Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Emily Dickinson: The Honorary Housewife

When I was a college student I lived down the street from Emily Dickinson's house on Main St. in Amherst, MA. The poetess lived in the stately colonial home in the 19th century, and much like many housewives, she didn't want to leave it ...

Emily Dickinson, though she had gentleman callers and a rumored engagement, never married. There is rumor that her father intervened and broke off an early relationship of hers, one that might have resulted in marriage. But she was very much like what a housewife would be today: have some schooling under her belt and a love for household pastimes.

The Kitchen at The Evergreens
Kitchen goods at the Emily Dickinson house
Ms. Dickinson spent 7 years at Amherst Academy and 1 year at what is now Mount Holyoke College. One of her favorite subjects was botany. After this schooling she came home and immersed herself in the running of the Dickinson household.

She loved especially baking breads and sweets, and tending to her garden -- a garden that was renown in her small town for its beauty and color.

Ms. Dickinson wrote the following to her female friend, Abiah Root in 1845:

"I am going to learn to make bread to-morrow. So you may imagine me with my sleeves rolled up, mixing flour, milk, salaratus, etc., with a great deal of grace. I advise you if you don’t know how to make the staff of life to learn with dispatch.” 
- Emily Dickinson

And like many housewives who draw, paint, or sew, Emily also had an artistic hobby, which was writing poetry. Emily spent many years writing thousands of poems, with only a handful published in her lifetime. As Ms Dickinson's years went on she did not like to leave the house, although she would take visitors. I can very much relate to this, although I don't like answering the knocks at the front door when I'm not expecting anyone to come by. Why must I disturb my peaceful solitude with my husband for an external need?

I like to read about Emily Dickinson because I am very much a homebody, a baker, and a gardener. I also was an English major who read her poems and lived down the street from her home. I often think of what it was like to live in the 1850s to late 1800s in small town New England. Emily Dickinson is as close as I'll ever get.

Do you have any literary idols or people from history you relate to?


Pamela Terrell said...

Great read! I avoid leaving the house too. I have a BA degree in Sociology, have been in the Army, worked as an insurance agent for over 12 years, and I currently take classes at the local university in Information Technology. It's only part time. I haven't worked since 2013 and I enjoy staying at home now. I think I might try to make some bread today. Thank you!

The Quaint Housewife said...


You have a wide breadth of knowledge and experience. Home is so cozy and the outside can be hostile, so I prefer home sweet home like you. I wonder what kind of bread you're making. I miss the academic world sometimes. When I was a community college student my classes were $69 a credit. If I could go that cheap today I might.

Thanks for commenting :)


Mrs. WMC said...

Yes. I feel like home is a world unto itself... I never get bored. There is always something wonderful to do. I will be retiring from teaching in a few months and I look forward to immersing myself in the home arts.

The Quaint Housewife said...

Mrs. WMC,

Congratulations on your forthcoming retirement. I agree, never a reason to be bored!


becky said...

Hope you are doing well-haven't heard from you in awhile.
Enjoying the cold days inside with a fire and eating soup.:)

The Quaint Housewife said...


This sounds delicious and cozy. My learning-disabled older brother has now moved in with us. So we are settling him in. Will post soon!



A.L. Bee said...

It’s so nice to come across this blog. I, like Pamela, was in the military and in admin/IT. After over a decade all around the world, I am tired. I worked after I separated, but even with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology as well, I wasn’t earning a fraction of what my husband does (without a degree). I take care of everything, even yard work. His job is to go to work and come home. It works for us. Family often asks if I’m working, gets snarky and asks if he’s working. They don’t understand it. We don’t need brand new cars and expensive vacations and all the other things I see people spending their hard earned money on. Live within our means and have a partnership. I felt so much guilt the first year it was hatd to enjoy it. Into my 2nd year and I’m learning the value in what I do. I imagine spending my time at work again for peanuts and neglecting my home and good meals. Too hard to balance, too much to sacrifice.

The Quaint Housewife said...

AL Bee,

Welcome to my blog! It's nice that you're beginning to see all the value in what you do in the home. People don't realize how much consumerism makes them "need" to earn more. Like you, we are keeping our old truck and have about 8 months to pay it off. For now, if we feel we need a vacation we just look into local resources for recreation. I did just a little traveling when I was younger. Even at 42 I just like to be inside at home more than anything.

I am glad you don't feel guilty anymore. Relish the freedom of your homestead :)