Helen Hunt Jackson Biography
Helen Maria Hunt Jackson (1831-1885) was an American poet and novelist and advocate for improved treatment of Native Americans by the United States government. She is best known for Ramona, a novel about the plight of Native Americans in Southern California, but also wrote poetry, children’s stories, and A Century of Dishonor, a history of government policy toward Native Americans. She published her early work under her initials, “H.H.”
Helen Hunt Jackson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts on the 18th of October 1831, the daughter of Nathan Welby Fiske, a professor of Latin, Greek, and philosophy at Amherst College, and his wife, Deborah Waterman Vinal Fiske. Helen’s mother died when Helen was fourteen, followed by her father three years later. Her father had provided financially for Helen’s education, so she attended Ipswich Female Seminary and the Abbott Institute, a boarding school in New York City. One of her classmates and friends was poet Emily Dickinson who was also from Amherst. Although the two friends corresponded for the rest of their lives, few of their letters have survived.
First Marriage and Early Writing
In October 1852 she married Lieutenant Edward Bissell Hunt (1822-1863), of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He died in October 1863, in an accident that occurred during an experiment with one of his marine inventions. They had two sons, neither of whom survived childhood, and these losses colored much of her early poetry.
Her first successful poem, “Coronation”, appeared in The Atlantic in 1869, and in 1870 she published a little volume of meditative Verses, which was praised by Ralph Waldo Emerson in the preface to his Parnassus (1874).
Helen’s Later Life and Writings
In 1875 she married banker and railroad executive William S. Jackson. She became a prolific writer of prose and verse, including juvenile tales, books of travel, household hints and novels, of which the best is Ramona (1884), a defense of the Indian character.
In 1883, as a special commissioner with Abbot Kinney (b. 1850), she investigated the condition and needs of the Mission Indians in California. Her book A Century of Dishonor (1881) was an arraignment of the treatment of the Indians by the United States. She died on the 12th of August 1885 in San Francisco.
Jackson’s Other Works
Mercy Philbrick’s Choice (1876)
Hetty’s Strange History (1877)
Sonnets and Lyrics (1886)