Educated at the Friends’ Select School in Philadelphia (a Quaker school), Anna Elizabeth Dickenson (1842-1932) was an exceptionally brilliant student and eloquent speaker. At age 14, she had published an article in William Lloyd Garrison’s publication: “The Liberator”. Garrison was so impressed by her that he helped find her first speaking engagements. Lucretia Mott also assisted Dickenson’s career. By 19, she was already a featured speaker on abolition and women’s rights. She was known for her fiery and impassioned rhetoric which leaned into denunciation, criticism, and sarcasm. She was so popular that Benjamin Prescott, Chairman of the New Hampshire State Republican Committee, hired her to do a series of 20 lectures within the state. This led to even more speaking engagements in other states.
Her influence helped the Republicans win during the election of 1863. As a result, she was invited to address Congress. (Republicans were the progressive party at this time. They were for federal rights over state rights and upheld the Union in the Civil War.) At a time when women rarely spoke in public, 21-year-old Dickenson didn’t hold back. Over the course of 70 minutes, she was extremely critical of reconstruction efforts and felt that the South should be punished far more severely. She even criticized President Lincoln while he and the entire Congress sat in the audience.
Sadly, this was the pinnacle of her speaking career. After the war, her sharp tongue and avid criticism were less appreciated. She was active in the suffrage movement and friends with Susan B. Anthony but later moved on to being an actress and playwright. She wrote a novel called “What Answer?” in 1868 which featured a couple in an inter-racial marriage. She also became an avid mountain climber and was the second woman to summit Pike’s Peak. (The first was Fay Fuller WCW 11.)
As she got older, she showed signs of mental instability including having a nervous breakdown and attacking her sister with a pair of scissors. In 1891, her sister Susan reluctantly had her committed. Dickenson was released after four years. She moved to Goshen, New York to live with her friends, George and Sallie Ackley. Although she longed to return to her former speaker status, the public had moved on. She died in 1932 and was buried next to the Ackleys.
Her sister Susan Dickenson (1832-1915) was also part of the suffrage movement. She was a teacher and journalist in the coal regions of Pennsylvania. She wrote for "The New York Herald," "The New York Graphic", "The Philadelphia Press”, "Scranton Tribune", "The Scranton Times", "The Pittston Gazette", and "The Wilkes-Barre Record".
The Library of Congress has a digitally accessible collection of her papers