The American Joan of Arc Goes Insane

Firebrand Young Lady
Firebrand Young Lady

Do you ever sometimes wish 19th century asylums still existed for those troublesome relatives who make family gatherings so trying?

My great grandmother was sent to an asylum because she had lucrative properties in Jersey City, NJ. Her evil daughter (my grandmother’s sister) wanted the brownstones and vacant squares as an early inheritance so she had her mother put away. My great grandfather tried to have her released, but somehow couldn’t, so after his wife committed suicide in the asylum, he did the same.

My grandmother was offered a piece of the inheritance but preferred to live poor as a church mouse with her husband and 9 children a few towns away in a haunted house.

Anna Elizabeth Dickinson (The Joan of Arc of the Union) came from Philadelphia Quaker stock. Her father died when she was two and the family could have used a few Jersey City properties to get by, but instead the community of Friends took care of them. Elizabeth never let poverty cloud her active and opinionated mind. She read voraciously, took a job at the US Mint and got fired at the age of 15 for proclaiming  Civil War General George McClellan a traitor to the Union.

William Lloyd Garrison the famous editor invited her to speak in Boston after hearing her oratory (favorite subjects for her were abolition, temperance  and women’s rights). Still a young girl, she became an instant sensation and toured the nation.

First she spoke highly of Abe Lincoln, but soon after meeting him she publicly and tactlessly found fault, not only with his policies, but with his appearance and mannerisms. Biting the hand that feeds you never ends well, does it?

The war finished and so did her popularity. Like a washed up celebrity of today on Dancing with the Stars Elizabeth turned to bad acting gigs and suffered the spears of critics until one day the men in white suits came to take her away.

The reasons for this are sketchy at best. There’s some evidence she did not go insane. A kind family in Goshen, NY took care of her for the last forty years of her life. They sought no early inheritance. I imagine Goshen was not such a bad place to live out one’s life in obscurity.

17 responses to “The American Joan of Arc Goes Insane”

  1. You should do something on Kate Chase. She was an interesting woman with an unhappy end. The belle of the North: bright, beautiful, a daddy’s girl. Fell in love with a ne’er-do-well.

    Another woman I’ve always found interesting Jessie Benton Fremont.

    I’ve wandered far afield of your topic. Your fault for making me think! *grin*


    • I’m always looking for interesting men and women to explore and always love suggestions 🙂 Falling in love with ne’er-do-wells . . . a favorite theme for me. What is it about those handsome dreamers who never get their acts together?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, what a fascinating story ~ just incredible that the human mind is capable of doing such horrible deeds (especially family). Enjoyed your writing, brought out the emotions quite well.


    • Genealogy is fascinating. It’s humbling to see that somewhere in most family trees there are sinners and saints and everyone in between. I love even the craziest of my family because they illustrate so clearly the moral dilemmas of life and how I came to be as I am. Thanks for reading!



      • Genealogy is fascinating, I’m the only in our family who is into it ~ but found a great aunt in Colorado that had some great info… Always nice to see the possibility (both good and bad) a life can offer 🙂 Cheers!


      • Thrilled ~ like you say, there are the bad with the good…and both offer such a great glimpse into humanity and causes me to just think “wow…how would my life had been back in those days, under those circumstances…”


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