Anna Elizabeth Dickinson (October 28, 1842 – October 22, 1932) was an American orator and lecturer. An advocate for the abolition of slavery and women's suffrage, as well as a gifted teacher, Dickinson was the first woman to speak before the United States Congress. A gifted speaker at a very young age, she aided the Republican Party in the hard-fought 1863 elections and significantly influenced the distribution of political power in the Union just prior to the Civil War. Dickinson also was the first white woman on record to climb Colorado’s Longs Peak, in 1873.
Dickinson was born of Quaker parentage, at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to abolitionist parents. Dickinson's father died when she was two years old, so she and her four siblings were raised by her mother. She was educated in various schools in Philadelphia until her mid teens. As a 14-year-old, she published an emotional anti-slavery essay in The Liberator, a newspaper owned by vociferous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. She addressed the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society in 1860.
In 1861 she obtained a clerkship for the United States Mint but was removed for criticizing General George McClellan at a public meeting. She had gradually become widely known as an eloquent and persuasive public speaker, one of the first of her sex to mount the platform to discuss the burning questions of the hour. Before the American Civil War she gave impassioned speeches on abolition; during the war she toured the country speaking on the war and other issues. In 1862, Garrison asked Dickinson to deliver a series of lectures sponsored by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, talks helped foment the abolitionist movement in the state prior to President Abraham Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Her intensity, youth, and passion created a stir of attention from the media, as well as from other abolitionists such as Lucretia Mott.
During the 1863 elections, Dickinson campaigned for several Republican candidates in New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, speaking eloquently and powerfully in support of the Radical Republicans' anti-slavery platform and for the preservation of the Union. Audiences came away impressed by the power of her convictions, which included occasional attacks on Lincoln for being too moderate. An audience of over 5,000 hailed her in New York City when she spoke there on behalf of Republican candidates.
She earned a standing ovation in 1864 for an impassioned speech on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. She broadened her political views to include strong opinions on the rights of blacks. She also lectured on reconstruction, women's rights, and temperance.
After the Civil War, she remained one of the nation's most celebrated lyceum speakers for nearly a decade. During the time she also published one novel, What Answer (1868), that featured an interracial marriage. When her speaking career waned, Dickinson turned to the theater as both a playwright and actress. In 1891 her sister, Susan Dickinson, arranged for Anna to be incarcerated at the Danville State Hospital for the Insane. After a brief stint in the asylum Dickinson won her freedom and embarked on a series of legal battles against the people who had her incarcerated and the newspapers that had claimed she was insane. She spent her last 40 years in relative obscurity in New York.
Unpublished correspondence with a woman named Ida, may indicate that she was a lesbian.