Jun 3rd, 2009 by houghtonmodern
In 1861, President Lincoln signed a bill making the United States Sanitary Commission into a government agency. Organized by thousands of women volunteers across the country, the commission succeeded in raising almost twenty five million dollars during the course of the Civil War, and worked to cut the disease rate of the Union Army in half.*
In early 1864, the USSC held a “Sanitary Fair” in Brooklyn and Long Island to raise money for their efforts. The group published a daily newspaper titled The Drum Beat from 22 February to 5 March, with an extra issue on 11 March 1864. The paper was professionally edited, illustrated, and printed, included work by leading writers and artists, and sold nearly 6000 copies per day at the fair and by subscription. While an interesting example of a Civil War publication in its own right, the newspaper holds special significance for our collection at Houghton.
In the March 2, 1864 issue, an unsigned poem titled “Flowers” (“Flowers – Well – if anybody”) appeared. A poem titled “Sunset” (“Blazing in Gold and quenching in Purple”) was published February 29, and “October” (“These are the days when the birds come back”) appeared March 11. It was not until 1984 that scholar Karen Dandurand** attributed these poems to Emily Dickinson. The Drum Beat was edited by the Reverent Richard Salter Storrs, Jr., a graduate of Amherst College and acquaintance of Emily’s brother Austin Dickinson. Dandurand believes that Dickinson voluntarily contributed these poems to the war effort, perhaps through her brother, perhaps on her own. (Prior to this discovery, scholars believed Dickinson felt ambivalent towards the Civil War, and gave up seeking publication of her work following numerous rejections.)
*See http://www.forttejon.org/ussc/ussc.html for more information on the USSC.
** See Dandurand, “New Dickinson Civil War Publications,” American Literature 56.1 (March 1984), p. 17.
US 6090.33. From the bequest of Evert Jansen Wendell, 1918. Houghton Library, Harvard University.