What do you know about Mabel Loomis Todd?
For the majority of those who know her name, she is primarily associated with Amherst as the editor of Emily Dickinson’s poems and letters and her long-term relationship with Emily’s brother Austin. While true to fact, these details miss the spirit of a woman intensely involved in this community from her arrival in 1881 until the Todds moved to Florida in 1917. Those who knew her remembered “her vividness, her love of beauty, her ceaseless activity and her joy in the things she did, what she was is undoubtedly more than anything she did,” recalled her daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham, in Mabel Loomis Todd: Her Contributions to the Town of Amherst, our guide for this exhibition.
Love of beauty certainly was a dominant trait. But there was another that had in it perhaps more drive, one which everyone who knew her felt and realized, and that was her joy in living. It fused every experience, however spectacular, however obscure, into vitality…an abounding joie de vivre which no slings and arrows of outrageous fortune could quench or dim…She had as much fresh enthusiasm for chaperoning each promenade, each cotillion, as for a new expedition to an unknown country. She loved to use her powers and to see results, of course. But she had besides a tireless zest for just living, and enjoying.
With this exhibit, we are taking the opportunity to present a wider view of Mabel Loomis Todd’s role in Amherst life, one that showcases her as an independent woman and extremely driven individual. We intend to tell her story on her own terms. She had a complex relationship with this town. Her role in Amherst is defined today predominantly by her interactions with the Dickinson family. Those events occurred during the first half of the time she lived here from 1881 to 1898 and served as the springboard for, but did not dominate, her Observatory House time from 1898-1917. From the 1890s on, she worked to construct her Amherst legacy, a legacy that includes her writings, lectures, and activity within social clubs.
This exhibit was created with the research and assistance of Dr. Julie Dobrow, author of the upcoming book Outside Emily’s Door: Mabel Loomis Todd, Millicent Todd Bingham and the Making of America’s Greatest Poet, and Emma John, Hampshire College intern.