Martha Nell Smith Helps Bring New Dickinson Photo to Light

September 13, 2012

Professor Martha Nell Smith has helped to confirm only the second known picture of Emily Dickinson, and the only picture of the reclusive poet as an adult. 

Emily Dickinson, 1859At a conference of the Emily Dickinson International Society this August, Martha Nell presented a newly discovered daguerreotype of Dickinson, the famously shy poet of whom only one picture was known to exist.  After receiving the photo from a collector (who wishes to remain anonymous), Martha Nell worked with Margaret Dakin, Archives and Special Collections Specialist at Amherst College, examining the scene in the 1859 daguerreotype for clues to confirm the identity of the two women depicted sitting side by side.  With the help of experts at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, who compared the facial structure and features of the Dickinson in the new photo with those of the younger Dickinson shown in the previously-known 1847 photo, Martha Nell and Dakin believe they have confirmed the exciting discovery.  Dickinson is likely joined in the image by Kate Scott Turner, known to be a close confidant (and possible lover).

While news of the photo has circulated in Dickinson circles recently, Martha Nell just this week posted news of the daguerreotyope on her website, the Dickinson Electronic Archives, where you can view the image and read more about the interdisciplinary and collaborative research behind the discovery.  Amherst College, where the original daguerreotype will be displayed, has also posted news of the photo's discovery on its website, including a video comparing the two Dickinson photos.  The find, along with the story of how it came to light, was immediately highlighted by national news outlets, including the Boston Globe, New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Guardian, to name a few.

And to add to all this excitement, the university's own Diamondback has published a feature story profiling Martha Nell's long relationship with Emily Dickinson, her prolific career as a Dickinson scholar, and the rich pleasure of discovery.