History's Women: The Arts: Anna E. Dickinson, Author and War-Time LecturerAnna E. Dickinson
Author and War-Time Lecturer
1842 – 1901 A.D.

Her father was a Philadelphia merchant and a devout Quaker. Her mother was of aristocratic family and of much refinement and nobility and character. The family was reduced to poverty. Anna was a restless, willful, and imaginative child, who caused all about her much anxiety.

Ambition and will power carried her over many hard places. Her more wealthy schoolmates made sport of her clothes. This stung her to more intense action. She read everything within her reach. For months she slept not more than five hours in the twenty-four. She had a passion for oratory, and on one occasion scrubbed a sidewalk for twenty-five cents that she might hear Wendell Phillips lecture on “The Lost Arts.”

Her fiery character is seen in the following incident: As she was about to accept a position as a teacher of a district school, the committeeman remarked in an insulting tone, “A man taught this school and we gave him twenty-five dollars a month; but we should not give a girl more than sixteen dollars.” In her wrathful price she answered, “Sir, are you are a fool, or do you take me for one? I am too poor to-day to buy a pair of cotton gloves, but I would rather go in rags than degrade my womanhood by accepting anything at your hands.” She was penniless and at last accepted a place as a saleswoman in a store, but soon gave that up because she was expected to misrepresent the goods.

In 1860 She made her first speech on “Woman’s Rights and Wrongs” before the Association of Progressive Friends.

She obtained a position in the new U.S. Mint, but after the battler of Ball’s Bluff she declared, “This battle was not lost through ignorance or incompetence, but through the treason of the commanding general.” For this she was dismissed.

From this time she turned to lecture the field and made her lecturing her profession. She was afterwards thankful for her discharge from the mint, though the way seemed dark at the time. In fact there were many other dark days. Few women have known greater trials or more splendid triumphs.

Early in 1863 she went to Concord, New Hampshire, to lecture. It was her last appointment for the season. She had no money and the only prospective income was the ten dollars promised her for the lecture. She had sought to find employment without success and was weary and disheartened.

But her lecture on “Hospital Life” was such a success that the Republican leaders said, “If we can get a girl to make that speech all through New Hampshire, we can carry the state ticket in the coming election.” On March 1st she began her tour of triumph, which ended in a Republican victory. The governor-elect made a personal acknowledgment that her magnetic, eloquent speeches had secured his election.

The tide had turned. Connecticut sought her. The cause of the party there seemed lost, but through her efforts victory was achieved. She was given one hundred dollars per night, and for her speech the night before election received four hundred dollars.

Everywhere there was a perfect furore [sic] to hear this gifted girl. She was called “The New Joan of Arc.”

She was next invited to Pennsylvania and sent into the mining region, because, as some one said, “no man dared go there to speak.” She was often assaulted with stones and rotten eggs, and received not one dollar for her services.

One of the greatest honors of her life was the invitation to speak in the Hall of Representatives. Here assembled to hear her one of the most notable audiences that ever met in Washington. It was composed of senators, representatives, foreign diplomats, the chief justice, the president, and Washington society generally. The proceeds of the lecture were over one thousand dollars and were devoted to the National Freedmen’s Relief Society.

One of her notable lectures, many times delivered after the close of the war, was “Woman’s Work and Wages.” On this she could speak with the burning eloquence of experience.

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Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.