The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Women's History Month "D": Emily Dickinson and Divorce


A drawing of the young Emily Dickinson, age nine.

Emily Dickinson's poetry was largely unpublished during her life, and only after her death was the vast body of her work and letters brought into the public eye.  She was born in Amherst, Massachusetts on December 10th, 1830, the second of thee children to Edward and Emily (Norcross) Dickinson.  Emily was considered by everyone to be a well-behaved and polite child.  Her maternal aunt also described a two-year old Emily as loving music and being especially talented at the piano.  Emily's love of music would be lifelong.

Emily was well-educated for a girl of the mid-1800s (this is perhaps unsurprising, as her family had very close ties to Amherst College).  Her father, the treasurer of Amherst College and a politician, would write home to his children and ask them to remember and tell him about all the new things they learned while he was away.  His warmth differed from Emily's mother, who seemed to be distant and cold: in a letter to a friend, Emily described running to her brother for comfort in lieu of her mother.

Shortly before her tenth birthday, Emily started attending Amherst Academy, which had begun enrolling female students about two years prior.  She was there for seven years, although she did miss several terms over the years due to illnesses.  At Amherst, she studied English, Latin, classical literature, history, and maths and sciences, amongst others.  At the age of 13, Emily was so traumatized by the death of her cousin and close friend Sophia that she was sent to stay with family in Boston to recover.  The melancholy that affected her would become a recurring theme in her life and poetry, though shortly after Emily's return to Amherst, she spent a few years going to church, and described that time in her life as being a time of “perfect peace and happiness.”  This feeling did not last, however, and Emily stopped attending church services around 1852.  By 1853, two close mentors of Emily's had died, further strengthening her anxiety about death.  Shortly thereafter, Emily began to care for her mother, who was bedridden until her death (1882).  Starting around this time, Emily famous introversion became more noticeable as she slowly withdrew from the world.  Emily wrote and compiled the vast majority of her poetry in these years, particularly between 1858 and 1865.


I'm nobody, Who are you?  Are you — Nobody, — too? …
~Emily Dickinson, Poet

The tapestry of history has no point at which you can cut it and leave the design intelligible.
~Dorothea Dix, Activist and Superintendent of Female Nurses in the Civil War

Women share with men the need for personal success, even the taste of power, and no longer are we willing to satisfy those needs through the achievements of surrogates, whether husbands, children, or merely role models.
~Elizabeth Dole, Politician 

The kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within--strength, courage, dignity.
~Ruby Dee, Actress and Civil Rights Activist

Women who are Pirates in a phallocentric society are involved in a complex operation. First, it is necessary to Plunder -- that is, righteously rip off -- gems of knowledge that the patriarchs have stolen from us. Second, we must Smuggle back to other women our Plundered treasures. In order to invert strategies that will be big and bold enough for the next millennium, it is crucial that women share our experiences: the chances we have taken and the choices that have kept us alive. They are my Pirate's battle cry and wake-up call for women who I want to hear.
~Mary Daly, Feminist Theologian


Both women and men seek divorce for a variety of reasons; infidelity, domestic violence, or simply growing apart are just a few of the reasons.  Divorce is a choice granted to women in much of the world, even if it is nearly impossible to obtain in places.  There are, however, three countries that do not allow divorce at all: Malta (allows for separation and annulment, considering a referendum to change the law in 2011), the Philippines (annulment, divorce allowed for Muslims under certain conditions), and the Vatican City.

In England, Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic church over the matter of divorce, both creating the Church of England (and installing himself as head) and allowing himself to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon against her will, so he could marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn.  After executing Anne Boleyn, Henry married Jane Seymour, who died shortly after giving birth to his only son.  Two years later, Henry married and divorced Anne of Cleves in a six month period.  She, at least, unlike Catherine of Aragon, was well provided for and outlived Henry.  Henry then married twice more, though avoided more divorces by beheading Kathryn Howard, and being outlived by Katherine Parr.

For Muslim women, khula grants them the right of divorce.  To seek a khula, a woman must wait one menstrual cycle or one month to ensure she is not pregnant (if a man seeks divorce—talaq—the waiting period is three menstrual cycles/months).  Witnesses for both parties  mediate during this waiting period in an effort to reconcile the couple.  After a khula has been granted, the husband is responsible for maintaining any children, as well as their education.  For the first seven years after the divorce, the children live with the mother, and after that may choose which parent they wish to live with.

In Biertan, Romania, couples who wish to break up must spend two weeks together in a small house.  Inside, there is only a single bed and one set of eating utensils.  Over the last 400 years, only one couple went on to divorce.  And in some Native American tribes, a woman could choose to divorce her husband simply by leaving his moccasins outside the door.  Alternately, in Aboriginal Australia, divorce could be as simple as a couple deciding they no longer wish to be married and having their respective families respect that decision.  For more interesting facts about divorce please read "11 Interesting Facts about Divorce Around the World.

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