Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Women's History Month: Helen Hunt Jackson

Women's History Month: Who is Helen Hunt Jackson 1831-1885

Poet, Writer, and Tireless Fighter for Native Americans

..."greatest American woman poet." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Best known as the writer of the 1884 novel, Ramona, Helen Hunt Jackson was also an outspoken human rights activist, focusing on Native American issues.   She fought using the written word beginning with the 1881 novel Century of Dishonor, in which she unveiled the wrongdoings of our government toward Native Americans--still in print.  To every member of Congress, she gave a copy inscribed with, "Look upon your hands: they are stained with the blood of your relations."  Due to her plucky personality and intellect, Helen also collected many accomplished literary friends throughout her life beginning with Emily Dickenson in childhood and later with Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The why behind her drive

Helen experienced multiple tragedies in her life, including losing her mother at an early age, and later her husband and two children.   She used her writing skills to counter her grief and in turn, it propelled her into the life of professional writer.  Eventually, she married again and traveled extensively.

During this time, the government systematically displaced Native Americans and forced them into reservations without means to support themselves.  The government then sold or gave away their property to non-natives.  Massacring natives was common as well.  Highly disturbed by all of this, Helen tirelessly dogged the government through letters and actions:  publicizing wrongdoings, giving speeches and petitioning for laws and equal rights. 

Winning the battle, but not the war

Her core focus at the time was to assist the Ponca tribe who had been removed from their lands and did not have adequate living conditions.  Through her hard work and many letters to President Hayes, he ensured that the Ponca could return home with enough money to begin anew. 

Helen died of cancer before she realized the full extent of her labor.  However, through her efforts our government could no longer hide their actions.   History remembers her for bestowing on the world great literary works that stand the test of time and as a champion of Native American rights.  

Picture: By Warren's — the firm [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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