The recent news of a daguerreotype that just might be another portrait of Emily Dickinson is a reminder of the collaborative nature of archival work and intellectual labor in general. That story is one of a private collector who worked closely with the staff and resources at the Amherst College Archives & Special Collections, the Emily Dickinson Museum, Dickinson scholars (particularly Polly Longsworth and Martha Nell Smith), and others to assemble the evidence now being presented for further discussion. Follow the links in this paragraph to keep up with the latest news about this image.
We are pleased to announce a new Dickinson-related artifact that has come to light via another collaborator in our archival and scholarly enterprise: the antiquarian trade. Ian Brabner, a specialist in 18th and 19th-century American rare books, manuscripts, and ephemera, offered us two copies of the Eleventh Annual Catalogue of the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary for the academic year 1847-1848. We quickly accepted this offer and purchased the items for our collections, where both copies are now fully cataloged and available to researchers.
While it was nice to finally acquire a copy of the Mount Holyoke catalogue from the year that Emily Dickinson was a student there, the real value of one of the copies we acquired is the copious manuscript annotations about many of the students. Ian Brabner’s description of the annotated catalog was a rich source of information that made it clear that this is a piece of tremendous research value for Dickinson scholarship. I want to give Mr. Brabner full credit for most of the facts mentioned in this post. He did the hard work of deciphering the handwriting and tracking down the information so that the Archives can share it with the world.
Both copies of the catalogue belonged to Sarah Strong Tuthill (1830-1882) who was a member of the “Middle Class” at Mount Holyoke with Emily Dickinson. While it’s not clear when she made these notes or what her motivation was, what she has left us are her personal impressions of more than 95 of her classmates and teachers. For example, at the bottom of the left hand page shown here, she describes Dickinson’s cousin Emily Norcross as “rather a serious brain behind a shallow mask.”
Sarah Tuthill’s description of Emily Dickinson appears at the top of page 6:
She is ever fair, and never proud,
Hath-tongue at will and yet is never loud.
Here’s a detail of the note about Dickinson:
How appropriate and telling that Tuthill’s description of Dickinson refers to speaking, willfulness, and quiet. We expect the community of Dickinson scholars will have plenty to say about this new piece of biographical evidence. Mr. Brabner already identified the source of the quotation Tuthill chose to describe her classmate: Shakespeare’s Othello, Act 2, Scene 1. The speech by Iago is shown here as it appears in our copy of the 1632 Second Folio of Shakespeare’s plays:
As with any piece of archival evidence, this one raises many new questions. Was it common for students to make notes like these about their classmates? How many of these notes are as literary as the one about Dickinson? (The note about Emily Norcross is based on a line from a Cowper poem) Are there other copies of this catalog out there with other notes about Emily Dickinson?
Leaving Dickinson aside, this artifact is a treasure trove for anyone interested in the lives and education of young women in the 1840s. What can these notes tell us about female friendships? What do these notes tell us about Sarah Strong Tuthill, a fascinating figure in her own right who went on to become an artist and drawing teacher in Connecticut.
The same questions can be asked of the possible new daguerreotype portrait of Emily Dickinson. Even if it turns out not to be Emily Dickinson, it remains a fascinating piece of evidence about the lives and friendships of women in the mid-nineteenth century. Our goal as an archives is to preserve these artifacts and make them as widely available as possible so that people may study them and investigate the questions they raise.