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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Three Life Lessons From Helen (Hunt) Jackson

Three Life Lessons From
Helen (Hunt) Jackson

by Doris McCraw

For over twelve years I have been performing as Helen (Hunt) Jackson. I am currently preparing for yet another performance for a series called “Think You Know History”. It is a project I wholeheartedly support.

You may notice I put Hunt in ( )?  I do so to honor her. She never used her first husbands name after her second marriage to Wm. S. Jackson. The practice started after her death in 1885.

Through the years, as I have studied and taken on being Helen, there have been many lessons I learned from this amazing woman. I thought I would share three with you today.

Number One: Life has loss, you just continue on.

Helen lost both parents before age seventeen. In her first marriage she lost her first child at eleven months in 1854. Her husband, Edward Hunt, a West Point graduate, died in an accident while working on an underwater 'missile' in 1863. Her second son died of diphtheria in 1865. Although she mourned her losses, she set about creating a new life. This led to her writing career and second marriage.

Number Two: There are two sides to an issue and you can change your mind.

One of my favorite poems of Helen's is 'Two Truths'.

Two Truths

“Darling” he said, “I never meant
To hurt you;” and his eyes were wet.
“I would not hurt you for the world:
Am I to blame if I forget?”

“Forgive my selfish tears!” she cried,
“Forgive! I knew that is was not
Because you meant to hurt me, sweet-
I knew it was that you forgot!”

But all the same, deep in her heart
Rankled this thought, and rankles yet,-
“When love is at its best, one loves
So much that he cannot forget.”

Helen would change her mind if the information called for a change. She famously changed her mind about a woman having a 'hobby' when she took up the cause of Indians rights. Prior to hearing Chief Standing Bear, Helen had not wanted anything to do with the popular causes in the mid to late 1800's. When she did change her mind she became a force to be reckoned with on the issue of the Indians. It led her to write “Century of Dishonor” about the broken treaties the government had made with the Indians. When that did not get the response she wished for she wrote the work she in most known for, “Ramona”.

Number Three: It's never too late.

Helen didn't start writing until after the death of her first family, when she was around thirty-five. She found a mentor and started with poetry. She soon added essays, novels and of course in later life, larger non-fiction works. Her routine was to write from early morning until noon. She wrote the novel 'Ramona' in eight months while staying in a hotel room in New York. In the twenty years she wrote prior to her death in 1885, the amount of work is astonishing.

There are many other lessons that I have learned and she is constantly teaching me new ones. Sometimes I go to her grave site and sit and ponder what she gave to me and the world. It was far more than we sometimes realize.

I will leave you with a bonus lesson I learned about writing from Helen. Follow your heart and don't limit yourself. Helen was considered the greatest woman poet of her time, some felt the best, male or female. She was always striving to be better. She tried new things, they didn't always work, but she kept trying. “Nellie's Silver Mine”, a childrens book was one of the first, if not the first to have the setting as a character. She was a keen observer of people and places. She used what she saw and heard to bring life to her work, no matter what she was writing.

I hope Helen may have left you with a few lessons for your own life. An amazing woman, one who continues to inspire me as I bring her back to life for others.

If interested you can read my haiku poetry and see my photographs at:

My story of the first state film commissioner can be found in:
“Film and Photography on the Front Range” and can be purchased from Amazon


  1. Doris, she sounds like an amazing woman. Her strength was admirable. I cannot imagine all that she endured. I can't imagine losing one child, much less two and also her husband and parents. Seems that would make anyone give up and crawl into a hole. She proved she had substance and something to contribute to the world. A Maya Angelou if there was one. I really enjoyed this.

  2. Thank you Linda. She was a strong and powerful woman who made her way in the world by herself for a number of years. She is an inspiration. Doris

  3. Doris, I never really knew much about this remarkable woman--until I read this post of yours! Now, I must know more. Like Linda, I can't imagine losing both children and her husband. That seems too much for anyone to bear without losing their mind, as well! Thank goodness she didn't just pine away, but went on to be a "force" in the world, due to her own self-determination! Thanks so much for this wonderful post--I know you must enjoy portraying her. That is such a gift you give others!

  4. Doris, I didn't realize you perform as HHJ. You certainly set yourself a task there, my dear. From all I've read by and about her, she was a complex woman with an agile mind and a spritely intellect -- a more than worthy heroine for any woman to emulate.

    She died much too young. I'm glad people like you are carrying her legacy forward. :-)

  5. Thank you Cheryl. She was an amazing woman and did so much more than write "Ramona". I guess it has become my mission in life to bring all of her back to life and let others know and admire her as I do. ( Or at least be aware of all her accomplishments.) Doris

  6. Kathleen, you are right, she is a formidable undertaking, but one who really needs to be remembered. Sometimes when I'm 'being' her it feels like she takes over if I'm not doing it right.

    She did die too young, and of stomach cancer, still she worked until the very end. Doris

  7. I can't imagine now that I had never heard of Helen. I feel like a literary slacker. She certainly endured tremendous losses and I admire her strength to carry on. I have read your poetry, Doris. You're quite amazing yourself.
    All the best to you.

  8. Sarah, Helen was quite the writer, being willing to try a number of different styles. Although the writing style of the 1800's is rather wordy, she did write some great essays. "Bits of Travel at Home" can be found online and I enjoy a number of those essays. They give you a glimpse into life at that time.

    I also thank you for your gracious words about my own work. It makes the effort worthwhile. Doris

  9. Well, dang, add me to the list of people who didn't know anything about Helen. I'm always humbled when I read about the women who managed to carry on after the deaths of children and husbands. What a hard, harsh life some women endured--emotionally and physically. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Kaye, you are not alone, that's why it's my mission to change that. Although she wasn't as bad off financially as some women, the emotional toll was substantial. Still she went on to accomplish so many things.

  10. I remember reading RAMONA, but never gave thoughts to the author. Of course, that was long before I became and author. Thanks for the interesting post.

    1. Caroline, I can understand that. You are welcome, I was glad to share this woman with you all. She still throws me curves, but that just makes me better at telling her story. doris