“All uncleanness seems washed clean in its lonely stretches; the life-giving sun and ardent air must still bring singular joy, the eager morning breeze, the opalescent distance, the plaintive evening sky all will continue to tell an exquisite if inarticulate story. That Tripoli will remain, whatever the Powers may decree.” - Mabel Loomis Todd, Tripoli the Mysterious
Mabel Loomis was born on November 10, 1856 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She spent much of her childhood writing, painting, and practicing voice and piano. In 1877, while living in Washington D.C., she met David Peck Todd. They married on March 5, 1879 and moved to Amherst in 1881 for David to take up a position at Amherst College teaching astronomy. There Mabel made the acquaintance of Austin Dickinson, Emily Dickinson's brother, and his wife Susan, and became a frequent guest at their home, the Evergreens. Todd often played the piano and sang for Emily Dickinson and her mother in their home next to the Evergreens. Besides Todd's long epistolary friendship with Emily, she also had a thirteen-year extra-marital affair with Austin. Two years after Emily Dickinson's death in 1886, her sister, Lavinia, brought Todd a portion of Emily's poetry and asked her to help publish them. Todd spent the next nine years organizing, transcribing, and editing hundreds of the poems. Her work was collected in three volumes, published in 1890, 1891 and 1896. Todd also collected Emily Dickinson's many letters to various correspondents in a two-volume set entitled Letters of Emily Dickinson, published in 1894.
In addition to editing and publishing several volumes of Emily Dickinson's poetry and letters, Todd produced some of her own literary work as well. In particular, she wrote several books detailing her travels with her husband. Total Eclipses of the Sun (1894) was based on the Todds' astronomical explorations, including trips to Japan to see the total eclipse of the sun. Corona and Coronet (1898) also dealt with her travels in Japan, while Tripoli the Mysterious (1912) reflected her time in Tripoli, Libya. She also published a short novel, Footprints, in 1883 and a book of poems, A Cycle of Sunsets, in 1910.
Mary Loomis Todd is best remembered as being the first collector and editor of the works of Emily Dickinson but she was also fundamental in establishing the Amherst Historical Society, the Amherst Woman's Club, and the Amherst chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Even following her death in 1932, Todd influenced the perceptions and availability of Emily Dickinson's poetry as her daughter, Millicent, continued to publish more of Emily Dickinson's poetry in 1945. If it were not for Todd's diligent work as a curator and editor of Emily Dickinson's poetry, the world may never have heard of the reclusive poet.
Mary Loomis Todd's home in Amherst is located at 90 Spring Street, although it was originally built for the Todds by Austin Dickinson in 1886 at 97 Spring Street and later moved. It was first Amherst house constructed in the Queen Anne architectural style. In 1898 there was a court trial between Lavinia Dickinson and the Todd couple, contesting Austin's intended gift to them of an additional strip of land. The Todds subsequently sold their home and moved to a different house on Snell Street. George B. Churchill bought the Todd home when he accepted a job to teach at Amherst College in 1898 and later shifted "The Dell" across to this site in 1907 in order to build a new house at 90 Spring Street (see house #8 on this tour).
Directions to Next Stop
Cross east on Spring Street for 0.01 miles to 97 Spring Street.