Womens History~ Helen Hunt Jackson

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Helen Hunt Jackson

 

Helen Fiske Hunt Jackson, poet, author, social researcher and advocate for Native Americans, was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, on October 15, 1830. By the time she was 18, she and her sister were orphans. However, their father had provided for their education. On October 28, 1852, she married Lieutenant Edward Hunt, a brother of New York’s Governor Washington Hunt. She bore two sons to Hunt, both of whom died as children. Hunt himself died in an accident in October of 1863. Ms Hunt began her writing career after the death of her husband. She was a life-long friend of the poet Emily Dickinson and became a friend of Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Ralph Waldo Emerson. While traveling in Colorado for her health she met William Jackson, a wealthy Quaker, whom she married on October 22, 1875. With the advantages of her husband’s wealth, Ms Jackson was free to pursue her social and political interests as well as her poetry and fiction writing. A fiery and prolific writer, Ms Jackson engaged in heated exchanges with federal officials over the injustices committed against Native American tribes. Among her special targets was the Secretary of Interior, Carl Schurz, whom she once labeled “the most adroit liar I ever knew,” as she exposed the government’s violation of numerous treaties with the tribes. She documented the corruption and misdealings of Indian agents, military officers, and white settlers stole reserved native lands. Ms Jackson won the support of several newspaper editors who published her reports, including editor William Hayes Ward of the New York Independent, Richard Watson Gilder of the Century Magazine, and publisher Whitelaw Reid of the New York Daily Tribune. Her dramatic and well-documented expose, Century of Dishonor, appeared in 1881 and her romantic novel about the same issues, Ramona, was published in 1884. Helen Hunt Jackson died of cancer on August 12, 1885 in San Francisco, California.

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Century of Dishonor continues to be in print and her novels and poems remain available to interested readers. For information about her life, See: Lives of Girls Who Became Famous (1886) by Sarah K Bolton; Report of Mrs Helen Hunt Jackson and Abbot Kinney on the Mission Indians in 1883 (1887); Helen Hunt Jackson (1939) by Ruth Odell; Helen Hunt Jackson (1987) by Rosemary Whitaker; Westward to a High Mountain: the Colorado Writings of Helen Hunt Jackson (1994) edited by Mark I West; She Wields a Pen: American Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century (1997) edited by Janet Gray; Helen Hunt Jackson and Her Indian Reform Policy (1997) by Valerie Sherer Mathes; The Indian Reform Letters of Helen Hunt Jackson, 1879-1885 (1998) edited by Valerie Sherer Mathes.

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