distinguished citizen of the town, who had made her home for many years one of the notable features of the community. She had undoubtedly entertained at her board more men and women of distinction in the world of literature and affairs than any other householder in the place. She had lived in Amherst from the time of her marriage in 1857 [sic; 1856], with the exception of seven winters which were passed in New York, and several long periods of travel and residence abroad. [Among the papers found in the Evergreens is a journal Susan kept of a trip to Europe in the early 1900s, when she was seventy-five years old. As an elderly traveller and inveterate writer, Susan visited Paris, Nice, Cologne, Zurich, Verona, Venice, Florence, Rome, the Hague, and London, revelling in the architectural majesty of church buildings and in the sublime beauty of the "Alpine peaks snow tipped. . .all so wholesome after Paris" and taking care to record her observations and encounters with acquaintances new and old, usually in a literary or poetical vein.] She possessed a charming and gracious personality and unusual gifts as a conversationist. She had always a keen interest in the arts and particularly literature, and was a wide and sympathetic reader of the best works, both modern and classic. She shared with her husband a fine, discriminating taste in art, and their home has long been notable for its beautiful pictures.

Mrs. Dickinson was born in Deerfield in 1830, the daughter of Thomas and Harriet Huntington Arms Gilbert. She was the youngest of seven children, none of whom survive her. She lived as a girl, after her mother's death, with her aunt, Mrs. William Van Vranken, at Geneva, N.Y. She attended Miss Kelly's private school at Utica, N.Y., which in later years became Mrs Piatt's school. She subsequently taught for a year in a private school at Baltimore, and as a young woman was so good in mathematics that Prof Hadley of Yale (the father of President Hadley), who for a time gave her instruction, told her that she ought to go to Yale college. She was married to Willliam Austin Dickinson of Amherst at Geneva in 1857 [sic; 1856], and immediately settled in the home which was built for the young couple by Mr Dickinson's father, Edward Dickinson, at Amherst. This house stood next to the home of the elder Dickinson and has continued to be the family home of the Austin Dickinsons since.

Mr and Mrs Dickinson had three children: Martha, now Mrs Bianchi, the well-known novelist; Edward, who died May 3, 1897, and Thomas Gilbert, who died October 5, 1883. Mr Dickinson himself died August 16, 1895, and since his death Mrs Dickinson and her daughter, Mrs Bianchi, have been inseparable. Mrs Dickinson was an enthusiastic traveler and enjoyed greatly the life in Europe, where she was much admired and shone in the cosmopolitan society of Rome, Nice, Paris and other famous old world cities. She went abroad four times after she was 70, and for years has followed European politics with keen interest and intelligence. She was a real lover of humanity and always a most appreciative and observant student of Nature. She surrounded her home at Amherst with beautiful flowers and shrubs and trees, and made it a place of delight and refreshment to all the visitors who were honored by admission within its portals. The list embraced such men as Ralph Waldo Emerson, George William Curtis, Wendell Phillips, Henry Ward Beecher, Dr J.G. Holland, Gov Alexander H. Bullock, Edward B. Gillett, Col. T.W. Higginson and the late Samuel Bowles, and such women as Helen Hunt Jackson, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mrs Frances Hodgson Burnett, the novelist.

Mrs Dickinson's husband was long the treasurer of Amherst college, succeeding his father in that position, and the family have always taken an active part in the affairs of the institution. Mrs Dickinson has been the valued friend of the presidents and professors and their families throughout her life in Amherst. She has long been a member of the First Congregational church, and in her active days was a leader in its various beneficences. Her only near surviving relative is her daughter, Mrs Martha Dickinson Bianchi, who has been her devoted and admiring companion and supporter during the declining years of her long life. The funeral will be held at the home Thursday afternoon at 2:30.

This Springfield Republican obituary for Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson, this note about her life, does not mention Emily Dickinson, who was already more famous than her most beloved friend but whose reputation as a good but eccentric "poetess," established by the posthumous printing in the 1890s of three volumes of her poems, had begun to wane considerably. Emily Dickinson's reputation was to be revived in the year following Susan Dickinson's death by Susan's daughter, Emily's niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi. In 1914, Bianchi oversaw the publication of The Single Hound: Poems of a Lifetime by Emily Dickinson and she dedicated the volume as a "memorial to the love of these 'Dear, dead Women'" whose literary liaison lasted four decades and mentored the work now widely admired as the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

From the distance of a century and after study of Dickinson and her works has become an industry, one cannot help but approach this relationship with the assumption that Emily was the writer and Sue the reader, always. Yet Sue wrote essays, reviews, journals, poems, letters, and memorials constantly throughout her life and produced commonplace books and scrapbooks of her own publications in the Springfield Republican. Dickinson herself characterized their relationship in literary terms--comparing her love for Susan to Dante's love for Beatrice, Swift's for Stella, and Mirabeau's for Sophie de Ruffey (H B95; L 393), and comparing her tutelage with Susan to one with Shakespeare (L 757). Their writing relationship is comparable to widely celebrated literary exchanges such as those between William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, and Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. Writing was constantly going back and forth between them, and thus this section of the Dickinson website is devoted to study of Susan Dickinson's writings, those previously published and those unpublished until now.

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Last updated on January 10, 2008

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