Poet Biographies

The Life and Works of Helen Hunt Jackson

Helen Hunt Jackson was a formidable literary figure in 19th-century America, delving into injustices faced by indigenous communities, earning her recognition as an early advocate for Native American rights.

Helen Hunt Jackson Portrait

Helen Hunt Jackson was known for her impact on the awareness surrounding the issues faced by indigenous people and had a dedication to making contributions toward the native people of the United States. She was a 19th-century female poet who produced many works during her career, including a number of poems and novels.

Early Life

Helen Hunt Jackson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in October 1830. Her full birth name was Helen Maria Fiske, and she was the daughter of Nathan Welby Fiske and Deborah Waterman Fiske. Her father worked in a variety of fields, including as a professor of Latin, Greek, and philosophy at Amherst College. Jackson’s parents also had another girl and two boys, both of whom died shortly after birth. As Jackson left her turbulent childhood behind and moved into her teenage years, her life took a tragic turn.


In 1844, When Jackson was only fourteen, her mother died of tuberculosis. This tragedy was followed by the death of her father three years later. Her father succumbed to tuberculosis, also. Jackson fell under the care of an uncle and aunt who had her attend the Ipswich Female Seminary, as well as a boarding school in New York City. She was enrolled alongside fellow poet Emily Dickinson. The two became and remained close friends.

In 1852, Jackson married an army captain by the name of Edward Hunt. Together they had two sons. Edward was killed eleven years later in an accident involving an invention he was working on. He had designed and built a submarine, which tragically went wrong. Both of the children died while they were still young as well. Her son Warren “Rennie” Horsford Hunt was born in 1855 but died ten years later of diphtheria in West Roxbury.

Literary Career

Helen Hunt Jackson’s poetry is noted for its intense sorrow and feelings of loss. In an effort to escape from her ruined life, she moved to Newport in 1865. It was here that she first began to write seriously. Her first successfully published poem, ‘Coronation,’ appeared in The Atlantic three years later. She would go on to publish in The Nation, The Century, and Independent.

In 1875, after moving to Colorado, she married William Sharpless Jackson. He was a banker and railroad executive. Jackson wrote prolifically, but her earliest works were published under the name H.H. Today, she is remembered for her efforts to shed light on the plight of the Native Americans. One of her best-known works, A Century of Dishonor, speaks on the “Indian policy.” This was the first work published under her own name, and she sent a copy to every current member of Congress.

Jackson’s later works were written after she retired to California. It was during this period that she gained plenty of experience that went back into her writings. In 1879, she attended a reception and lecture in Boston for the Ponca Native American tribe. The main focus of this meeting was the government’s forced relocation of the Ponca from their reservation in Nebraska to the Quapaw Reservation in Oklahoma. It was conducted by the Ponca Chief Standing Bear.

One of the works written in California included Ramona, the story of an orphaned Native American youth struggling for the right to her own land. It was extremely successful and drew many readers into Southern California in an attempt to learn more about the characters and landscape.


Helen Hunt Jackson died in 1885 of stomach cancer. She now rests in the Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Jackson’s legacy lasted the test of time, as she carries on being celebrated in the modern era. In 1985, she was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. Alongside this, a portion of Jackson’s home was reconstructed in the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Remarkably, the reconstruction included her possessions and furnishings.

Famous Poems

Helen Hunt Jackson was responsible for the creation of a number of iconic poems during her career. Some of her most famous poems include:

  • October’s Bright Blue Weather
  • Poppies on the Wheat
  • Tides
  • Cheyenne Mountain
  • Opportunity
  • Poppies on the Wheat
  • The Discontented Pendulum
  • God’s Light-Houses
  • The Way to Sing
  • Outward Bound
  • Verses
  • Easter Bells
  • Milkweek


Helen Hunt Jackson took great inspiration from poets and literary figures around her. She started a friendship with Emily Dickinson at an early age and attracted others into her circle, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Jackson was responsible for inspiring a number of poets that came after her, such as Adelaide Crapsey and Mary Hunter Austin.


Why was Helen Hunt Jackson important?

Helen Hunt Jackson was an important 19th-century American author who wrote about Native American issues. Her book A Century of Dishonor helped to raise awareness of the mistreatment of Native Americans by the US government.

What did Helen Hunt Jackson expose?

Helen Hunt Jackson highlighted the treatment of Native American tribes in the United States in the 19th century. The government would relocate them to reservations against their will.

What was Helen Hunt Jackson’s poetry style?

Helen Hunt Jackson’s poetry style can be characterized as sentimental and romantic, often focused on themes of nature, love, and the human condition. Her poetry reflects the influence of the Romantic poets of the 19th century.

What themes did Helen Hunt Jackson talk about?

Helen Hunt Jackson discussed a wide variety of themes, such as nature, love and relationships, social justice and advocacy, loss and grief, spirituality and religion, and identity and self-reflection.

When was Helen Hunt Jackson born?

Helen Hunt Jackson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in October 1830. Her full birth name was Helen Maria Fiske.

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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