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Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson was an American writer, poet, traveler, and editor. She was the sister-in-law of poet Emily Dickinson.

Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson’s Family

Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson was born December 19, 1830, in Old Deerfield, Massachusetts, the youngest of six children born to Thomas and Harriet (Arms) Gilbert. She was orphaned by the time she was eleven years old after her mother died in 1837 and her father in 1841. Susan lived with her aunt, Sophia (Arms) Van Vranken, in Geneva, New York, until the late 1840s.  She then lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, with her sister Harriet and brother-in-law William Cutler. In Amherst, she attended Utica Female Academy and Amherst Academy for one semester in the fall of 1847.

Susan was a childhood friend of the famous poet, Emily Dickinson, who introduced her to her brother, William Austin Dickinson. William was an American lawyer born on April 16, 1829, to Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross. William & Susan announced their engagement on Thanksgiving Day in 1853. They married three years later in the Van Vranken home on July 1, 1856. They had 3 children: Edward (Ned) Dickinson, Martha (Mattie or Mopsy) Dickinson, and Thomas (Gib) Gilbert, born in 1861, 1866, and 1875 respectively.

After a time, Austin and Susan’s marriage gradually deteriorated, and in the fall of 1882, Austin began a thirteen-year affair with Mabel Loomis Todd that caused great rancor and bitterness within the family. Then, in the fall of 1883, eight-year-old Gib died of typhoid fever. The child’s death crippled both houses, leaving Susan desolated and ill for weeks.

Susan had become close friends with Emily Dickinson in 1850 and they bonded over their shared love of books and philosophy. The relationship between Emily and Susan is portrayed in the film Wild Nights with Emily and explored in the TV series Dickinson. Both depictions were heavily influenced by the research of Martha Nell Smith, one of the first scholars to theorize that Susan was the love of Emily’s life. Their intimate correspondence, occasionally interrupted by periods of seeming estrangement, nevertheless lasted until Emily died in 1886. Susan died from heart disease on May 12, 1913.

Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson’s Net Worth

Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson wrote essays, reviews, journals, poems, letters, and memorials constantly throughout her life. Her net worth is not known but it can be said that she must have earned a lot through her successful writing career. She produced commonplace books and scrapbooks of her own publications in the Springfield Republican, as well as clippings about admired figures such as Queen Victoria. She was viewed as the “most graceful woman in Western Massachusetts.”

Besides publishing critical pieces and stories, Susan also published poems. Her writing suggests she had a profound appreciation of nature. In the Evergreens, John F. Kensett’s Sunset with Cows (1856) bears Susan’s name on the back, and in one of her manuscript poems, she wrote -“I’m waiting but the cows not back.”