America's Joan of Arc: The Life of Anna Elizabeth Dickinson

America's Joan of Arc: The Life of Anna Elizabeth Dickinson

America's Joan of Arc: The Life of Anna Elizabeth Dickinson

America's Joan of Arc: The Life of Anna Elizabeth Dickinson

Synopsis

One of the most celebrated women of her time, a spellbinding speaker dubbed the Queen of the Lyceum and America's Joan of Arc, Anna Elizabeth Dickinson was a charismatic orator, writer, and actress, who rose to fame during the Civil War and remained in the public eye for the next three decades. In America's Joan of Arc, J. Matthew Gallman offers the first full-length biography of Dickinson to appear in over half a century. Gallman describes how Dickinson's passionate patriotism andfiery style, coupled with her unabashed abolitionism and biting critiques of antiwar Democrats--known as Copperheads--struck a nerve with her audiences. In barely two years, she rose from an unknown young Philadelphia radical, to a successful New England stump speaker, to a true national celebrity. At the height of her fame, Dickinson counted many of the nation's leading reformers, authors, politicians, and actors among her friends. Among the dozens of famous figures who populate the narrativeare Susan B. Anthony, Whitelaw Reid, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Gallman explores her many public triumphs, but also discloses how, as her public career waned, she battled with her managers, her critics, her audiences, and her family (in 1891, her sister had her committed briefly to an insane asylum). Equally important, the author highlights how Dickinson's life illuminates the possibilities and barriers faced by nineteenth-century women, revealing how their behavior could at once be seen as worthy, highly valued, shocking, and deviant. A vivid portrait of a remarkable nineteenth-century woman, this book captures Dickinson's amazing public career and the untold stories that shaped her stormy private life.

Excerpt

When six men broke down her bedroom door on a blustery February day in 1891, they found Anna Elizabeth Dickinson sitting on the floor surrounded by leather-bound scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, and stacks of correspondence. Throughout her celebrated life, the famed orator, author, and actress had kept her scrapbooks with painstaking care, filling page after page with accounts of her lectures, reviews of her books and plays, and assorted published rumors about her personal and public affairs. Scathing critiques and fawning praise sat side by side on the page, testament to her belief in the power of a balanced story, and perhaps in her conviction that history would judge her favorably so long as the record was complete. Dickinson’s scrapbooks and clippings comprised the narrative of a distinctly public life, or—to be more precise—they represented her life story as told by the men and women of the press.

And what a life it had been. By the time she was in her early twenties Anna Dickinson was among America’s most famous women, having established herself as one of the nation’s leading orators. Dubbed “America’s Joan of Arc” for her youth and fiery passion in the midst of war, Dickinson successfully stormed the male-dominated bastion of partisan politics, becoming a leading stump speaker for the Republican Party even while maintaining a radical critique of the relatively moderate Lincoln administration. After the Civil War she became a star of the lyceum circuit and one of the country’s most widely recognized and oft-photographed celebrities. While other public speakers turned to light fare, Dickinson remained a powerful radical voice, challenging popular attitudes on gender, race, and class, while rubbing shoulders with the nation’s celebrated suffragists and reformers. When she could no longer earn a living on the platform, Dickinson turned to the stage as both playwright and actress, eventually trying her hand at a series of male roles. Even when her theatrical career floundered, Dickinson commanded . . .

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