A question I understandably keep getting as I give talks and do book readings is what, exactly, in my background prepared me to write a biography of Mabel and Millicent? I like to respond that most of the fields in which I’ve gotten degrees (anthropology and sociology, communications and media studies) taught me something about doing research and how to ask good questions. A lot of the coursework I did in women’s studies involved learning about what makes women’s history a vibrant field, and I’ve done a lot of archival research as part of this. My professional journeys in journalism have shown me how to write a good story in what I hope are compelling ways. Even my academic appointment in a department of child study and human development has been useful in learning about some of the complicated psychology and family issues that go into mother/daughter relationships. But today I’d like to focus on how another part of my professional life prepared me to tell Mabel’s story, in particular, and that is my work as a senior fellow at the Tisch College of Civic Life.
If you look at the Tisch College website , you’ll see that it’s a unique institution with a unique mission: to “prepare students for a lifetime of engagement in civic and democratic life, to study civic life and its intersections with public and private institutions, and to promote practices that strengthen civic life in the United States and around the world.” We do this through a blend of offering classes, sponsoring events, working with community partners and student groups across the university – as well as national and international organizations – to assist students in developing a rich variety of ways to be active citizens in their worlds. I’ve had the great privilege of working at Tisch College for a number of years in a variety of capacities. It’s one of the most rewarding things that I do.
When I first started researching the life of Mabel Loomis Todd, I quickly discovered that my work at Tisch College also came in handy. Because Mabel was an incredibly active citizen, engaged in an astonishing array of civic activities in the town of Amherst and beyond. I write about this in After Emily in some detail, and I’ve written a separate article about Mabel’s civic work that was published in the Historical Journal of Massachusetts.
One of the organizations Mabel was involved with getting off the ground was the Amherst Woman’s Club. This organization, which began with a group of women meeting to discuss the need to form a club for women to gather to discuss their interests in “literary, scientific, musical, historical and other topics of vital importance,” along with community service, was incorporated as an organization in 1903. Today it continues to be a vital part of the Amherst and western Massachusetts community.
The volunteer work I’ve done in my own community and the professional work I’ve done through Tisch College truly helped me understand not only Mabel’s impulse to be civically engaged in her world, but also its various manifestations in her personal and professional life. And I’m enormously pleased and excited that the event I’m going to be doing on December 2, sponsored by the Emily Dickinson Museum, in partnership with the Amherst Historical Society, will be held at the Amherst Woman’s Club (https://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/Dobrow). It seems a most appropriate venue!