Sarah Albee: Emily! Is it Really You?

From: Sarah Albee
September 10, 2012 at 04:04AM

Last week, I heard news of a photograph that had surfaced in the town of Amherst, Massachusetts, that may be an authentic picture of Emily Dickinson, from 1859. Up until now, the only known picture of her is as a teenager, dated 1847. According to this article from Amherst College’s Archives and Special Collections, Susan Pepin, an Associate Professor of Surgery and Opthalmology at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, compared the famous 1847 picture many of us know:

with the new one, dated 1859. What do you think? Is the woman on the left, below, the same as the younger woman, above? I, for one, am convinced. If you dart back and forth quickly from one pair of eyes to the other, it’s hard not to conclude they’re the same pair of eyes.

Dr. Pepin agrees with me. “The two women have the same eye opening size with the right eye opening being slightly larger than the left. The left lower lid in both women sits lower than the right lower lid,’ Dr. Pepin wrote in a report. “Other similar facial features are evident between the women in the daguerreotypes. The right earlobe is higher on both women. The inferonasal corneal light reflex suggests corneal curvature similarity, allowing us to speculate about similar astigmatism in the two women. Both women have a central hair cowlick. Finally, both women have a more prominent left nasolabial fold.” Pepin concludes that she strongly believes the two women are the same.

What helped to ID Emily is that the friend on the right is more easily identified–more pictures of her exist. She’s thought to be someone named Kate Scott Turner, and in the picture above she’s wearing widow’s black, which, according to the article, “would have been appropriate following the May, 1857 death of her young husband, Campbell Ladd Turner.” (A side note that bears emphasizing–she’s still in mourning a full two years after her husband’s death. I’m going to do a follow up post about mourning wear.)

The article does admit that the dress worn by the woman on the left seems quite out of date for 1859. To our modern eye, it’s hard to see why her dress looks so very different from the dresses in the pictures below, but if you look closely, you’ll see these pictures, dated from the late 1850s to early 1860s, show different necklines, a much shorter bodice, and “bishop sleeves,” which were full sleeves gathered at the wrist. Emily’s is so last decade.

But the article goes on to quote a letter from 23-year-old Dickinson to friend Abiah Root in 1854, “I’m so old fashioned, Darling, that all your friends would stare.”


picture credits:
Emily Dickinson, University of Illinois at at Urbana-Champaign
Emily Dickinson and friend? 1859, courtesy of The Emily Dickinson Museum and the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections (used with permission)
unidentified woman, 1862 (Library of Congress LC-USZ6-2152)
unidentified woman (Library of Congress LC-USZC4-10208)
unidentified woman between 1855 – 1865 (Library of Congress LC-DIG-cwpbh-00835)
Detail from “Gen. George Custer and His Wife” 1860 – 1865 (Library of Congress LC-BH831-702B)

Posted on September 10, 2012, in Sarah Albee and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Sarah Albee: Emily! Is it Really You?.

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