Published on March 8, 2011 by Casey
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Helen Hunt Jackson, c. 1850s-1860s
Helen Maria Hunt Jackson (October 18, 1830 – August 12, 1885) was an American writer who became an activist on behalf of improved treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. government. She detailed the adverse effects of government actions in A Century of Dishonor (1881). Her novel Ramona dramatized the federal government’s mistreatment of Native Americans in Southern California and attracted considerable attention to her cause, although its popularity was based on its romantic and picturesque qualities rather than its political content.
Jackson was born Helen Fiske in Amherst, Massachusetts, daughter of Nathan Welby Fiske and Deborah Waterman Vinal. She had two brothers, both of whom died after birth, and a sister named Anne. Her father was a minister, author, and professor of Latin, Greek, and philosophy at Amherst College.
Jackson’s mother died in 1844 when she was fourteen, and her father three years later. Her father provided for her education and arranged for an aunt to care for her. Jackson attended Ipswich Female Seminary and the Abbott Institute, a boarding school run by Reverend J.S.C. Abbott in New York City. She was a classmate of the poet Emily Dickinson, also from Amherst. The two corresponded for the rest of their lives, but few of their letters have survived.
In 1852 at age 22, Jackson married U.S. Army Captain Edward Bissell Hunt. They had two sons, one of whom, Murray Hunt, died as an infant in 1854 of a brain disease. In 1863, her husband died in a military accident. Her second son, Rennie Hunt, died of diphtheria in 1865. She met William Sharpless Jackson, a wealthy banker and railroad executive, while visiting at Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the resort of Seven Falls. They married in 1875. She was a Unitarian.