Uncovering the 'Mystery Poet'

In this latest installment of MHC's Questioning Authority series, Christopher Benfey provides some insight into the recent discovery of a 19th-century daguerrotype that experts believe portrays the reclusive poet as a mature woman. The only other known image of the poet was taken when she was about 17 years old and a student at MHC.

Benfey, MHC's interim dean of faculty, is an Emily Dickinson scholar and has written frequently about the poet.

The image, which was acquired in 1995 by an anonymous collector at an estate sale in Springfield, was analyzed by Dr. Susan Pepin, an ophthalmologist at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. Pepin said she believes the woman in the daguerrotype is Dickinson. 

Other experts, including historians at the Emily Dickinson Museum and specialists at the Archives and Special Collections at Amherst College, have found strong evidence that the image is an authentic one of Dickinson and her friend, Catherine Scott Turner.