Mabel Loomis Todd – Dickinson’s editor

Mabel Loomis Todd - Dickinson's editor
There are two women who made it possible for the rest of the world, to read the work of Emily Dickinson. Her sister, Lavinia, and Mabel Loomis Todd. Who was this Mabel?

There are two women who made it possible for the rest of the world, to read the work of Emily Dickinson. Her sister, Lavinia, and Mabel Loomis Todd. Who was this Mabel?


Mabel Loomis Todd was born on November 10, 1856, in Cambridge (Massachusetts, US). She was the daughter of Mary Alden Wilder and Eben Jenks Loomis. During her childhood, she spent most of her time in boardinghouses, due to financial difficulties that her family was experiencing. She was able to study at the Georgetown Seminary (Washington DC). When she graduated, she was admitted to the New England Conservatory in Boston. She studied Music at this conservatory.

In 1877, she met the astronomer David Peck Todd and the two of them got married two years later. She gave birth to a daughter, Millicent. Her marriage did not stop her from exploring her sexuality.

In 1881 the Todd family moved to Amherst. Her husband was appointed as an Astronomy professor at Amherst College. Her she met Austin Dickinson, who was married at that time. They started an affair and kept a lively correspondence with each other. This included a code to make sure no one was able to find out the two of them were corresponding. Their secret wasn’t well kept because many people knew about this affair.

The affair did not affect the relationship between Austin and David, as they were good friends. Austin’s wife Susan also knew about this affair but wanted to keep things as they were. After his death in 1895, his mistress kissed his body farewell.

The impact of this infidelity had a great impact on Susan Dickinson. It is not unthinkable, that she discussed this with Emily at one point.

Mabel Loomis Todd - Dickinson's editor
Mabel Loomis Tod in 1897.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The editor

Given the fact that Mabel Loomis Todd was involved in a relationship with her brother, Emily would have opposed to the fact that Mabel became the editor of her work. During her life, she never met Mabel during her life, but they did communicate with each other. Dickinson and Todd communicated through letters.

This correspondence between Emily and Mabel contained some important details of how the poetess lived her life. At one moment, she told that she did not leave her house for fifteen years.


At one point, Lavina made the decision to leave the poems that Dickinson wrote untouched. Most of her letters, she burned according to the last wish of Dickinson. Lavinia decided to grant one last wish of her deceased sister: to publish her poems. The first person she turned to, was Susan Dickinson. She was unable to complete the project and then Lavinia decided that this was a job for Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson.


The choice to go for Todd and Higginson as editors left the world with the first edition of poetry written by Emily Dickinson. Unfortunately, there were a lot of alterations made by Todd. The first collection of her poetry included modified poems. Higginson tried to do his best to undo these changes in the second edition that was published in 1891. Because Todd was persistent to keep on publishing the altered versions, Higginson decided to end the collaboration. After this, Todd released two books: a collection of letters in 1894 and the third series of poems in 1896. She did listen to Higginson, as she tried to make as fewer alterations as she thought was good. This left the world with a series of poetry that was written by Dickinson but altered by Todd.


Things became strange – to say the least – when Todd continued what she was doing and one of the nieces of Emily decided to take matters into her own hand. Martha Dickinson Bianchi decided to do something with the inherited poems. She inherited these from her mother Susan. This legacy did not contain the poems that were already in possession of Todd. Bianchi turned to Alfred Leete Hampton and they decided to publish a new poetry collection in 1931.


The dispute between the two families continued, even after the death of Todd (October 14, 1931), when daughter Millicent decided to publish more of the altered versions of Todd.


Mabel Loomis Todd’s motifs to alter the poems of Dickinson are unclear. Probably, she felt the need to make sure that everyone was able to understand the words that were trusted to her. She also felt the need to get the work of Dickinson known to more people. She gave many lectures about Emily Dickinson. However, if the marriage of Austen wasn’t troubled by his infidelity, what would have become of the total legacy of Dickinson?


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