Emily Dickinson House

The outside of the Emily Dickinson House, a 2 1/2 story home
The outside of the Emily Dickinson House, where she was born and lived most of her life.

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Quick Facts
Amherst, Massachusetts
Birthplace of American poet, Emily Dickinson
National Historic Landmark

Emily Dickinson, noted American poet, was born and lived out the majority of her life in this 2 ½ story brick house. Always something of a “homebody,” Emily began college in the fall of 1847, but found the required separation from her family and home distasteful. From 1847 until her death, Dickinson did not leave the town of Amherst more than three times, and rarely left even her father’s house, writing in 1868, “I do not cross my father’s ground for any house or town.” Quite content with her isolation--to her the home and its grounds were the world in microcosm--Dickinson began writing poetry in the late 1850s, using her imagination to describe “the panoply of human experience.”

Although her family knew that she wrote for hours at a small desk in her bedroom, no one realized the scope of Dickinson’s work until Emily herself sent writing critic Thomas Higginson four carefully chosen samples of her poetry. The revolutionary structure of Dickinson’s poetry bewildered and intrigued Higginson, but he eventually concluded that the poetry’s "obscurity and fracture of grammar and dictionary" would prevent the public from ever appreciating her work. Rather than alter her style, Dickinson chose to remain unknown and unpublished. By 1866, Dickinson’s poetry writing slowed, though she continued to compose for close friends and special occasions.

After her death in 1886, Emily’s sister Lavinia discovered a locked box containing the manuscripts of hundreds of Emily’s previously unseen poems. At Lavinia’s insistence, Thomas Higginson reluctantly agreed to prepare Poems by Emily Dickinson, a small volume of Dickinson’s poems, for publication in 1890. Though critics disliked the poetry, public response was favorable. As additional volumes appeared over the years, critical appreciation of the reclusive Amherst poet grew steadily, and Emily Dickinson is now generally considered to be one of America’s most important writers.

Last updated: November 4, 2021