Hickey, Emily Henrietta (1845–1924), poet, writer, and teacher, was born 12 April 1845 at Macmine Castle, near Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, second daughter of the Rev. John Steuart Hickey, rector of Gorebridge, Co. Carlow, and his wife, formerly a Miss Newton King. She was a granddaughter of the well-known clergyman and agriculturist William Hickey (qv). Reared in Gorebridge, she was made extremely conscious of her ancestry, particularly that of her paternal grandmother Henrietta Hickey (née Steuart) of Steuart's Lodge, Co. Carlow, who claimed descent from the Stuart royal family. After receiving her initial education at a nearby day school, at the age of 13 she began attending a boarding school, where her interest in poetry developed. Tennyson, Barrett Browning, and Scott were among her early influences, though her father barred her from reading Shakespeare on the grounds of his ‘Elizabethan coarseness’ (Dinnis, 17). Her first published poem, ‘Told in the firelight’, appeared in the Cornhill Magazine in 1866. Encouraged by this success, she sent a collection of poems to Alexander Macmillan of Macmillan's Magazine. Though he rejected her proposal to publish a collection of verse, he did include individual poems in his journal, and in time became a trusted friend. He later took her to live with his family when she first moved to London in her early twenties, and provided her with useful introductions to his literary friends. She later took lodgings of her own and supported herself by working at different times as a governess, tutor, companion, and secretary, and contributing stories to Leisure Hour. Through her friendship with Louisa Brough she became an active supporter of the campaign for the higher education of women. She went on to attend lectures at University College, London, and having gained a first-class honours Cambridge certificate was engaged as a lecturer in English language and literature at Frances Buss's famous North London Collegiate School. There she became a good friend of Sophie Bryant (qv).
A contributor to Longman's and the Athenaeum, Hickey had her first volume of poetry, A sculptor, and other poems, published in 1881. It was well received and brought her into contact with the circle that gravitated around Robert Browning, among them the eccentric Dr Frederick Furnivall (well known as a champion of ladies rowing clubs), with whom she founded the Browning Society in 1881. She served as its first honorary secretary. The society came in for a certain degree of ridicule, and Hickey was among members caricatured by Max Beerbohm. Her continuing enthusiasm for Browning led her to annotate an edition of his play ‘Strafford’ in 1884. Her second volume of poetry, Verse-tales, lyrics and translations, appeared in 1891. A friend of the reformer Roden Noel, she showed her growing interest in social issues in her subsequent publication Michael Villiers – idealist, and other poems (1891) in which she addressed her concerns for the plight of the Irish poor. Maintaining her interest in Ireland, she was long associated with the London Irish Literary Society, at whose meetings she frequently gave lectures.
By the publication of Poems (1896) she appears to have moved from her original agnosticism to an increasing interest in anglicanism. A physical breakdown led to her taking a protracted stay in France, Germany, and Switzerland to recuperate. On returning to England she became identified with the Anglo-Catholic party and, under its auspices, worked with the Christian Social Movement. A friend of the poet and catholic convert Harriet Hamilton King, Hickey converted to catholicism in July 1901. She subsequently made a return visit to Ireland, and began a lengthy association with Fr Matthew Russell (qv) and the Irish Monthly, which regularly published her poetry and prose. Much of her time was given over to working as editor for the Catholic Truth Society. Awarded a civil list pension, she continued to publish after the onset of blindness, and (despite a dwindling readership) produced poetry, prose, and a novel, all strongly influenced by her new religious convictions, while withdrawing much of her earlier work from circulation. She died 9 September 1924 in London.