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Edward Dickinson

Birthplace: Amherst, Hampshire, Massachusetts, United States
Death: Died in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Hon. Samuel Fowler Dickinson and Lucretia Dickinson
Husband of Emily Dickinson (Norcross)
Father of William Austin Dickinson; Emily Dickinson and Lavinia "Vinnie" Norcross Dickinson
Brother of William Dickinson; Lucretia Dickinson; Mary Newman; Samuel Fowler Dickinson; Catharine Sweetser and 3 others

Occupation: Lawyer, Representative, Senator, Counsellor, and Representative in Congress., Grad. Y. C. 1823, a lawyer in Amh.
Managed by: Thomas Andrew Rounds
Last Updated:

About Edward Dickinson

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Edward Dickinson (1803-1874) was the father of poet Emily Dickinson.

“His Heart was pure and terrible and I think no other like it exists.”

- Emily Dickinson to T.W. Higginson, July 1874 (L418)

Edward Dickinson embraced the conservative Whig political party and embodied its ethics of responsibility, fairness, and personal restraint to a point that contemporaries found his demeanor severe and unyielding. He took his role as head of his family seriously, and within his home his decisions and his word were law. An incident Emily Dickinson described speaks volumes about life within her home: "I never knew how to tell time by the clock till I was 15. My father thought he had taught me but I did not understand & I was afraid to say I did not & afraid to ask anyone else lest he should know" (L342b).

The eldest of nine children of Samuel Fowler and Lucretia Gunn Dickinson, Edward was born on January 1, 1803. He grew up in the Dickinson Homestead and, earlier, in the house that preceded it. Educated in the district school and at Amherst Academy, he attended Yale College except for his Junior year, which was spent at Amherst College during its first year of operation. He graduated from Yale in 1823, attended the Northampton Law School for a year, and opened his own practice in Amherst in the fall of 1826. On May 6, 1828 he married shy, pretty Emily Norcross of Monson, Massachusetts, after a two and a half year courtship. Their three children were born in 1829 (Austin), 1830 (Emily) and 1833 (Lavinia).

During the time Edward was establishing his legal practice, his father's great effort and financial overcommitment in helping found Amherst College led to the collapse of the family's wealth in land holdings. Within a few years all members of his immediate family, one way or another, left Amherst for the rest of their lives. Edward remained, devoting himself to his legal career and laboring to restore his father's blighted reputation as well as to regain some of his family's financial well-being.

Edward for over forty-five years led a disciplined, civic-minded public life that included several times representing Amherst in the state legislature, serving thirty-seven years as treasurer of Amherst College, and being elected to the Thirty-third Congress from his region. He was a prominent citizen, active in several reform societies, on the board of regional institutions, and involved in major civic improvements, such as leading the effort to bring the railroad to town in the mid 1850s.

Ever respectful of her father's nature ("the straightest engine" that "never played" [L360]), Dickinson obeyed him as a child, but found ways to rebel or circumvent him as a young woman, and finally, with wit and occasional exasperation, learned to accommodate with his autocratic ways.

Her early resistance slowly shifted to a mutual respect, and finally subsided after his death in pathos, love, and awe. Despite his public involvements, the poet viewed her father as an isolated, solitary figure, "the oldest and the oddest sort of foreigner," she told a friend (Sewall, The Lyman Letters, p. 70), a man who read "lonely & rigorous books" (L342a), yet who made sure the birds were fed in winter.

Edward Dickinson's lonely death in a Boston boardinghouse following his collapse while giving a speech in the state legislature the hot morning of June 6, 1874, was unbearable to the whole family. The entire town closed down on the afternoon of his funeral, and his eldest daughter later paid this tribute: "Lay this Laurel on the one\ Too intrinsic for Renown -\ Laurel - vail your deathless Tree -\ Him you chasten - that is he -" (Fr1428).

Further Reading:

Bingham, Millicent Todd. Emily Dickinson’s Home. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955.

Sewall, Richard B. The Life of Emily Dickinson. New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1974. 44-73.

_____. The Lyman Letters: New Light on Emily Dickinson and Her Family. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1965. p. 70.

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Edward Dickinson was a Whig (later a Republican) representative to state and national legislatures.

Edward Dickinson (January 1, 1803 - June 16, 1874) was a Massachusetts politician. He is best known as the father of famous poet Emily Dickinson; their family home in Amherst, the Dickinson Homestead, is now a museum.

Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he attended public schools and Amherst Academy, graduated from Yale College in 1823, and studied law in the law school of Northampton, Massachusetts. He was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Amherst in 1826. On May 6, 1828 he married Emily Norcross Dickinson (1804–1882); his daughter Emily Dickinson was born December 10, 1830.

Dickinson served as treasurer of Amherst College 1835-1837. He was then elected a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives 1838-1839, served in the Massachusetts Senate in 1842-1843, and was a member of the Governor's Council 1846-1847. He then was elected as a Whig to the United States Congress 1853-1855, declined to be a candidate for the Republican nomination of Lieutenant Governor in 1861, and was again elected a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1873. Dickinson died in Boston on June 16, 1874 and is buried in West Cemetery, Amherst.

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives

from Massachusetts's 10th congressional district

March 4, 1853 – March 3, 1855

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Edward Dickinson's Timeline

January 1, 1803
Amherst, Hampshire, Massachusetts, United States
April 16, 1829
Age 26
Amherst, Hampshire, Massachusetts, United States
December 10, 1830
Age 27
Amherst, Hampshire, Massachusetts, USA
February 28, 1833
Age 30
Amherst, Hampshire, Massachusetts, USA
Age 47
Age 57
Age 67
Amherst, Hampshire, Massachusetts
June 16, 1874
Age 71
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States