The American orator and social activist, Anna Elizabeth Dickinson, was
born on this day in 1842. Today, she is most well-known as being the very first
woman to ever give a political address before the United State Congress.
Anna photographed by Mathew Brady sometime between 1855 and 1865 (x).
Anna Elizabeth Dickinson was born
on October 28, 1842 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a family of Quakers. The
members of her family were highly religious and staunchly abolitionist,
instilling in her values of equality from an early age. The Dickinson family
home was a stop on the Underground Railroad until her father died in 1844 and
the family was thrust into hard financial times. Anna’s mother, Mary, opened a
small school in their home and began taking in tenants in order to keep the
family afloat. Anna herself was educated at Friends Select School and Westtown
Anna’s first article was published
in William Lloyd Garrison’s famous abolitionist newspaper The Liberator when she was only 14-years-old. As a young adult, she
found work as a copyist and then as a teacher. She was also among the United
States Mint’s first woman employees. Her career as a lecturer came about from
her active position in the Methodist Church, which she had converted to as an adult. In the
1860s, she began touring the country to give speeches on everything from abolition,
to reconstruction, women’s rights, and temperance. She was often dubbed “The
Girl Orator” or “the Civil War’s Joan of Arc.” An avid writer as well, she also
wrote over 8 books and plays during her lifetime.
After the Civil War, Anna’s career
as public speaker continued to flourish. She became even more entrenched in
politics and found friendships with the premier suffragists of the day such as
Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony. She never married
and has been interpreted by several historians as having been a lesbian. Her particularly
close friendship with Susan B. Anthony has come under speculation for its
possibly romantic undertones; Anna’s nickname for Susan, as she addressed her
in all their letters, was “Chickie Dickie.” Although the true identity of the
other woman is unknown, Anna also had an undeniable romantic correspondence with
a woman name Ida for a portion of her life.
After being wrongfully committed
to an insane asylum by her sister, Anna filed and won a law suit against both
her sister and the newspapers who published the story in 1898. In her later years, Anna
lived with her lover Sallie Ackerly and Sallie’s husband George. She eventually
passed away due to cerebral apoplexy on October 22, 1932. Her grave lies near
Sallie Ackerly’s at Slate Hill Cemetery in Goshen, New York.