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Anna Dickinson: The Girl Orator
by [?]

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.