Monday, April 9, 2012

H is for Helen Hunt Jackson & Helping Hands

In addition to this post, check out my short post over at the A-to-Z Challenge Blog for a little encouragement to get through the rest of the A-to-Z!

Okay, so I watched Labrynth today, for the umpteenillionth time. I was trying to think about what I'd like to write about for "H," and along came the helping hands - "What do you mean? We are helping. We're helping hands."

As writers, we tend to become accustomed to operating on a solo basis. We think of our ideas on our own, for the most part, we brainstorm alone, and we often do better locked up in our dungeons - alone - to write.

As such, it's easy to forget that we need help, too. Critiques, feedback, inspiration, support. All of these things come from outside of us, helping to better our work. Even getting together with like minded people and chatting for a bit can be an inspiration. Or visiting another writer's blog, maybe starting a dialog of some sort. When you're struggling, seek out another writer. Whether it's to ask them for specific help, or maybe just to blow off a little steam with someone who understands, helping hands can pull you out of a creative slump and get you back on track.

elen Fiske was born October 18, 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts, to a father who was a minister, professor and author. Her mother died when she was between twelve and fourteen (different data report different ages) of tuberculosis. Her father made sure she would receive an education, and when he died three years later (also of tuberculosis), her aunt took custody of her.

Helen went to the Ipswich Female Seminary and the Abbott Institute, where she befriended Emily Dickinson. They would remain friends for life.

Helen married Edward Hunt, a captain in the U.S. Army, in 1852. They had two sons together, both of whom died in childhood. Her husband died in 1863. In order to soothe the ache in her heart, Helen began writing. She found some success with her writing, but because her health was not what it should be, was urged to go to Colorado Springs, CO. The area was known for being a curative, thanks to the fresh mountain air, dry climate, and various healing springs.

In 1875, in Colorado Springs, she married William Jackson, taking his last name. She continued to write, though it was under the pen name H.H. or Saxe Holm. Most of what she wrote was poetry. That is, until she found the inspiration that would drive her for the rest of her life.

In 1879, she traveled to Boston, where she attended a speech by Chief Standing Bear, of the Ponca tribe. He detailed his tribe's removal from their lands, and subsequent relocation to a reservation in Indian Territory, where his people suffered and wasted away due to malnourishment and disease. Helen Hunt Jackson was so horrified that this became her cause. She promised Standing Bear that she would find a way to make money to help fund his tribe's return to their home. Eventually, she also took up the plight of the Ute tribe, who were being abused here in Colorado.

She felt the country wasn't aware of the actual treatment of the Native peoples, so she wrote the book A Century of Dishonor, published in 1881 under her own name, rather than the usual pen names. It detailed the suffering of the people, as well as the government's misdeeds in making promises they couldn't keep and their breaking of treaties. She was also very vocal about this mistreatment, trying to convince people to sign petitions, collecting money to save the Ponca, investigating the government's misbehavior and backstabbing, and getting the stories in the newspapers, including the New York Times.

Unfortunately, she was so passionate and so driven when it came to the mistreatment of the Native Americans, that she also made a lot of enemies and turned people off. She ended up taking a break from Colorado and heading out to California, where she was informed that the Mission Indians were being treated in the same way. When America had taken over portions of California, they had not honored agreements dealing with the Native population, so they were now being forced out of their homes. She completed research and turned in a 56-page report on their treatment, inspiring a bill which made it partway to being approved, but died in the House of Representatives.

Legally stymied, Helen took inspiration from another friend of hers: Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. She wrote her romance novel, Ramona, a story about a half-Indian girl and her full-blooded husband, and their trials and tribulations in early California. The book was a massive success, ranked up there with Uncle Tom's Cabin, though, unfortunately, that ranking came after her death. Her work of fiction brought more favorable attention to the Indian's plight than her non-fiction book. As they say, you can catch more flies with honey...

Helen was so intent on saving those who had been marginalized by our society, that she didn't take care of herself. She died in San Francisco in 1885 of stomach cancer. She is buried in Evergreen Cemetary, here in Colorado Springs, having left behind a legacy to rival that of her famous friends.

Some facts:

1. Several of her books are still in print, and Ramona has been made into films three times.

2. Not only was she friends with Emily Dickinson and Harriet Beecher Stowe, but Ralph Waldo Emerson was also a good friend.

3. It is believed the "ill health" that brought Helen out to Colorado Springs was tuberculosis.

4. Her husband, William Sharpless Jackson, was a prominent citizen here in Colorado Springs, having been instrumental in its formation.

5. She sent a copy of her book A Century of Dishonor to each member of congress. On it, in red, was a quote from Bejamin Franklin: "Look upon your hands: they are stained with the blood of your relations."

Ever heard of Helen Hunt Jackson? Did she go too far, or just do what needed to be done? Who are your helping hands?

May you find your Muse.

*Letter H courtesy of Mohamed Ibrahim, via
**Bust photos of Helen Hunt Jackson, 1888, by A. Frank Randall [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
***Helen Hunt Jackson leaning, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons
****Helen Hunt Jackson, standing, See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, author unknown
*****Letter to Grover Cleveland, Wikimedia Commons, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Wellcome, Henry S. (Henry Solomon), Sir, 1853-1936


Nicole said...

I sure could use some help with my short script once it's finish. Moreso, I need someone to read it and let me know if the dialogue works for the type of characters that I have...I'm planning to ask a cousin to read it, in hopes that he will without being too surprised... since he has no idea that I write screenplays.

No, I never heard of Helen Hunt Jackson...only her BFF, Emily Dickenson. Whether she went too far is not for me to say because I'm not her and am not in her head nor do I share her interests but on a basic level, I would consider her actions to be fine. I mean, so long as she didn't harm another person or break the law, then she hasn't gone too least not by her own personal standards.

By not taking care of herself, that is something that she had to deal with and since she seemed to be content with not caring for herself, I'm not in a position to argue against it or to consider it to be going too far.

It's kinda like people who go on hunger strikes...I've never understood hunger strikes (maybe because I don't know a whole lot about them to begin with...only what I hear on the news). Strangers starving themselves don't affect me....I'm still eating while they choose to stop, so I have no idea what that kind of behavior actually accomplishes.

Suicide bombing, on the other hand, would be what I consider as going too far because people who take that route often hurt other people in the process to get their point across...and THAT is where it becomes a problem. If they want to kill themselves, then it on their own time and in their own space...don't bring other people down in the process!

Oh, shucks! I didn't intend for this comment to be's nice to learn about Helen Hunt. She is among those who are the epitome of what it means to stand up for what you believe in :)

Blog: The Madlab Post
@MadlabPost on Twitter

K.D. Storm said...

This is a great post. I had never heard of this writer but you have me wanting to check out her work now. Thanks :)

Perle said...

Enjoyed the history lesson. I hate to admit I did not know of Helen. So many helping hands in our lives on a large scale and on a smaller scale in our own day to day lives, seen and unseen. I pondered this on a piece I wrote in the Gratitude issue of

Spanj said...

I have also seen the Labyrinth about a million times! "She chose dooooown!"

What a wonderful history story, proving that the pen really is mightier than the sword. So much social and political injustice has been brought to the public's attention through art, and may art long continue to fight injustice in our world.

Gossip_Grl said...

I had never heard of her, but loved reading the post about her. I couldn't help thinking in that era when women were not considered equal, that was probably brave that she did that.

Julie Jordan Scott said...

My A to Z theme is all about Women Writers in Literary History so naturally this post THRILLED me to no end. My C post was for Charlotte Perkins Gilman who was the Grand-niece of Harriet Beecher Stowe. My I post for tomorrow is Ina Coolbrith who was friends with Mark Twain who was neighbors of Harriet Beecher Stowe. I have visited Emily Dickinson's home and Emerson's home and while I am at it, Louise May Alcott and Thoreau's home.

I think we are kindred spirits!!

Thank you for your post to the main A to Z challenge blog... I read it daily and am always glad to meet new friends there!

PS - My Mom went to Colorado College in Colorado Springs. She was Miss Colorado College 1952. LOL

Julie Jordan Scott
Fellow A to Z Challenge Participant
H is for Hilda/HD
On a Mission to Spread Word-Love Throughout the World

Rebecca said...

wow i'm learning a lot while reading your A to Z post

Sonia Lal said...

I never heard of her, but she sounds pretty inspiring.

Sonia Lal, A to Z challenge

Erin M. Hartshorn said...

I'd never heard of Helen Hunt Jackson before. Thanks for the history lesson!

My helping hands? The writer friends I chat with regularly, who help me with my brainstorming and don't hesitate to tell me when things still need work.


Jeremy [Retro] said...

Here I thought it was actress Helen Hunt, I am a guy... Though I am happy I learned more stuff, thank you...

Happy... to the challenge "H" is for Harmonious!
Jeremy [Retro-Zombie]
A to Z Co-Host
My New Book:
Retro-Zombie: Art and Words

Debra Harris-Johnson said...

Thanks for such a powerful story.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I like Ramona. May I say, however, I do not like the dresses of Helen Hunt Jacksons era? :)


T. Powell Coltrin said...

I like Ramona. May I say, however, I do not like the dresses of Helen Hunt Jacksons era? :)


Anonymous said...

I haven't heard of Helen before, but I enjoyed reading about her here. She was a passionate, strong-willed person.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Never heard of Ms. Hunt. You are a history expert, Shannon!

Cherie Reich said...

I haven't heard of Helen Hunt Jackson. She sounds fascinating, though!

And it's great to have those helping hands. I'd be lost without my CPs. :)

Lynn Proctor said...

i think she did exactly right---so sad about her sons----she sounded like a great lady--enjoyed your post very much

Jo Schaffer Layton said...

Awesome! Helen rocks.

Chuck said...

Such an interesting story. Every one of your posts so far in the challenge have held me til the end and left me wanting more...Colorado has some history.

Sidne said...

yes, I had read of Helen while reading about Emily D. It was a very short read, yours was more detailed. I enjoyed reading about her and the pics was such a nice touch.

Julie Flanders said...

I didn't know about Helen. What an inspiring woman!!

And, you are so right about the helping hands. That's so true, and the biggest reason I just love the blogging community.

Sangita Kalarickal said...

Wow, what a lady Helen was! She even looked formidable!

Deniz Bevan said...

I can not believe I've never heard of her! So glad you posted about this. I've added Ramona to my wishlist.

Anonymous said...

Helping hands, social justice and a wonderful blog post that brings it all together in a very strong and emotional story. Good stuff and lots of food for thought....

Mary Aalgaard said...

What a tragic life. So full of grief and loss. She probably felt that she had nothing more to lose, so why not fight for justice in an unjust world. Good for her. She would have been a great person to have in a writing group!

Peggy Eddleman said...

Awww! Such a great story! Writers definitely need lots of helping hands. Good thing writers are so good at giving helping hands!!

Laurisa White Reyes said...

I had heard about her before. There's a museum not far from here where Ramona was filmed many years ago.

Laura Barnes said...

Never heard of her until now. Thanks for introducing her.

Laura B Writer

JaneofAustralia said...

Shannon. I was only half way through your H is for when my creative brain went into overdrove and I tapped out a new chapter, with 2new characters. So thanks. I came back and read the rest about HHJ and am impressed. I learned some things I will need to think about for 'my people' that I have located South of Colorado Springs, beyond the shadow of Pikes Peak.
Thank you for sharing and for visiting me over at A String of Pearls.

Janeof Australia

running4him said...

Hey, great post!!! Nice blog and layout!! Keep up the good work!! You are invited to follow or check out my blog anytime!! Have a great day!!

Lindi said...

Hi Shannon--we all need helping hands. In so many ways--

And what an interesting woman Helen was. I hadn't heard of her, but am interested in her book Ramona. She sounds like quite the game-changer in her times. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing about her.

Alison Miller said...

I can see where people can get isolated with writing, but my writing buddies won't let me - and thank God for that! I need their feedback, encouragement, and inspiration. And critiquing strengthens my own writing SO MUCH.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

This was a very interesting post. I've never heard of Helen Hunt Jackson, but now that I've read your post about her I'm curious to know more.


Andrew Leon said...

Never heard of her before. Now, I want to read that book. The non-fiction one.

Renaissance Women said...

As a person who portrays Helen and is a passionate reader of her work, I thank you for posting this. There are a few statements I would challenge, but not in this forum. Instead I wish to thank you again for making this amazing woman and the passion of her later life available to other readers. She was an opinionated woman, prolific writer and the body of her work, written from around 1834-35 to 1855 is nothing less that amazing.

Unknown said...

A noble cause :)

I've not seen Labyrinth in an age. I must rectify that!

Fellow A-Z Bloggy Buddy
Mithril Wisdom

Shannon Lawrence said...

Nicole, I agree about her being the epitome of someone who fought for what they believed in. I think it's extra significant when it was not something that affected her personally. I've never understood hunger strikes, either.

K.D., thanks! I regret not buying her books when I was at Helen Hunt Falls, as the gift shop there is now closed.

Perle, sounds very interesting; I will be by soon.

Angeline, hee hee, love Labrynth! My kids just tune it out now. Haha. The pen truly is mighty. I think it's remarkable the attention she brought to Native issues.

Gossip Grl, I agree! The fact that she had to use a pen name to come across as male to sell her previous books proves she went above and beyond societal norms at the time.

Julie, how cool! About it all! The house visits and your mom having been out here. Love your theme!

Becca, glad to hear it!

Shannon Lawrence said...

Sonia, she really is, so it's sad that she never became more of a name.

Erin, those are the best kinds of helping hands to have!

Jeremy, haha, too funny! I'm afraid she is not old enough to have been around in the Wild West...

Debra, thank you for reading it!

Teresa, you read it? Wonderful! The dresses certainly weren't flattering or comfortable-looking.

Medeia, she certainly was!

Alex, well, a research expert, anyway.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Cherie, you have some awesome CP's! Ditto for them, of course.

Lynn, I agree with you!

Jo, she certainly did!

Chuck, what a delight to hear! Thank you!

Sidne, I'm gratified to hear that she was mentioned in a bio of Dickinson!

Julie, so true, the blogging community is an excellent set of helping hands!

Sangita, now that you mentioned it, she sort of did look formidable!

Shannon Lawrence said...

Deniz, I hope you like it!

M.J., thank you for your kind words!

Mary, she inspired in so many ways!

Peggy, you're so right! I was so shy when I came into the writing world, afraid to reach out, but no matter how much success writers find, they always seem willing to reach out. I don't think there are many other fields where you might find that.

Laurisa, I find it so great that you'd heard of her! Very cool about the museum.

Laura, thanks for sticking around and reading about her!

Jane, I think it's so cool that you're setting a book around here. And what a wonderful thing to hear!

Shannon Lawrence said...

Running4him, thanks!

Lindi, she was definitely a game changer! I think she humanized a group of people that were very much dehumanized by most.

Alison, I need a group like that!

Susanne, I'm so glad to hear that!

Andrew, what? Not the romance? I'd like to read the nonfiction one most, as well. Then again, part of me is a little afraid to.

Renaissance Women, oh how wonderful! I'm interested in the statements you'd challenge. I find her to be a fascinating woman.

Jamie, Labrynth is just one of those movies you need to revisit every little once in awhile!