Modern Books & Manuscripts Collection


O.A. Bullard, artist. The Dickinson children. (Emily on the left). Oil on canvas, ca. 1840. Gift, Gilbert H. Montague, 1950.

The Emily Dickinson

Overview and History

   Image of poem

Wild Nights!—Wild Nights! Autograph manuscript, in fascicle 11, ca. 1861. MS Am 1118.3 (38b). Gift, Gilbert H. Montague, 1950.© President and Fellows of Harvard College.

The Houghton Library is renowned internationally for its holdings of the papers of nineteenth-century American writers, and many would say that the jewel in that crown is the Emily Dickinson Collection. Preserving more than a thousand autograph poems, and some 300 letters, by Emily Dickinson, it is the largest Dickinson collection in the world, including additionally such treasures as the poet’s Herbarium; the writing table and chair from her bedroom in Amherst, at which she wrote much of her poetry; the family library, including the poet’s Bible, and books by the Brontës, the Brownings, George Eliot, Emerson, Shakespeare, and more; and family papers that provide insight into the context of the poet’s life and work.

The heart of the collection is the forty hand-sewn manuscript books, or fascicles, into which the poet copied her poems (Houghton MS Am 1118.3).  These "copies of record" for the poem show the alternate word choices Dickinson might make as she copied these poems to send to friends.  Unfortunately, these fascicles were disbound by the poet’s earliest editors, and none survive as Dickinson left them, although in a few cases the thread used to sew the folded sheets together does survive. The collection also contains many poems on loose sheets, never sewn into fascicles; poems sent to friends and family, particularly to her sister-in-law Susan and her nephews and niece; and many letters, principally to members of her family.

The history of the dispersal of Emily Dickinson's manuscripts is a complicated one, and has been told in detail elsewhere (see the "Foreword" to Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium (2008)). The Houghton collection consists of those papers inherited by Martha Dickinson Bianchi, the poet’s niece, and bequeathed by her to Alfred Leete Hampson, her co-editor on several volumes of Dickinson’s poetry. As Hampson aged, he became concerned for the future of the collection, and wanted it to be available for research at a major university.  Gilbert Montague, a distant cousin of the Dickinsons and a collector, heard that Hampson wanted to sell the papers, and decided to purchase them and give them to his alma mater, Harvard. Thus, as with most of Harvard’s greatest library treasures, the Dickinson Collection came to Harvard in 1950 as the gift of Gilbert H. Montague "in happy memory" of his wife, Amy Angell Collier Montague.

Once at Harvard, and more easily accessible to scholars, the collection formed the basis for the standard publications in the field of Dickinson studies: Thomas Johnson, ed., The Poems of Emily Dickinson (1955); Thomas Johnson and Theodora Ward, eds., The Letters of Emily Dickinson (1958); Ralph Franklin, ed., The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Variorum Edition (1998).  Additionally, Harvard and Boston-area faculty use the Dickinson Collection regularly in teaching literary history and criticism, and creative writing; and it has been an indispensable resource for the many articles and monograph published on Dickinson yearly.

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The Dickinson Room


The Emily Dickinson Room, Houghton Library. William Morris, photographer. © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Located on the second floor of Houghton Library, the Dickinson Room displays family furniture (including the poet's writing table and chair), portraits, a portion of the family library, and a number of personal belongings closely associated with the poet.

The Dickinson Room is included in the public tour of Houghton Library offered every Friday at 2:00 p.m., and at other times by appointment if staff is available. Attendees on the Friday tour receive a general introduction to the library, followed by a tour of the Emily Dickinson, Amy Lowell, and John Keats rooms, as well as the Adam-style suite devoted to the Donald & Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Those wishing to take the tour should meet in the Houghton Library lobby.  Reservations are not required, and no fee is charged.

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Writing table used by Emily Dickinson. Cherry, pine (secondary wood), brass; maker unknown, ca. 1830. Dickinson Room. Gift, Gilbert H. Montague, 1950.

The Dickinson Collection is in high demand, and nineteenth-century materials are inherently fragile.  Researchers are required to use the facsimiles of Dickinson manuscripts and letters that are available. All poetry manuscripts are available online in color digital facsimile in the Emily Dickinson Archive as well as through the library's finding aids. The fascicles have also been published in facsimile. Dickinson's autograph letters are available in color digital facsimile in the Houghton Reading Room.

A few of the books in the Dickinson Family Library contain markings, and in 2010 the Library embarked upon a program to stabilize and digitize these fragile volumes.  The volumes are restricted because of their condition, and other copies of the same editions are held by the Houghton Library or in Widener Library.  Readers are expected to use these alternate copies.

Permission to consult the original manuscripts or letters by Emily Dickinson, or books from the Dickinson Library, must be approved in advance by the Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts, who can be reached by e-mail.  For general information about hours and rules for the Houghton Reading Room, see Using the Reading Room.

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Web-accessible Digital Resources

There is no single database that can be searched for on-line versions of material in the Dickinson Collection; both HOLLIS (for books and single manuscripts/objects) and OASIS (for collections) will help in locating material; and the list of major collections below has been annotated to indicate which have images, and whether access to those images is open or restricted to the Harvard network.  (While Dickinson’s poetry manuscripts are now available in open access, Dickinson’s letters are restricted.)

For access to images of Dickinson’s poetry manuscripts, see the Emily Dickinson Archive, below.

To obtain copies of images, and guidelines on use, please consult the Houghton Library’s Reproductions and Permissions page.

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Emily Dickinson Archive

Emily Dickinson Archive (EDA) is an open-access site that provides access to images of nearly all of Emily Dickinson’s extant poetry manuscripts. A collaborative effort across many institutions, EDA provides readers with images of manuscripts held in multiple libraries and archives, and also offers an array of transcriptions of Dickinson’s poems, and digital tools intended to foster exploration and scholarship.

Users of the site can browse images of manuscripts by first line, date, or recipient; turn the pages of and zoom into the manuscripts; search the full text of six editions of Dickinson’s poems; browse Emily Dickinson’s Lexicon, a resource indexing Dickinson’s word choices along with their contemporary definitions; and create an account to make notes on images, save transcriptions of poems, and create new editions of her poetry.

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Dickinson-related Collections at Houghton

The major collections are listed below.  For collections with finding aids, select the "Digital Content" tab at the top of the finding aid display to locate images quickly.

Autographed manuscript

Baffled for just a day or two [first line] Autograph manuscript, signed, [1860] MS Am 1118.2 (17a). Bequest, Theodora V. W. Ward, 1974.© President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Emily Dickinson

Poems and Letters
Poems (MS Am 1118.3) The fascicles, as well as poems on loose sheets, many addressed to Susan Dickinson and other family members. The appendix includes a useful concordance of Johnson numbers, Franklin numbers, and Houghton call numbers. Color digital facsimiles available in open access.

Letters and poems sent to the Austin Dickinson family (MS Am 1118.5) Johnson HCL B. Color digital facsimiles of poems available in open access; color digital facsimiles of letters by Emily Dickinson restricted to the Harvard network.

Poems and letters to Maria Whitney (MS Am 1118.10) Color digital facsimiles of poems available in open access; color digital facsimiles of letters by Emily Dickinson restricted to the Harvard network.

Letters to Josiah Gilbert Holland and Elizabeth Chapin Holland (MS Am 1118.2) Includes some poems. Color digital facsimiles of poems available in open access; color digital facsimiles of letters by Emily Dickinson restricted to the Harvard network.

Letters to Lucretia Gunn Dickinson Bullard (MS Am 1118.17) Complete color digital facsimiles available; access restricted to the Harvard network.

Letters to various correspondents (MS Am 1118.4) Johnson HCL L; also includes (L55) - (L64), letters to Abiah Root cited by Johnson as HCL ARS; and (L65), a letter to Jane Humphrey cited as HCL JH1.
Color digital facsimiles of poems available in open access; color digital facsimiles of letters by Emily Dickinson restricted to the Harvard network.

Miscellaneous papers (MS Am 1118.7) Includes materials that entered the Houghton collections after 1950. Largely letters (including Johnson HCL  SH and HCL Haven), but a few manuscripts, and the recipe for black cake. Color digital facsimiles of poems available in open access; color digital facsimiles of letters by Emily Dickinson restricted to the Harvard network.

Please note: Because of their extreme fragility, the following cannot be used in the original. All are available digitally, linked to their respective catalog records below.

Image of pressed flowers

"Oxeye-daisy" in Emily Dickinson. Herbarium, ca. 1839-1846. MS Am 1118.11. Gift, Gilbert H. Montague, 1950. © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Emily Dickinson.  Herbarium, ca. 1839-1846.  (MS Am 1118.11) Compiled by Dickinson when a student at Amherst Academy. Complete color digital facsimile available without access restrictions. Additionally, published in facsimile as: Emily Dickinson's Herbarium. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006. The Herbarium is searchable by both common (e.g. dandelion, lily) and scientific (e.g. Jasminum, Calendula) plant name.  Choose the "Search" tab at the upper left.  Once on a page, you can choose the tab "View text" to see the identification for all the specimens on a page.

Emily Dickinson.  Herbarium, [18--] (MS Am 1118.12) Unfinished; nothing is known of its history. Complete color digital facsimile available without access restrictions.

Dickinson, Emily, recipient.  Botanical specimens (MS Am 1118.13) Pressed botanical specimens sent to Dickinson, most of which are labeled with geographic locations in the Middle East. It is possible that some or all of the labeled specimens were sent to Dickinson by Abby Wood Bliss, a schoolmate from Amherst Academy, who went to the Middle East as a missionary wife in 1855. Complete color digital facsimile available without access restrictions.

Association Books
In addition to volumes in the Dickinson Family Library, the Library has three books from Thomas W. Higginson’s library associated with Emily Dickinson:

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882. Representative men: seven lectures.  (Boston: J. R. Osgood and company, 1876.)  Autographed by Mary Channing Higginson: MCH from Emily Dickinson - Christmas - 1876. Houghton call number: *AC85 D5605 Zz876e

Eliot, George, 1819-1880.  Daniel Deronda. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1876).  Volume 2 only. Houghton call number: *AC85 D5605 Zz876e2

Eliot, George, 1819-1880.  George Eliot's life as related in her letters and journals.  (New York: Harper & brothers, 1885) 3 v. Vols. 2 & 3 autographed: T.W. Higginson from Emily Dickinson, Cambridge, Mass., 1885.  With marginalia and notes by Higginson. Houghton call number: *AC85 D5605 Zz885e

Dickinson Family

Pressed flower image

"Cypress-vine" in Emily Dickinson. Herbarium, ca. 1839-1846. MS Am 1118.11. Gift, Gilbert H. Montague, 1950. © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Dickinson family, collector. Dickinson family artifacts (Dickinson Room) Portraits, furniture, jewelry, and household objects, many on display in the Dickinson Room. All objects have been photographed. Color digital facsimiles are available without access restrictions.

Dickinson family, collector.  Dickinson family library (EDR 1-565) The titles in the Dickinson family library are also listed in HOLLIS, and can be located by choosing the "Other call number" index and searching for "EDR."  Those records should be consulted for fuller bibliographic information than is found in the finding aid.

While some of these books contain markings, only a few can be directly associated with the poet. A few books from the Dickinson Family Library were not classed as EDR (see Houghton accessions *49-2604 through *49-2634). This oversight has been corrected (July 2010), and these titles are now EDR 566 through 589. Some volumes have been photographed. Color digital facsimiles are available without access restrictions.

Dickinson family. Dickinson family papers: Guide. (MS Am 1118.95) Some images available; no access restrictions.

Dickinson family.  Contracts and correspondence concerning publication of the works of Emily Dickinson (MS Am 1118.18) No images available.



Gilbert ("Gib") Dickinson. Cabinet card, undated. MS Am 1118.99b (25). Gift of Gilbert H. Montague, 1950.

Dickinson family photographs, ca. 1840-1940 (MS Am 1118.99b) Some images available; no access restrictions.

Graves, Louise B., collector. Reproductions of the Emily Dickinson daguerreotype.  (MS Am 1118.15) Shows the stages of alteration to the Amherst daguerreotype done by Laura Coombs Hills. No images available.


Allen, Mary Adèle. Correspondence concerning Emily Dickinson (MS Am 1118.6)

Bianchi, Martha Dickinson, 1866-1943. Letters to Theodore Longfellow Frothingham (bMS Am 1996)

Bianchi, Martha Dickinson, 1866-1943. Martha Dickinson Bianchi papers (MS Am 1118.96)  

Bianchi, Martha Dickinson, 1866-1943. Martha Dickinson Bianchi publication correspondence (MS Am 1118.97-1118.98)

Bowles, Samuel, 1826-1878. Samuel Bowles letters to Austin and Susan Dickinson (MS Am 1118.8)

Hampson, Alfred Leete, collector.  Correspondence concerning Emily Dickinson's papers (MS Am 1923)

Johnson, Thomas Herbert.  Correspondence with Theodora Van Wagenen Ward, 1950-1958.  (MS Am 2513)

Ward, Theodora Van Wagenen, b. 1890.  Notes and correspondence concerning Emily Dickinson (MS Am 2380)

Other individual items, such as silhouettes of the Dickinsons (MS Am 1118.14); a drawing of Susan Dickinson (MS Am 1118.9); and a transcript of the evidence given in the Dickinson-Todd trial (MS Am 2521); and manuscripts by friends of Dickinson such as Thomas Wentworth Higginson can be found through HOLLIS by searching under "Other call numbers" (e.g. MS Am 1118.14) or under the author's name, then limiting the search to "Manuscript" or "Visual" format material.

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Audio and Video

Related Photograph

Listen to Professor Helen Vendler: "Emily Dickinson and the Sublime"

(Introduction by Leslie Morris, Houghton Library) Thursday, March 31, 2011
65 minutes

Related Photograph

Baking with Emily Dickinson

Houghton Library staff members attempt to make Emily Dickinson's black cake using her original recipe. Read more on the Houghton Library blog
5:57 minutes

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Copyright and Permissions

For permission to quote from or reproduce from manuscript material of Dickinson, contact the Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts, Houghton Library.  For permission to quote from published editions of Dickinson's work that are still in copyright (such as the Johnson and Franklin editions of the poems) and for all commercial uses of Emily Dickinson texts on this website, write to the Permissions Department, Harvard University Press, 79 Garden St., Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, 02138-1499 or use their online form (HUP does not accept permissions requests by email or fax):

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Other Sites of Interest

   Emily Dickinson's Signature   

Signature from Emily Dickinson. Note and poems sent to Susan Dickinson, [early 1862] MS Am 1118.5 (B44). Gift, Gilbert H. Montague, 1950.


Emily Dickinson Museum: The Homestead and the Evergreens, Amherst, Massachusetts
The Emily Dickinson Museum comprises two historic houses associated with the poet and members of her family. The Homestead was the birthplace and home of Emily Dickinson.  The Evergreens, next door, was home to her brother Austin, his wife Susan, and their three children. The Museum's web site provides an excellent, information-rich introduction to the poet’s life and work.

Other Libraries
Letters, and the occasional poem, by Emily Dickinson can be found in many public and private collections. The list below provides a summary of the more substantial research collections.

Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst, Massachusetts
Next to Harvard, Amherst College holds the largest collection of manuscripts and letters by the poet. The Dickinson Collection includes original poems, manuscripts, and letters from Dickinson to family and friends; images of the poet, including the often-reproduced daguerreotype and a silhouette; physical artifacts related to Dickinson, including a lock of her hair; and more. A finding aid, Emily Dickinson Collection, is available.

Jones Library Special Collections, Amherst, Massachusetts
The Dickinson Collection consists of approximately 7,000 items, including original manuscript poems and letters, family correspondence, newspaper clippings, photographs, contemporary artwork and prints, and more. An Emily Dickinson Finding Aid is available.

Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection, Boston Public Library, Boston, Massachusetts
The collection includes Emily Dickinson’s letters to Thomas Wentworth Higginson. A guide for the Emily Dickinson Manuscripts is available.

John Hay Library, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
Includes the personal papers of Martha Dickinson Bianchi, the poet’s niece (including family and editorial correspondence, diaries, notes, worksheets, photographs, and other materials); the personal papers of Alfred Leete Hampson and his wife, Mary Landis Hampson (from whom the Houghton Dickinson Collection was purchased); and the 3,000 volume family library from "The Evergreens," the Austin Dickinson home in Amherst Massachusetts (of which Houghton's Dickinson family library was a part). The Barton Levi St. Armand Collection of Dickinson Family Papers (listed as “Dickinson Papers”) includes letters of Austin, Susan, and Ned Dickinson. A browsable list of collections is provided.

Yale University Library, Manuscripts and Archives, New Haven, Connecticut
The collection includes the papers of Mabel Loomis Todd, early editor of Emily Dickinson; her daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham, who gave the Dickinson manuscripts in the Todd family's possession to Amherst College; as well as Todd family photographs and memorabilia.

Research Resources (selected)

Image of Emily Dickinson's house

The Homestead. Photograph, undated. MS Am 1118.99b (79). Gift, Gilbert H. Montague, 1950.

Emily Dickinson Archive
Emily Dickinson Archive makes high-resolution images of Dickinson’s surviving manuscripts available in open access, and provides readers with a website through which they can view images of manuscripts held in multiple libraries and archives

Emily Dickinson Online
Quick and easy access to information about the poet, maintained by Dickinson biographer Connie Kirk.

Emily Dickinson Bibliography
Created and maintained by Donna Campbell, Washington State University.

Emily Dickinson Lexicon
Emily Dickinson Lexicon (EDL) is a searchable, comprehensive dictionary of over 9,275 words and variants found in the collected poems. Users who register by reading the site license and sign-in on the website have further access to citation examples and poem numbers from the Johnson and Franklin editions of Dickinson’s poems. There is no charge for registration. EDL is also available through the Emily Dickinson Archive

Dickinson Electronic Archives
A website produced by the Dickinson Editing Collective, it is concerned with the study of Emily Dickinson, her writing practices, writings directly influencing her work, and critical and creative writings generated by her work. The site includes some material from the Houghton Dickinson family papers, and a handful of Dickinson poems. Some portions of the site are restricted because of copyright laws.

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