Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Emily Dickinson's Grandfather at Western Reserve College

Poet Emily Dickinson's grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson, spent the last two years of his life as treasurer at Western Reserve College in Hudson. Born in 1775, Dickinson was later described as "the embodiment of those qualities and virtues that gave to New England strength and character." He graduated from Dartmouth in 1795, studied law, married and became the father of nine children, served a term in the Massachusetts Senate, and in 1813 built an imposing brick house in Amherst, called the Homestead (pictured here), where Emily was later born and spent part of her childhood.

Samuel was one of the founders of Amherst College and a member of its first board of trustees. In fact, the college became such an important element in his life that it depleted his resources. He was forced to sell his family home in 1833 and seek employment at the Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati. In August of 1836 he came to Hudson to become treasurer of the college and "superintendent of the financial concerns and the workshops." His salary was set at $500 a year. Shortly thereafter, he suffered "depression of spirit" combined with failing health which led to his sudden death in 1838 at the age of 62. One account reported that he died "disillusioned, neglected, and forgotten." Historian Fred Waite noted that Dickinson died "leaving his accounts in a sorry mess." His body was returned to Amherst for burial. His oldest son, Edward Dickinson (Emily's father) was able to repurchase "the old Homestead" in 1855.

It is interesting to note that while Emily's life could be summed up as "born in Amherst, lived in Amherst, died in Amherst," her grandfather traveled widely and lived elsewhere in search of the financial security which eluded him. Unlike his famous granddaughter, Samuel Fowler Dickinson was not a reclusive type.

NOTE: The Emily Dickinson commemorative postage stamp was issued in 1971.