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Meet Anna Elizabeth Dickinson, a protagonist in That Dickinson Girl by @womenwewrite #histfic #books

My name is Anna Elizabeth Dickinson, and I was born in 1842. I bet you’ve never heard of me? But once, I was the most famous woman in America. But that was a long time ago during the Civil War.

When I was sixteen, I stood up at a debate on women’s rights and made such a strong argument that the man on the platform fled the hall in defeat, and I was written up in the newspaper. I was thrilled!

By the time I was eighteen, I was speaking out against slavery in cities and towns across the Union. By the time I was twenty, I was called America’s Joan of Arc and a Shining Star. My photo circulated everywhere. It was even printed on tea bag labels.

When and where were you happiest?

I was always happiest when I was speaking to a crowd, and they became enraptured. I loved when they sighed and laughed and clapped at the right moments. I was thrilled when they rose and gave me a thunderous ovation. When I was on the stage, I became powerful and adored, loved and admired. I became the Woman of the Hour.

That was a grand happiness. Would that I could have found the same in the arms of the woman I loved.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement was speaking to President Lincoln and the Congress in January of 1864. The Union was on the verge of winning the war and the question of slavery had to be addressed. For one moment in time, I held the attention of every powerful man in the country, me, a mere snip of a girl, and they had to listen to me.

What is your motto?

If you asked for my autograph, this is what I would write: “The world belongs to those that take it.” And I believe that.

My family wasn’t wealthy or important. My mother was a widow who supported my three brothers and my sister and I by tutoring. As soon as I was old enough, I worked, first as a teacher, then a hatmaker, and then at the Philadelphia Mint. But I was not satisfied. Men were paid more. Men were listened to more. Men tried to keep me in place.

So, despite the fact I suffered terrible stage fright, I got up on that platform and spoke loud and strong. I challenged the status quo. I ignored the evil things they called me. And I did it. I became the most well-known, richest woman in America. For a time.

What is your greatest fear?

To be forgotten -- Wiped from the history books.

As I have been. And why?

After my hard work, my sacrifice, and all the acclamation, Anthony has survived and I have not. It is her name that is shouted from the pages of the history books. It is she who children read about as one of the great American women of all times. All she demanded was the vote, and she didn’t get it in her lifetime.

I fought for so much more. I demanded justice for the freed slaves and the working man, women’s equality in wages, rights for Chinese immigrants, and always due respect for women. Maybe those things didn’t happen in my lifetime either. But my voice was worthy of remembrance too.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Woman or man—I admire the same qualities...

First of all, truthfulness. Without truth, only suspicion can grow. Where there is suspicion, you lose the trust of those who love you. Without trust, love wizens away, and you are left alone.

Secondly, loyalty. I may have been maligned in my later years, but I was always loyal to my family and to my commitments. When my family was in need, I gave them all I had. When the woman I loved left me, I suffered. Can you blame me if I expected loyalty from them in return?

Thirdly, perseverance. No matter how many times I was bullied or snubbed or made fun of, I have kept my eyes on my goal. And I have accomplished much. I was the Queen of the lecture circuit. I traveled the length and breadth of the country from Boston, Hub of the World, to San Francisco’s Chinatown. I was among the first women to climb to the peaks of the Rockies. Mt. Dickinson is named after me.

I have written books. I have written and performed in plays and performed Hamlet, a man’s role, on Broadway. I have stood up to the press to stop their vile slander and won in court. No mean feat for a woman of my day.

But all that came after.

In That Dickinson Girl, you will find me young, unsure, and despite my shell of arrogance, prone to making mistakes, especially in love.

Thank you, Anna, for the insightful interview. It’s been such a thrill for me to get to know you and your story better. Readers, please scroll down to read all about this fascinating book…

Title That Dickinson Girl

Author Joan Koster

Genre Biographical Historical Fiction/LBGT Romance

Publisher Tidal Waters Press

Book Blurb

Two girls. A war. A quest for fame. A broken heart.

Eighteen-year-old Anna Dickinson is nothing like the women around her, and she knows it. Gifted with a powerful voice, a razor-sharp wit, and unbounded energy, the diminutive curly-head sets out to surpass the men of her day as she speaks out against slavery and for women’s rights. Only two things can bring her downfall—the entangling love she has for her devoted companion, Julia, and an assassin’s bullet.

Forced to accompany the fiery young orator on her speaking tour of New England, Julia Pennington fights her growing attraction to Anna while protecting her from the onslaught of the press. When a traitor sets out to assassinate Anna, Julia must risk her life to save the woman she loves.

Loosely based on the life of forgotten orator, feminist, and lesbian, Anna Dickinson, That Dickinson Girl is the story of one woman’s rise to fame and fortune at the expense of love during the political and social turmoil of the American Civil War.

That Dickinson Girl, longlisted for the Mslexia Novel Award and is a Finalist in the Romance for the Ages Contest.


Chapter 2 except

In front of the red-brick colonial row house she called home, Anna let go of Julia and stepped up on the stoop. She glanced back at the two Pennington girls. The younger one was puffing, and the older one looked like she’d never forgive her for dragging her where she didn’t want to go.

She’d done it again, acted the dictatorial general that her brothers were always accusing her of being. What would her family think of these two lost birds in their bedraggled clothing? Well, one was injured. That should keep them too kind to pry.

With a roll of her shoulders, she set her fingers on the brass handle, pressed the lever down, and pushed in the door, revealing the long tunnel of hallway, fusty with years of close living.

In the kitchen at the back end of the house, the Irish girl cursed in Gaelic, dishes clattered, and the aroma of the dinner’s stew wafted down the corridor. Anna exhaled the breath she’d been holding deep in her chest. She was home. Everything would be all right.

Behind her, Julia started to shuffle away, but Anna grasped an elbow. She couldn’t let her unwilling guest leave yet. Not until she had scratched out her secrets. A mill girl aspiring to send her sister to medical school? Extraordinary.

“There’s a horsecar.” The Pennington girl tugged her arm free and pointed. “Maybe we can catch it.”

Anna shielded her eyes from the sun and peered down the street. “Better yet, a cabbie is dropping off a patient at the Longshores’ house.”

“We can’t afford a cab. Our rooms are down in Southwark on Fitzwater.”

“Today, you can. You cannot walk on that ankle. I will cover the fare. Gracie, run down there and see if he is free.” She wrapped an arm around Julia. “Come. Put your foot up at least for a few minutes.” She tugged Julia up the low step and into the hallway. The light of the transom over the door illuminated the trepidation on the mill girl’s face, a fleck of blood on her lip. Anna could see the girl was beside herself. A friend would let her go.

But they weren’t friends.


Anna stretched behind her and closed the door. The latch caught and clicked into place, the sound magnified in the narrow hall.

She rested her hand on the thin waist. “Please relax. Rest a few minutes. That’s all I ask.”

Her unwilling guest slowed before the tarnished hall mirror. Her hands flew up. “Oh, but I can’t. My bonnet’s crushed. My hair’s coming down. I can’t meet your family like this. I’ll wait here. Gracie won’t be long.”

“Nonsense. You must get off that foot before you do more damage. Here, just take the bonnet off.” Before Julia could protest, she loosed the bow then lifted off the hat.

She tossed it onto the ancient pillar table with its chipped marble edge and stared. The once-tight knot of a bun at the back of Julia’s neck had slipped free. Tendrils hung down, slightly curled at the ends, forming a wreath of red around the pale, oval face. Not carrot-red like an Irish beggar boy’s, but deep ruby with copper highlights. Far too magnificent for a half-starved mill girl. No wonder she hid it under a broad-brimmed hat.

She caught a curl that had fallen free and tucked the strand behind the shell of Julia’s ear. “Incredible hair. It is … how did Wadsworth put it? Ah, yes ‘resplendent as the morning sun.’”

“Stuff and nonsense. I’m no poem.” Julia batted her hand away. “I should cut it all off—it’s a danger in the mill—but my papa—”

Anna seized her by the shoulders. “No. Never cut it.”

Julia jerked out of her grasp. “Who are you to say what I should do? You crop your hair.”

“I am nothing much to look at. But cutting this”—she fingered a lock and wrapped it around her finger—“would be a sacrilege.”

“Cutting my hair would offend God? You are mad.” Julia undid the bun, twisted the length of it until her skin stretched tight, and jabbed in the pins. “But don’t worry, my hair, like the rest of me, is none of your business.”

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Author Biography

When she is not writing in her studio by the sea, Joan Koster lives with her historian husband and a coon cat named Cleo in an 1860s farmhouse stacked to the ceiling with books. In a life full of adventures, she has scaled mountains, chased sheep, and been abandoned on an island for longer than she wants to remember.

An ethnographer, educator, artist, and award-winning author who loves mentoring writers, Joan blends her love of history and romance into historical novels about women who shouldn’t be forgotten and into romantic thrillers under the pen name, Zara West. She is the author of the award-winning romantic suspense series The Skin Quartet and the top-selling Write for Success series.

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1 comentario

N. N. Light
N. N. Light
29 nov 2022

Thank you, Joan and Anna, for the wonderful character interview. It was so insightful and enjoyable.

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