Colorado College Tutt Library

Helen Hunt Jackson biography

Biography of Helen Hunt Jackson
Who's Who in the Helen Hunt Jackson Papers
Chronology of events in the Helen Hunt Jackson Papers

Helen Hunt Jackson biography

Helen Maria Fiske was born in Amherst, Massachusetts on October 15, 1830, the daughter of Nathan Fiske and Deborah Waterman Vinal Fiske. Nathan Fiske was professor of Language and Philosophy at Amherst College. Four children were born to Nathan and Deborah, but only the two daughters, Helen and Ann, survived infancy.

After Deborah died of consumption in 1844, Helen was cared for by an aunt, Mrs. Martha Hooker. She was educated at Ipswich Female Seminary and at the Abbott Brothers' School in New York City. Nathan Fiske died in 1847 in Jerusalem while on a trip to the Holy Land.

In October 1852, Helen married Edward B. Hunt, a captain in the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Their first son, Murray, lived only eleven months before his death in 1854. Edward Hunt was killed in 1863 while experimenting with a submachine gun, his own invention. Two years later, the only remaining son, Warren Horsford Hunt ("Rennie"), died of malignant diphtheria.

After the deaths of her husband and sons, Helen Hunt turned to writing, under the tutelage of T.W. Higginson. Her first poem was written three months after Rennie's death.

After travelling abroad 1868-1870, Mrs. Hunt returned to the United States and continued her writing--poems, essays, and travel articles. Her first book Verses was published in 1870. Many of her writings appeared in the New York Independent, Nation, Atlantic and other periodicals.

Many of her early writings were published unsigned or under a pseudonym. The pseudonyms she used were Marah, Rip Van Winkle, and Saxe-Holm. Later she signed her writings "H.H." and continued to use those initials for the rest of her life.

In an attempt to regain her health, Mrs. Hunt visited Colorado in 1873-74. In October, 1875, she married William S. Jackson of Colorado Springs and made Colorado her home.

A lecture in Boston in 1879 about the plight of the Ponca Indians excited the interest of Mrs. Jackson. Although she continued her other writing, the American Indian became her primary concern. She wrote A Century of Dishonor in 1881 and sent a copy of it to each member of Congress.

Mrs. Jackson and Abbott Kinney were appointed Special Commissioners to investigate the condition of the Mission Indians of California. Their report was published in 1883. The novel Ramona was written in 1884 to try to stimulate greater concern for the Indians in the American public.

Mrs. Jackson was injured in a fall in her Colorado Springs home in June, 1884. She went to California to recuperate, but died in San Francisco August 12, 1885. The cause of death was listed as cancer.

Who's Who in the Helen Hunt Jackson Papers

Helen Hunt Jackson (HH, HHJ) (1830-1885), maiden name Helen Maria Fiske, occasional pseudonym Saxe Holm, born 1830, died 1885.
(Please note: she never used the name "Helen Hunt Jackson" in her own correspondence -- she only used one married name at a time, so she was Helen Hunt or Helen Jackson but never Helen Hunt Jackson. Scholars have come to know her as HHJ, however, so that is what we use. The earliest printed reference using all three names, "Helen Hunt Jackson," that we have found is in Alexander Majors's Seventy Years on the Frontier, Chicago, 1893, p. 239.)

Deborah Waterman Vinal Fiske (DWVF) = HHJ's mother, married 1828, died 1844
Nathan Fiske (NF) = HHJ's father, married 1828, died 1847
Ann Scholfield Fiske, later Ann Banfield, wife of Everett C. Banfield = HHJ's sister. She sometimes spelled her name Anne.
David Vinal = DWVF's father
Martha Vinal, wife of Otis Vinal = DWVF's paternal aunt in Charleston and her caretaker in her teen years, HHJ's great aunt
Martha Vinal Bowker, known as "Martha B. Vinal" = DWVF's cousin
Martha Vinal Chickering, later Martha Hooker, wife of Henry Hooker = DWVF's cousin in Falmouth, HHJ's caretaker after DWVF died

Major Edward Bissell Hunt = HHJ's first husband, married 1852, died 1863
Murray Hunt = HHJ's first son, born 1853, died 1854 at the age of 11 months
Warren "Rennie" Horsford Hunt = HHJ's second son, born 1855, died 1865

William Sharpless Jackson (1836-1919) = HHJ's second husband, married 1875

Charles Fiske = HHJ's paternal relative and executor after her death

Helen Fiske Banfield = HHJ's niece, later William S. Jackson's second wife

Children of William S. Jackson and Helen Banfield Jackson:
William S. Jackson, Jr. (1889-1981)
Helen Jackson (1890-1987)
Everett Banfield Jackson (1891-1924)
Roland Jackson (1893-1918)
Edith Banfield Jackson (1895- 1977)
Gardner Jackson (1897-1965)
Margaret Jackson (1898; died age 9 months)

Chronology of events in the Helen Hunt Jackson Papers

1828 Nathan Fiske and Deborah Waterman Vinal married.
1830 Helen Maria Fiske born.
1834 Ann Scholfield Fiske born.
1844 Deborah Fiske dies of tuberculosis.
1844-47 Helen lives with Aunt Martha Hooker, attends school at Ipswich Female Seminary.
1847 Nathan Fiske dies.
1849 Helen goes to John Abbott School in New York City.
1852 Helen marries Edward Bissell Hunt.
1853 Son Murray Hunt born.
1854 Son Murray Hunt dies at age 11 months.
1855 Son Warren "Rennie" Horsford Hunt born.
1863 Major Hunt killed in accident.
1865 Son Warren "Rennie" Horsford Hunt dies.
1866 HH begins writing.
1868-70 HH travels abroad.
1870 HH's first book (Verses) published.
1873 HH moves to Colorado Springs for her health.
1875 HH and William S. Jackson married.
1882 HHJ and Abbott Kinney appointed Special Commissioners on Indian Affairs to investigate conditions of California Indians.
1884 Ramona published.
1885 HHJ dies in California.
1888 Helen Banfield (HHJ's niece) and William S. Jackson married.
1899 Helen Banfield Jackson dies.
1919 William S. Jackson dies.

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