Emily Dickinson’s poetry topic at recent Sesame Club meeting


The Sesame Club members met recently at the home of Bonnie McClure.

She and her husband, Gary, grow and show daffodils and bouquets of many varieties filled every room. Twenty-three members attended.

President Donna Davis chaired the business meeting. New officers were elected for the 2013-2014 season and will assume their duties after the May meeting. Those elected were Bonnie McClure, president; Diana Millenbaugh, vice president; Julia Beckham, secretary; JoAnn McGeorge, treasurer; Ann Smith, corresponding secretary; Donna Davis, parliamentarian; and LaNelle Roberts, press secretary.

Mary Fox presented the program on Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, the poet for this month in the continuing series on “Poets and Poetry.”

Dickinson was born in 1830, in Amherst, Mass., to a prominent local family of lawyers and politicians. The family home, called the Homestead, was built in 1813 by her grandfather, Samuel Dickinson, the founder and president of Amherst College. Her father, Edward was the treasurer for the college for many years, and also served many terms as a state legislator, and finally represented the Hampshire district in the United States Congress.

Edward and his wife, Emily Norcross Dickinson, had three children — a son, William Austin, then Emily Elizabeth, and lastly another daughter, Lavinia Norcross. Edward wanted all of his children to be well-educated and Emily and Lavinia began school together following their brother, in 1840, at Amherst Academy, two years after it began admitting female students.

Emily’s education was ambitious for a Victorian girl. She studied English, classical literature, Latin, botany, geology, history and arithmetic. Described as “very bright” and an “excellent scholar,” she was fondest of her literature and botany courses. After finishing seven years at Amherst Academy, she attended Mary Lyon’s Mount Holyoke Female Seminary for 10 months. It is not known why she left Mount Holyoke.

She returned to Amherst and took up household activities. She loved cooking, baking and gardening. She said her sister Lavinia did the housekeeping and cleaning. Their mother fell into ill health and both sisters shared in her care. Neither daughter ever married. When their brother married Emily’s close girl friend, Susan Gilbert, their father had a home built for William and his bride on property adjoining the Homestead. William named his home Evergreen. These two homes now make up the Emily Dickinson Museum, at Amherst. William went on to study law at Harvard and joined his father’s law practice. He eventually took over the duties of treasurer of Amherst College from his father.

The residents of Amherst thought Emily to be an eccentric and reclusive old maid who usually dressed all in white. Relatives found her fun loving, entertaining, and good at making gingerbread.

Though she was not often out in society, she was busy writing to friends and acquaintances. Over 1,049 of her letters have been recovered over the years. Many of these letters contained poems reflecting her love of literature and botany. Her most productive writing years were in the early 1960’s. During that period she composed most of the 1,775 poems which she wrote over her lifetime. After her sister’s death in 1886, Lavinia found many letters and hand bound copies of Emily’s original poems in a trunk. Only a very few poems were published in Emily’s lifetime. Today she is considered a very special American poet because of her originality and genius.

At the conclusion of her program, Fox presented to each member a hand-bound packet of Emily Dickinson’s poems, along with a gift box containing homemade gingerbread.

Hostesses Diane Ayres and McClure served warm apple dumplings with vanilla ice cream, fresh fruit and roasted pecans. Each lady was given a bouquet of daffodils to take home as they departed.

The next meeting will be March 26.