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A short story by Kate Dickinson Sweetser

Anna Dickinson: The Girl Orator

Title:     Anna Dickinson: The Girl Orator
Author: Kate Dickinson Sweetser [More Titles by Sweetser]

A very well-known lawyer of Philadelphia was sitting in his private office one morning when word was brought in to him that a young lady wished to see him. The office-boy had never seen her before, and she had not given her name, but she was very firm in her intention not to be refused an interview.

"Show her in," said the lawyer, pushing back his chair with a bored expression and a resolution to send the stranger away at short notice if she was not a client. What was his surprise when a very young girl, still wearing short dresses, was ushered in, and stood before him with such an earnest expression in her bright eyes that she instantly attracted him. Motioning her to take a seat, he asked her errand.

"I wish some copying to do," was the reply, in such a musical voice that the lawyer became still more interested.

"Do you intend to do it yourself?" he asked.

She bowed assent. "Yes," she said. "We are in need of money and I must help. I write a clear hand."

So pleased was he with her manner and her quiet words, "We are in need of money and I must help," as well as touched by her self-reliance at an age when girls are generally amusing themselves, that he gave her some copying which he had intended to have done in the office. With a grateful glance from her brilliant dark eyes, she thanked him, and, promising to bring the work back as soon as possible, she left the office.

As the door closed behind her the lawyer opened a drawer and took from it a little faded photograph of a young girl with dark eyes and curly hair, looked at it long and sadly, then replaced it in the drawer and went on with his work.

On the following day, when the office-boy announced "the young lady with the copying," she was summoned to his office at once and given a hearty hand-clasp.

"I am glad to see you again," the lawyer said. "I had a daughter you remind me of strongly. She died when she was twelve years old. Be seated, please, and tell me a little about yourself. You are very young to be doing such work as this. Is your father living, and why are you not in school?"

Compelled by his kindly interest, the young girl talked as freely with him as if he were an old friend. Her name, she said, was Anna Elizabeth Dickinson, and she was born in Philadelphia, thirteen years before, on the 28th of October. Her father, John Dickinson, and her mother, who had been Mary Edmundson before her marriage, were both persons who were interested in the vital questions of the day, and Anna had been brought up in an atmosphere of refinement and of high principles. All this her new friend learned by a series of friendly questions, and Anna, having begun her story, continued with a degree of frankness which was little less than surprising, after so short an acquaintance. Her father had been a merchant, and had died when she was two years old, leaving practically no income for the mother to live on and bring up her five children. Both mother and father were Quakers, she said, and she was evidently very proud of her father, for her eyes flashed as she said: "He was a wonderful man! Of course, I can't remember it, but mother has told me that the last night of his life, when he was very sick, he went to an anti-slavery meeting and made a remarkably fine speech. Yes, father was wonderful."

"And your mother?" queried her new friend.

Tears dimmed the young girl's eyes. "There aren't any words to express mother," she said. "That is why I am trying to work at night, or at least part of the reason," she added, with frank honesty. "We take boarders and mother teaches in a private school, too, but even that doesn't give enough money for six of us to live on, and she is so pale and tired all the time." She added, with a toss of her curly head: "And I must have money to buy books, too, but helping mother is more important."

Entirely absorbed in her own narrative now, she continued to pour out a flood of facts with such an eloquence and persuasive use of words that her hearer was lost in amazement over a young girl who was so fluent in her use of language. From her frank tale he gathered that she had been a wayward, wilful, intense, and very imaginative child, who, despite her evident devotion to her mother, had probably given her many hours of worry and unhappiness. It was evident also that as a younger child she had been considered an incorrigible pupil at school, for she seemed to have always rebelled against discipline which she thought unnecessary.

"They could punish me all they liked," she said, with flashing eyes. "I would never obey a rule that had not been explained to me and that wasn't fair--never! Teachers and mothers were always telling good little girls not to play with me, and I was glad! Girls the teachers call 'good' sometimes are not that at all; they just know how to hide things from the teachers." As her hearer made no comment, but listened with an amused smile curving his lips, Anna continued: "I adore books, but, oh, how I hate school, when the rich girls laugh at my clothes and then at me if I tell them that my mother is poor and we work for all we have! It isn't fair, because we can't help it, and we do the best we can. I never would say it to them in the world--never! In the first school I went to they used to tease the children who were timid, and bother them so much that they would forget their lessons and get punished when it was not their fault. But I looked after them," declared Anna, proudly. "I fought their battles for them, until the others left them alone, because they were afraid to fight me, I was so strong. Oh, sir," she cried, "why can't people always be fair and square, I wonder?"

As if mesmerized by the intensity of this remarkable young reformer, the lawyer found himself repeating, "I wonder!" as if he had no opinions on the subject, but at the same time he was doing some thinking in regard to such a unique character as this one before him. When she had finished speaking he rose and put a bundle of work in her hand. "I will help you and your brave mother all I can," he said. "While you are doing that copying I will speak to other lawyers, who, I am sure, will give you more to do. I have looked over what you have done, and can warmly recommend you as a copyist. I hope we shall have many more long talks together."

So with her package under her arm, and a warm feeling of satisfaction in her heart because she had found a new friend who said she could do good work, she hurried home.

Almost from baby days it had been evident that Anna Dickinson was no ordinary child, and how to curb the restless spirit and develop the strong nature into a fine woman was a great problem for the already over-burdened mother. Even as a young child Anna had an iron will, and discipline, of which she later learned the value, so chafed her independent nature that she was generally in a state of rebellion. From her own story it was clear that she must have been a terror to unjust teachers or pupils; but she did not mention the many devoted friends she had gained by her championship of those who were not being treated fairly according to her ideas. Hers was a strong, talented, courageous, fearless nature, which was bound to be a great power for good or evil. The scales were turned in the right direction by her passionate love for her mother and an intense desire to lift some of the burden of financial worry from her shoulders, as she saw Mrs. Dickinson, with tireless industry, struggle to make ends meet, and to feed, clothe, and educate her fatherless children. Her one determination was to have them grow up into noble men and women, but in Anna's early life it seemed as if the tumultuous nature would never be brought to any degree of poise and self-control. She showed a marked love of books, even when she was only seven years old, and would take one of her mother's volumes of Byron's poems and, hiding under a bed, where she would not be disturbed, read for hours.

When she was about twelve years old Anna went to the "Westover Boarding-school of Friends," where she remained for almost two years, and from which she went to the "Friends' Select School" in Philadelphia, where she was still studying when she applied for copying and found a new friend. Both of the schools were free Quaker schools, as her mother could not afford to send her elsewhere, and in both she stood high for scholarship, if not for deportment. In the latter institution she was noted for never failing in a recitation, although she was taking twelve subjects at one time, and was naturally looked upon with awe and admiration by less brilliant pupils. A new scholar once questioned her as to her routine of work, and the reply left her questioner speechless with wonder.

"Oh, I haven't any," said Anna, with a toss of her curly head. "And I don't study. I just go to bed and read, sometimes till one o'clock in the morning--poetry, novels, and all sorts of things; then just before I go to sleep I look my lessons over." Evidently the new-comer was a bit doubtful of being able to follow her leader, for Anna added, reassuringly: "Oh yes, you can, if you try. It's easy when you get the habit!" and went off, leaving a much-amazed girl behind her.

At the time of her visit to the lawyer's office Anna begged to be allowed to leave school to try and add to the family income, but her practical mother persuaded her not to do this for at least a year or so, and, seeing the wisdom of the advice, Anna remained in the "Friends' School." So active was her mind that for weeks at a time she did not sleep over five hours a night; the remaining time she spent in doing all the copying she could get and in reading every book on which she could lay her hands. Newspapers, speeches, tracts, history, biography, poetry, novels and fairy-tales--she devoured them all with eager interest. A favorite afternoon pastime of hers was to go to the Anti-Slavery Office, where, curled up in a cozy corner, she would read their literature or listen to arguments on the subject presented by persons who came and went. At other times she would be seized with a perfect passion for a new book, and would go out into the streets, determined not to return home until she had earned enough to buy the coveted prize. At such a time she would run errands or carry bundles or bags for passengers coming from trains until she had enough money for her book. Then she would hurry to a bookstore, linger long and lovingly over the piles of volumes, and finally buy one, which she would take home and devour, then take it to a second-hand bookshop and sell it for a fraction of what it cost, and get another.

Among her other delights were good lectures, and she eagerly watched the papers to find out when George William Curtis, Wendell Phillips, or Henry Ward Beecher was going to lecture in the city; then she would start out on a campaign to earn the price of a ticket for the lecture.

One day when she had read much about Wendell Phillips, but never heard him, she saw that he was to lecture in Philadelphia on "The Lost Arts." It happened that there was no copying for her to do at that time, and she had no idea how to earn the twenty-five cents which would give her the coveted admittance; but go to the lecture she must. As she walked past a handsome residence she noticed that coal had just been put in and the sidewalk left very grimy. Boldly ringing the bell, she asked if she might scrub the walk, and as a result of her exertion a triumphant young girl was the first person to present herself at the hall that night, and quite the most thrilled listener among the throng that packed the house to hear Wendell Phillips. Although her career was so soon to find her out, little did Anna dream on that night, as she listened spellbound to the orator of the occasion, that not far in the future many of that audience were to be applauding a young girl with dark eyes, curly hair, and such force of character and personal magnetism that she was to sway her audiences even to a greater extent than the man to whom she was listening.

When she was seventeen Anna left school for good, feeling that she could not afford to give any more time to study while her mother needed so many comforts and necessities which money could buy. So she left the "Friends' Select School," and in her unselfish reason for this, and the fact that she was forced to support herself and others at such an early age, when she longed for a more thorough education, lies an appeal for kindly criticism of her work rather than a verdict of superficiality, which some gave who did not understand or appreciate the nature, the inspiration, or the real genius of the young and enthusiastic girl.

She was offered a position as teacher in a school in New Brighton, Beaver County, and accepting it she spent a few months there, but as she did not like it she applied for a district-school position that was vacant in the same town. When she had made all but the final arrangements with the committee she asked, "What salary do you give?"

A committeeman replied: "A man has had the position until now. We gave him twenty-eight dollars a month, but we should not think of giving a girl more than sixteen." Something in his manner and words stung Anna like a lash, and, drawing herself up to her full height, she turned to leave the room.

"Sir," she said, "though I am too poor to-day to buy a pair of cotton gloves, I would rather go in rags than degrade my womanhood by accepting anything at your hands!" And off she went, to try her fate in some other place and way, absolutely sure that in some unknown manner she was to wrest success from the future. Young, inexperienced, penniless, and with few friends, she passed weeks looking for a situation in vain. At last she was offered work in a store, but when she found that she must tell what was not true about goods to customers rather than lose a sale, she put on her hat and left at once, and again began her weary quest of work. Everywhere she found that, if she had been a boy, she could have secured better positions and pay than she could as a girl. Also in her wide range of reading she discovered that many of the advantages of life and all of the opportunities, at that time, were given to men rather than to women. Her independent nature was filled with determination to do something to alter this, if she ever had a chance. It came sooner than she would have dared to hope.

One Sunday she was sitting at home, reading a newspaper, when she saw a notice of a meeting to be held that afternoon in a certain hall by the "Association of Progressive Friends," to discuss "Woman's Rights and Wrongs." She would go. Having decided this, she went to the home of a young friend and persuaded her to go, too, and together they walked to the hall and were soon deeply engrossed in the arguments presented by the speakers. The presiding officer of the afternoon was a Doctor Longshore, who announced before the meeting began that at the close of the formal discussion ladies were requested to speak, as the subject was one in which they were especially interested.

"One after another, women rose and gave their views on the question. Then, near the center of the house a girl arose whose youthful face, black curls, and bright eyes, as well as her musical voice and subdued but impressive manner, commanded the attention of the audience. She spoke twice as long as each speaker was allowed, and right to the point, sending a thrill of interest through her listeners, who remembered that speech for many a long day. At the close of the meeting more than one in the audience came forward and spoke to the beaming girl, thanking her for her brilliant defense of her sex, and asking her to surely come to the meeting on the following Sunday." Flushed with triumph and excitement, she received the praise and congratulations and promised to be present the next week. When the time came she again rose and spoke in glowing language of the rights and privileges which should be given to women as well as to men. As soon as she sat down a tall, nervous man, with an air of proud assurance that the world was made for his sex, rose and spoke firmly against Anna's arguments, voicing his belief that men were by right the lords and masters of creation. While he spoke he fixed his eyes on Anna, as if enchanted by the sight of her rapidly crimsoning cheeks and flashing eyes, which showed emotions at white heat. The moment he finished she stood again, and this time, young and inexperienced though she was, with little education and less knowledge of the great world, she held her audience spellbound by the clear ideas which she poured out in almost flawless English, and by her air of conviction which carried belief in her arguments with it. She spoke clearly, steadily, as she summed up all the wrongs she had been obliged to suffer through a struggling girlhood, as well as all she had seen and read about and felt in her soul to be true, although she had no tangible proofs. On flowed the tide of her oratory in such an outburst of real feeling that her hearers were electrified, amazed, by the rare magnetism of this young and unknown girl. As she spoke she drew nearer to the man, whose eyes refused now to meet her keen dark ones, and who seemed deeply confused as she scored point after point in defense, saying, "You, sir! said so and so," ... with each statement sweeping away his arguments one by one until he had no ground left to stand on. When her last word had been said and she took her seat amid a storm of applause, he swiftly and silently rose and left the hall, to the great amusement of the audience, whose sympathies were entirely with the young girl who had stated her case so brilliantly.

"Who is she?" was the question asked on every side as the eager crowd pushed its way out of the building, all curious to get a nearer view of the youthful speaker. Doctor Longshore, who had opened the meeting, as on the previous Sunday, was now determined to become acquainted with Anna and find out what had gone into the making of such a remarkable personality, and at the close of the meeting he lost no time in introducing himself to her and making an engagement to go to the Dickinson home to meet her family.

Before the time of his promised call--in fact, before Anna had even mentioned her success as a speaker to her mother--while she was out one day two gentlemen called at the house and inquired if Miss Anna Dickinson lived there. Her mother's cheeks paled with fright, for she feared Anna had been doing some unconventional thing which the strangers had come to report. When they said they had heard her speak at a public meeting and were so much pleased with her speech that they had come to find out something about her home surroundings, Mrs. Dickinson's brow cleared, and, leading them into the house, she spent a pleasant half-hour with them, and was secretly delighted with their comments on her daughter's first appearance in public. When Anna came home Mrs. Dickinson took her to task for not telling her about such a great event, and was surprised to see the real diffidence which the girl showed when she was questioned about the meetings and her speeches. A few days later Doctor Longshore called with her brother, Elwood, and with their flattering assurances that her daughter was a born speaker, and that she had already made some valuable points on a vital subject, Mrs. Dickinson began to feel that all her worry over Anna's turbulent childhood and restless girlhood had not been in vain, that she was born to do great things, and from that time she took a genuine pride in all the achievements of the young girl who came so rapidly into public notice.

The Longshores took Anna into their hearts and home at once, and many of her happiest hours were spent with them. "We felt toward her," Doctor Longshore said, "as if she were our own child. We were the first strangers to show an interest in her welfare and future plans, and she returned our friendship with confidence and love." She was always so buoyant, so full of vitality and gayety, that her visits were eagerly anticipated, and for hours at a time she would entertain her new friends with vivid and droll accounts of her experiences at home and in school and of her attempts to make money. And as she had won her way into the hearts of her audience, at those first meetings, so now she kept the Longshores enthralled, making them laugh at one moment and cry at another. One night she had a horrible dream to relate.

"I had been reading an account of the horrors of the slave system at its worst," she said. "After going to bed, I was long in falling asleep. Finally I slept and dreamed that I was a slave girl, and, oh, the agony of the knowledge! The hot sun scorched my burning skin as I toiled in the fields, with almost no clothing to soften the sun's heat. I was hungry, but there was insufficient food. At last I was dressed in clean, showy clothes and led to the auction-block, where I was auctioned off to the highest bidder. He led me away in triumph to even worse experiences, and when I woke up I could not throw off the horror of the awful nightmare."

Seeing her tremble under the misery of the recollection, Doctor Longshore soothed her by saying that the dream was a natural result of the highly colored account she had been reading before going to sleep, that all slaves were not by any means treated in such a cruel manner, and at last she grew calm. But whenever in future she spoke on the subject of slavery this terrible memory would come back to her so vividly that it would intensify her power to speak with conviction.

For several Sundays she went regularly to the "Progressive Friends'" meeting and spoke with unvarying success. Then she was invited to go to Mullica Hill, New Jersey, to speak on the subject, "Woman's Work." After discussing the matter with her mother and the Longshores, she accepted the invitation and set herself to prepare the lecture which she was to give. Then, on the first Sunday in April, the seventeen-year-old orator went to her trial experience as an invited speaker. By that time her praises had been widely sung, and when she rose and saw her audience there was a sea of upturned, eager faces looking into hers. Speaking from the depths of her own experience, she held the audience in breathless silence for over an hour. There was, it was said, an indescribable pathos in her full, rich voice that, aside from what she said, touched the hearts of her hearers and moved many to tears, while all were spellbound, and at the close of her address no one moved. Finally a man rose and voiced the feeling of the people.

"We will not disperse until the speaker promises to address us again this evening," he said, and a burst of applause greeted his statement. A starry-eyed girl stood and bowed her acknowledgment and agreed to speak again. As the audience dispersed Anna heard some one say, "If Lucretia Mott had made that speech it would be thought a great one."

As she promised, in the evening she spoke again on slavery, with equal success. A collection which was taken up for her amounted to several dollars, the first financial result of what was to be her golden resource.

But Anna had no thought of doing public speaking as her only means of earning her living. She continued to look for positions, but without success. Finally she took a district school in Bucks County, at a monthly salary of twenty-five dollars. So interested was she in the "Progressive Friends'" Sunday meetings that she went home every second week to attend them, and her speeches always won applause from an audience that had learned to anticipate the impassioned statements of the bright-eyed girl who was so much younger and so much more intense than any other speaker.

And now she began to receive invitations to speak in other places. On her eighteenth birthday she spoke in a small village about thirty miles out of Philadelphia, when she fairly electrified her hearers by the force of her arguments and the form in which she presented them. She continued to teach, although during her summer vacation she made many speeches in New Jersey. On one occasion she spoke in the open air, in a beautiful grove where hundreds had come to hear "the girl orator" give her views on temperance and slavery. Her earnestness and conviction of the truth of what she said made a profound impression, and even those who later criticized her speech as being the product of an immature and superficial mind were held as by a spell while she spoke, and secretly admired her while they openly ridiculed her arguments. At another time she was asked to speak at the laying of the corner-stone of a new Methodist church. The clergymen who gathered together were inclined to be severe in their judgment of the remarks of a "slip of a girl." Anna knew that and resolved to speak with more than usual pathos and power. When she began her address amusement was evident on the faces of the dignified men looking at her. Gradually they grew more interested, the silence became intense, and when the men rose to leave they were subdued, and some of them even were not ashamed to be seen wiping away tears. One of them introduced himself to her and with a cordial hand-shake said: "Miss Dickinson, I have always ridiculed Woman's Rights, but, so help me God, I never shall again."

But this time the young orator could not help feeling the power she had to sway great masses of people, and with a thrill of joy she began to believe that perhaps in this work which she loved above anything else in the world she would some day find her vocation, for she was already receiving commendation from men and women of a high order of intelligence and being given larger contributions as a result of her speeches.

The country was at that time in the beginning of its Civil War period, and much was written and said on the issue of the hour. At a Kennett Square meeting, where hot debates were held on the burning question of the day, Anna was one of the speakers, and one of the press notices on the following day said:

"... The next speaker was Miss Anna Dickinson, of Philadelphia, handsome, of an expressive countenance, plainly dressed, and eloquent beyond her years. After the listless, monotonous harangues of the previous part of the day, the distinct, earnest tones of this juvenile Joan of Arc were very sweet and charming. During her discourse, which was frequently interrupted, Miss Dickinson maintained her presence of mind, and uttered her radical sentiments with resolution and plainness. Those who did not sympathize with her remarks were softened by her simplicity and solemnity. Her speech was decidedly the speech of the evening.... Miss Dickinson, we understand, is a member of the Society of Friends, and her speech came in the shape of a retort to remarks which were contrary to her own beliefs. With her usual clear-cut conviction and glowing oratory, Miss Dickinson said that:

"'We are told to maintain constitutions because they are constitutions, and compromises because they are compromises. But what are compromises?' asked the young speaker, 'and what was laid down in these constitutions? Eminent lawgivers have said that certain great fundamental ideas of right are common to the world, and that all laws of man's making which trample on those ideas are null and void--wrong to obey, but right to disobey. The Constitution of the United States sat upon the neck of those rights, recognizes human slavery, and makes the souls of men articles of purchase and sale.'"

So clear of mind and expression was the young orator that her statements sank as deeply into the minds of her hearers as if spoken by a far more learned person, and from that time her intense nature had found its true outlet, and her longing to provide her mother with some of the comforts which had so long been denied her was soon to be realized.

In that same year of her speech at Kennett Square, on an evening in late February, she spoke in Concert Hall, Philadelphia, before an audience of about eight hundred persons. For two hours she spoke, without notes and with easy fluency. There were many well-known men and women there, who were delighted with what they were pleased to call a young girl's notable performance. But Anna herself was far from pleased with her speech. Afterward, on reaching the Longshores', she threw herself into a chair with an air of utter despondency, and, in response to their praise, only shook her head.

"I am mortified," she declared. "I spoke too long, and what I said lacked arrangement, order, and point. And before such an audience!"

This incident shows clearly that, despite all the flattery which was showered on her at that time, she did not lose her sense of balance, but knew with a keen instinct whether she had achieved her end or not.

And now winter was over and spring had come with its spirit of new birth and fulfilment. And, as the buds began to swell and open, the strong will and fresh young spirit of Anna Dickinson asserted itself in a desire for more profitable daily work, for as yet she was not able to give up other employment for the public speaking which brought her in uneven returns. She disliked the confinement and routine of teaching so much that she decided to try a new kind of work, and secured a place in the Mint, where she described her duties vividly to her interested friends.

"I sat on a stool," she said, "from seven o'clock in the morning to six at night for twenty-eight dollars a month. The atmosphere of the room was close and impure, as it was necessary to keep all windows and doors closed in the adjusting-room, for the least draught of air would vary the scales." Not a very congenial occupation for the independent nature of the young orator, but, although she disliked the work, she was very skilful at it, and soon became the fastest adjuster in the Mint. But she could not bear the confinement of the adjusting-room and changed to the coining-room, yet even that was impossible to a spirit which had seen a vision of creative work and of ability to do it. Then, too, she thoroughly disliked the men with whom she was thrown and their beliefs, knowing them to be opposed to principles which she held sacred; so when, in November, she made a speech on the events of the war, in which she stated her views so frankly that when they came to the ears of Government officials who did not agree with her she was dismissed from the Mint, she was rather pleased than troubled.

Through the remainder of the winter she continued to speak in various suburbs of the city, not always to sympathetic audiences, for so radical were some of her assertions, especially coming from the lips of a mere girl, that she was hissed time and again for her assertions. Despite this, she was becoming well known as a speaker of great ability, and as the war went on, with its varying successes for the North and South, she thought with less intensity on the subjects of the future of the negro and the wrongs of women, and became more deeply absorbed in questions of national importance, which was a fortunate thing for her. She was enthusiastic, eloquent, young and pretty, all of which characteristics made her a valuable ally for any cause. Mr. Garrison, the noted Abolitionist, heard her speak twice, and was so delighted with her manner and ability that he asked for an introduction to her, and invited her to visit Boston and make his house her home while there. She thanked him with pretty enthusiasm and accepted, but before going to Boston was persuaded to give the lecture in Philadelphia, for which she had been dismissed from the Mint. A ten-cent admission was charged, and Judge Pierce, one of the early advocates of Woman's Rights, presided and introduced the young speaker. The house was crowded, and this time she was satisfied with her lecture, while the eager Longshores and her mother were filled with a just pride. After all expenses were paid she was handed a check for a bigger sum of money than she had ever owned before. The largest share of it was given at once to her mother, then, after a serious discussion with Doctor Longshore, Anna decided to spend the remainder on her first silk dress. Despite oratory and advanced views, the girl of eighteen was still human and feminine, and it is to be doubted whether any results of her labors ever gave her more satisfaction than that bit of finery for her public appearances.

And now the young orator went to Boston, where through Mr. Garrison's influence she was invited to speak in Theodore Parker's pulpit, as leading reformers were then doing. She also spoke in the Music Hall on "The National Crisis," and that lecture was the hardest trial she ever experienced. For two days before it she could not sleep or eat, and answered questions like one in a dream, and Mr. Garrison and those friends who had been confident of her ability to hold any audience began to feel extremely nervous. If she should make a failure now at the beginning of her career, it would be critical for her future.

The night came, and with ill-concealed nervousness Anna put on the new silk dress, shook her heavy curls into place, and with resolute courage went to the hall, where, on mounting the platform, she noted the most tremendous audience she had ever before faced. Mr. Garrison opened the meeting by reading a chapter of the Bible, then he used up as much time as possible in remarks, in order to make the best of a bad situation, for he felt that she was not in a state of mind or body to hold the coldly critical audience before her. While he read and spoke poor Anna behind him waited to be presented, in an agony of nervousness which she struggled not to show. Then came the singing of the "Negro Boatman's Song of Whittier" by a quartet, accompanied by the organ. At last, with an easy smile, which concealed his real feelings, Mr. Garrison turned to introduce Anna, and she rose and walked forward to the front of the platform, looking more immature and girlish than ever before. Her first sentences were halting, disconnected, her fingers twined and twisted nervously around the handkerchief she held; then she saw a sympathetic upturned face in the front row of the audience staring up at her. Something in the face roused Anna to a determined effort. Throwing herself into her subject, she soon was pouring out a passionate appeal for a broader national life and action. Gone were fear and self-consciousness, gone all but determination to make her audience feel as she felt, believe as she believed, in the interest of humanity and the highest ideals. For over an hour she held that coldly critical mass of New England hearers as if by a magic spell, then the vast audience rose and gave vent to their emotion by the singing of "America," and then persons of distinction and wealth crowded around the speaker of the evening with thanks and praise. To one and all the young orator, whose eyes were still shining with enthusiasm, replied, simply: "I thank you. The subject is very near my heart," and as those who met her turned away they could not hide their amazement at the ability of a young person who looked so immature in her girlish beauty and freshness.

This was the beginning of a period of success. She delivered the Boston lecture in several other New England cities, and had many fine press notices on it, one of which closed with the following sentences:

"Her whole appearance and manner were decidedly attractive, earnest, and expressive. Her lecture was well arranged, logical, and occasionally eloquent, persuasive, and pathetic."

That was the time when every woman with a tender heart and a chance to show it for the benefit of the wounded soldiers served her apprenticeship in some hospital, and Anna was one of them. With keen sympathy she nursed and comforted the sick men, who told her freely about their hardships and sufferings, as well as the motives which led them to go into the army, and she learned their opinion of war and of life on the battle-fields. From this experience she gained much priceless material which she later used most successfully.

She was now beginning to be known as much for her youth and personal charm as for the subject-matter of her lectures, and to her unbounded joy in October, 1862, she received one hundred dollars and many flattering press notices for a speech given before the Boston Fraternity Lyceum. This success encouraged her to plan a series of lectures to be given in various parts of the East, especially in New England, from which she hoped to gain substantial results. But in making her plans she had failed to reckon with the humor of the people who under the stress of war had little interest even in the most thrilling lectures, and she traveled from place to place with such meager returns that she became perfectly disheartened, and, worse than that, she was almost penniless.

When she had filled her last engagement of the series, for which she was to receive the large sum of ten dollars, at Concord, New Hampshire, she realized with a sinking heart that unless she could turn the tide of her affairs quickly she must again seek another occupation. The resolute girl was almost disheartened, and she confessed to a friend later:

"No one knows how I felt and suffered that winter, penniless and alone, with a scanty wardrobe, suffering with cold, weariness, and disappointment. I wandered about on the trains day after day among strangers, seeking employment for an honest living and failing to find it. I would have gone home, but had not the means. I had borrowed money to commence my journey, promising to remit soon; failing to do so, I could not ask again. Beyond my Concord meeting, all was darkness. I had no further plans."

With positive want staring her in the face, in debt for the trip which she had taken on a venture, and shrinkingly sensitive in regard to her inability to aid her mother more lavishly, there was need of quick action. Alone in a boarding-house room, Anna reviewed her resources and the material she had on hand for a new and more taking lecture.

"I have it!" she exclaimed, jumping to her feet, and taking up a pad and pencil she hastily began to write a lecture in which she used the material gained in her hospital experience. She called it "Hospital Life." When she gave it on that night at Concord with a heavy heart it proved to be the pivot on which her success as a lecturer swung to its greatest height. As she drew her vivid pictures of the hospital experience and horrors of war and slavery she melted her audience to tears by her impassioned delivery. The secretary of the New Hampshire Central Committee was in the audience and was enchanted as he heard the young speaker for the first time. At the close of the lecture he said to a friend:

"If we can get this girl to make that speech all through New Hampshire, we can carry the Republican ticket in this State in the coming election."

So impressed was he with Anna's powers of persuasion that he decided to invite her to become a campaign speaker on his own responsibility, if the State Committee did not think well of the idea. But that committee was only too glad to adopt any plan to aid their cause. Anna Dickinson, then only eighteen years old, was invited to become part of the State machinery, to work on the side which appealed to her sense of justice. Elated, excited, and enthusiastic, she accepted the offer and began to speak early in March. What a work that was for the young and inexperienced girl! In the month before election, twenty times she stood before great throngs of eager persons and spoke, rousing great enthusiasm by her eloquent appeals in the name of reason and fair play.

Slight, pretty, and without any of the tricks of the professional political speaker, her march through the State was a succession of triumphs which ended in a Republican victory, and, though many of her enemies called her "ignorant and illogical" as well as "noisy" in mind and spirit, the adverse criticism was of no consequence in comparison to the praise and success which far outweighed it.

The member in the first district, having no faith that a woman could influence politics, sent word to the secretary, "Don't send that woman down here to defeat my election."

The secretary replied, "We have work enough for her to do in other districts without interfering with you!"

When the honorable member saw the furore Anna was creating he changed his mind and begged the secretary to let her speak in his district. The secretary replied: "It is too late; the program is arranged.... You would not have her when you could, now you cannot have her when you will!"

That district was lost by a large majority, while the others went strongly Republican, and it is interesting to note that when the good news reached headquarters the Governor-elect himself personally sent Anna thanks for her eloquent speeches, and to her amazement she was serenaded, feasted, and praised in a way that would have turned the head of a young woman who had been more interested in her own success than in victory for a cause for which she stood. But that and the money she could make and pass on to her mother were Anna's supreme objects in whatever she undertook, and although she would have been less than human if the praise and recognition had not pleased her, yet her real joy lay in the good-sized checks which she could now add to the family treasury.

"Having done such good work in the New Hampshire election, her next field of endeavor was Connecticut, where the Republicans were completely disheartened, for nothing, they said, could prevent the Democrats from carrying the State. The issue was a vital one, and yet so discouraged were the Connecticut politicians that they were about to give up the fight without further effort, when it was decided to try having the successful young girl speaker see what she could do for them. Anna was only too delighted to accept the challenge, and at once started on a round of stump-speaking and speechmaking, with all the enthusiasm of her intense nature added to the inspiration of her recent success in a neighboring State. The results were almost miraculous. Two weeks of steady work not only turned the tide of popular feeling, but created a perfect frenzy of interest in the young orator. Even the Democrats, in spite of scurrilous attacks made on her by some of their leaders, received her everywhere with the warmest welcome, tore off their party badges, and replaced them by her picture, while giving wild applause to all she said. The halls where she spoke were so densely packed that the Republicans stayed away to make room for the Democrats, and the women were shut out to leave room for those who could vote."

Well had her mother's struggle to make a fine woman of her turbulent daughter been repaid. Never was there such a furore over any orator in the history of this country. The critical time of her appearance, the excited condition of the people, her youth, beauty, and remarkable voice, all heightened the effect of her genius. Her name was on every lip. Ministers preached about her, prayed for her as a second Joan of Arc raised up by God to save their State for the loyal party, and through it the nation to freedom and humanity. And through all the excitement and furore the youthful heroine moved with calm poise and a firm determination toward her goal, attempting to speak clearly and truthfully in regard to what were her sacred beliefs.

Election Day was at hand, and missionary work must not slacken even for one moment. On the Saturday night before the fateful day Anna spoke before an audience of over one thousand of the working-men of Hartford, Connecticut. This was the last effort of the campaign, and it was a remarkable tribute to a young woman's powers that the committee of men were willing to rest their case on her efforts. A newspaper account of the meeting said:

"Allyn Hall was packed as it never was before. The aisles were full of men who stood patiently for more than three hours; the window-sills had their occupants, every foot of standing room was taken, and in the rear of the galleries men seemed to hang in swarms like bees. Such was the view from the stage.... To such an audience Miss Dickinson spoke for two hours and twenty minutes, and hardly a listener left the hall during that time. Her power over the audience was marvelous. She seemed to have that absolute mastery of it which Joan of Arc is reported to have had over the French troops. They followed her with that deep attention which is unwilling to lose a word, but greeted her, every few moments, with the most wild applause.... The speech in itself and its effect was magnificent--this strong adjective is the proper one.... The work of the campaign is done. It only remains in the name, we are sure, of all loyal men in this district to express to Miss Dickinson heartfelt thanks for her splendid, inspiring aid. She has aroused everywhere respect, enthusiasm and devotion, let us not say to herself alone, but to the country; while such women are possible in the United States, there isn't a spot big enough for her to stand on that won't be fought for so long as there is a man left."

Even that achievement was not the height of the young orator's attainment. Her next ovation was at Cooper Institute in New York City, where she spoke in May of the same year. Faded newspaper accounts of that meeting fill us with amazement that such a triumph could be, with only a girl's indomitable will, an insufficient education and much reading of books back of it.

"Long before the appointed hour for the lecture the hall was crowded. The people outside were determined to get in at all hazards, ushers were beaten down, those with tickets rushed in, and those without tickets were pushed aside, while thousands went home unable to get standing room even in the lobbies and outer halls.

"On the platform sat some of the most distinguished men of the day: clergymen, lawyers, generals, admirals, leaders of the fashionable set--all eager to do homage to the simple girl of whom the press said:

"'She is medium in height, slight in form, graceful in movement, her head, well poised, adorned with heavy dark hair, displaying to advantage a pleasant face which has all the signs of nervous force and of vigorous mental life. In manner she is unembarrassed, without a shade of boldness; her gestures are simple, her voice is of wonderful power, penetrating rather than loud, as clear as the tone of metal, and yet with a reed-like softness. Her vocabulary is simple, and in no instance has there been seen a straining after effective expressions; yet her skill in using ordinary language is so great that with a single phrase she presents a picture and delivers a poem in a sentence.'"

At the close of the meeting, which had been opened by Henry Ward Beecher, he rose and said, with real emotion, "Let no man open his lips here to-night; music is the only fitting accompaniment to the eloquent utterances we have heard." Then the famous Hutchinson family sang and closed the meeting with the John Brown song, in which the vast audience joined with thrilling effect.

From that Cooper Institute meeting Anna received almost one thousand dollars, an incredible amount for a simple speech to her unmercenary spirit, but one which was to be duplicated many times before her career was over.

After that meeting in New York her reputation as a public speaker was established, despite the carping critics, and she continued to win fresh laurels, not only for herself, but for vital issues. When doing more campaigning in Pennsylvania she had to travel through the mining districts, where her frank words were often ridiculed and she was pelted with stones, rotten eggs, and other unpleasant missiles. But she bore it all like a warrior, and made a remarkable record for speeches in parts of the State where no man dared to go. Despite this and the fact that the victorious party owed its success largely to the young orator, the committee never paid her one cent for her services--to their great discredit, probably having spent all their campaign funds in some other less legitimate way and thinking they could more easily defraud a girl than a more shrewd man.

Nothing daunted, she continued to speak wherever she could get a hearing, and at last came an invitation to make an address in Washington, D. C. Here indeed was a triumph! She hesitated long before accepting the invitation, for it would be a trying ordeal, as among her audience would be the President and many diplomats and high government officials. But with sturdy courage she accepted, and as a result faced, as she later said, the most brilliant audience ever assembled to hear her speak. It was a unique sensation for the dignitaries and men of mark to sit as listeners at the feet of this slender girl, who was speaking on profound questions of the day; but she made a deep impression, even on those who did not agree with her opinions, and it was a proud moment of her life when at the close of the meeting she met the President and his Cabinet. The Chief Executive gladly granted her an interview for the following day, and like other men of lesser rank, was carried out of himself as he watched the play of expression, the light and shade on her mobile face, as they talked together of the vital topics of the day.

Anna Dickinson was now an orator beyond a doubt; in fact, the only girl orator the country had ever known. More than that, she made use of her eloquence, her magnetism, her flow of language, not for any minor use, but in presenting to the public the great problems of her day and in pleading for honor and justice, freedom and fullness of joy for the individual, with such intensity of purpose as few men have ever used in pleading a cause.

That she wrote and acted in a play dealing with one of the subjects nearest her heart, and that she published a novel of the same kind, added nothing to her fame. She was wholly an orator with an instinctive knowledge of the way to play on the emotions of her listeners. Her faults were the faults of an intense nature too early obliged to grapple with hard problems; her virtues were those of a strong, independent, unselfish nature. It has been said that she rose to fame on the crest of three waves: the negro wave, the war wave, and the woman wave. If that is so, then was her success as a public speaker something of which to be proud, for to have spoken on such subjects surely betokens a great nature. Anna Dickinson has been called the "Joan of Arc" of her day and country. If she had not the delicate spiritual vision of the Maid of France, she had her superb courage in reaching up toward an ideal. What she was and what she accomplished as an American girl, who was an orator at eighteen, gives an incentive and a new enthusiasm to young Americans of the twentieth century, for what girls have done girls can do, and we believe, with that greatest of poets, that "the best is yet to be."

[The end]
Kate Dickinson Sweetser's short story: Anna Dickinson: The Girl Orator