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Diary of a Emma Dickinson - 1919

Emma Dickinson family tree

Emma Dickinson was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1893. She was the second of nine children born to Harry Dickinson, Hammerman and Ironworker, and his wife, Annie (Robinson), both natives of England.  


Harry moved from Pittsburgh after his parents had both died. They moved to Newark, New Jersey, and soon after, in 1913, Annie, died leaving Emma as "sister-mother" to her younger brothers and sisters. In 1919 Emma recorded her days on the pages of her "little book". She was 25 years old and studying to become a nurse, visiting with friends and family, seeing shows in New York City, having fun and caring for her family. Take a step back in time to the life of Emma Dickinson in her own writing, also transcribed for your convenience. 

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More Background


Emma Dickinson was the granddaughter of John Dickinson, an English immigrant born May of 1833 in Masbrough, a suburb of Rottherham in South Yorkshire, England. He was the son of William Dickinson, a fitter. John married Elizabeth Reynolds in 1856 in Sheffield. She was born in Wakefield, daughter of Thomas Reynolds. John and Elizabeth Dickinson started their family in Sheffield, England.


In 1861 when the census was taken, John’s family was in Brightside, Sheffield. John was 29 years old, a forgeman, and Elizabeth was 27. Two of their children were in the home: Mary Ann (born in Wadsley Bridge), who was three years old, and William Henry (born in Brightside, Sheffield), who was two years old. It is believed that one child died young. Their son, Harry Dickinson was born June 6, 1863 in Sheffield and in 1871, when the census was taken John Dickinson was listed on the census in “Nether Hallam”, Sheffield, England, with his wife and three children, ages 13, 12 and 7.


At the time there were many small workshops in Sheffield, where steel was cast into tools and cutlery, and national fame was gained for it. There was a Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire, a trade guild of Sheffield metalworkers incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1624, which was given jurisdiction over all persons making knives, blades, scissors, sheers, sickles and cutlery of iron and steel.


According to a written family history, “John Dickinson had visions of a good future in the steel industry in Pittsburgh, Pa; and came to the USA in a sailing vessel. After he established himself, he sent for his wife and 3 children.” John’s brother, William Dickinson, “stayed in England and became wealthy in the investment and banking fields. He married and had a daughter who married Hill, a tobacco dealer, and had a daughter, Annie Hill who married William Croft.”


John also had another brother whose name is unknown, but it is said that he went to New Zealand and developed a large cattle empire. He had a daughter who visited the Crofts in England every year. They held a family reunion in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, just before World War II.


John & Elizabeth’s three children were:


1) Mary Ann Dickinson, who married 1st to John Proctor and had six children including Mary, John, Joseph, Harry and Martin Proctor. Martin died a baby, in July 1889. Mary married Charles Brown and had children. John, Joseph and Harry all married and had children, too. Mr. Proctor died in 1891 and Mary Ann married 2nd to Samuel Lewis and had three more children: Lillian, Samuel and Frank Lewis. Lillian married Jack King and had a daughter. Samuel died young, and Frank married but produced no offspring.


2) William Henry Dickinson, born January 1859, married Lucy and had several children including Joseph, Beatrice, Sam, and Frank Dickinson. Frank died in 1892 at the age of 4. Joseph died in 1905 at the age of 20. Sam was killed by a train at the age of 21. Beatrice married John Polite but had no children and died in Clearwater, Florida in 1986, at the age of 91.


3) Harry Dickinson, born June 6, 1863, married Anna (Annie) Robinson. He was the father of Emma Dickinson and several others.


John’s son, Harry, married Anna Robinson, in Camden, New Jersey in 1889. They were the parents of Emma and eight other children, three of whom died young. Anna was one of seven known children born to George Robinson and Emma Griffith, a family from Manchester, England, where Annie was born. Annie had four brothers and two sisters: David, George, Albert, William, Lilly and Emily Robinson. George and David Robinson both had brilliant careers but never married. Albert Robinson married and moved to England where he made a family. Emily Robinson was living with Annie’s family in 1900.


When the census was taken in 1900, all three of John and Elizabeth’s children were married with children and living on Gross Street in Pittsburgh. Elizabeth was living in the home of her eldest son, William, with his family at 318 Gross Street. Mary Ann was living at 347 Gross Street. She had been married 5 years to her second husband, Samuel Lewis, and reported only five of her eleven children still living at the time. And Harry lived at 310 Gross Street. Harry was employed as a Hammersman. He and Anna report having four children, three of whom were living when the census was taken in June of 1900. The fourth was their daughter, Annie, who had died August 28, 1897 from Capillary Bronchitis.


In 1907, Harry’s family moved to Newark, New Jersey, as did his brother, William and his family. Harry and Annie’s daughter, Lucy Ellen, was born in 1909. At the time of the 1910 census, the family was living at 178 South 7th Street.

Harry and Annie’s daughter, Ruth, was born the following year. (Note: It was Ruth’s daughter, Margaret Lindsay, who carefully preserved and generously shared many of the treasures of the Dickinson family).

Two years later, on May 1, 1913, at the age of 42, Harry’s wife, Annie, died, leaving him with six children. Ruth, the youngest was 19 months old. Annie was buried in Fairmount Cemetery in Newark. Later, when Harry died, an additional marker was placed next to his grave in Cedar Ridge Cemetery, Blairstown, New Jersey, in Annie’s honor.

Ten months after Annie died, Harry’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth, married John MacArthur, at the age of 22 in March of 1914, leaving her sister, Emma, as “mother” of the home. Emma was 20 years old.


On August 12, 1916, Emma’s sister, little Lucy Ellen Dickinson, died at just seven years old, joining her mother in the afterlife.


It was three years later, on January 1, 1919, that Emma Dickinson began keeping this diary, giving us a more personal glimpse into the family’s lives than census records and certificates can give. Though it is Emma’s personal diary, it is an important historic account of not only the family, but of life in general in 1919. It seems evident Emma wanted it to be read by others. She revisited it later and made out notes to the reader. Therefore, for posterity’s sake, her words are shared after 94 years in the attic, with respect and appreciation for Emma Dickinson. On behalf of Emma, her living relatives offer sincere apologies for racist remarks, rare but disappointing nevertheless. Keep in mind that although it was written less than a century ago, things were much different in America and it is certain she never anticipated it would be published. It is a true, unedited account of Emma’s thoughts and feelings. Some notes about specific events Emma mentions are made in the form of Appendixes and some photos are provided.

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