The Many Names of Helen Hunt Jackson

Post (c) Doris McCraw


Helen Hunt Jackson is not a well-known name to many. This of course is partially due to the fact she died in 1885. Additionally, she had many names during her lifetime, one of which was not Helen Hunt Jackson.

She was born Helen Maria Fiske in 1830. She carried this name until her marriage to Edward Bissell Hunt on October 28, 1852. At that time, as was the custom, she assumed her husband’s surname. It was not until after Edward’s death and Helen started writing for publication that we begin to see use of the many names now associated with Helen Hunt Jackson.

One of the first pseudonyms she used was the name Marah. In the Hebrew tradition the name Marah means ‘bitter’, which fits Helen’s life at that time. She had already lost her first son at eleven months in 1854, and then her husband, Edward in 1863. The final blow was the death of her remaining child, her second son, in 1865. According to the biography “Helen Hunt Jackson” by Ruth Odell, the name Marah appeared in 1865, the year of Rennie’s death, with the first poems published by Helen and continued throughout that year. 1865 was also the year H.H. appeared.

Of all the pen names used by Helen, H.H. was probably the one most frequently used by Helen. Of all her works H. H. is the one most commonly seen. Still as an author who was writing to be published at a time women were not using their ‘real’ names, Helen made use of additional pen names to increase her options for publication.

In 1867 and again in 1868 Helen made use of the name Rip Van Winkle for at least two of her prose works.

Helen briefly used Helen Hunt and Mrs. Helen Hunt in 1868 and Marah showed up again in 1870. There is also one instance where she used the name ‘Justice’.

After her marriage to William S. Jackson in 1875, Helen then used the name Helen Jackson in her correspondence but continued using H. H. in her writings. Helen had said she did not use the name ‘ Hunt’ because there was no reason to constantly remind William of Edward. Also, in that time, women used the last name of the man they were married to.

11-13-11 book signing 123
Gravesite- Helen – Wife of William S. Jackson, 1885 ‘Emgravit’ (As per her instructions)

For her novels Helen used H. H., No Name, and Saxe Holm. If you were to read her ‘romance’ stories they would probably have the name Saxe Holm. For many years there was a question as to who the author really was, for Helen had made her publisher swear to tell no one.

In her autobiography Francis Wolcott (Mrs. Francis Bass when Helen knew her) states that ‘she figured out who Saxe Holm was from the various things Helen had said, and Helen did not deny the assumption’.

After 1879, when Helen heard Standing Bear of the Ponca tribe speak, her focus became the plight of the Ponca Indians and from there the plight of all Native people. She was still using H.H., when her non-fiction work a “Century of Dishonor”, was published. There is some discussion that she may have used her real name Helen Jackson on “Century of Dishonor”, but instead it was used for her “Reports on the Conditions of the Mission Indians”. This was a report for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and also may have been published for the public.

The only work other than the above mentioned report that was published under her real name, Helen Jackson is “Ramona”.

It seems that the use of Helen Hunt Jackson for Helen’s works occurred after her husband William married her niece, also named Helen. This change may have been to avoid confusion between Helen Jackson the author, who died three years prior to William’s second marriage, and Helen Jackson the niece.

During Helen’s lifetime, it was normal for female authors to use pseudonyms which Helen did. Still with the use of H.H. it was obvious to those who followed her work, who this really was. According to the same biography by Ruth Odell, Helen wanted people to know who she was. If you look at the work with all the ‘names’ used by Helen you will find a substantial body of work. Helen excelled not only at poetry, but also essays, novels and short stories. She wrote for children and adults, both with equal skill.

If you get the chance, check out the works of Helen by any of her names. You will not be disappointed. Many of her works are in the public domain, but the one most might enjoy is “Nelly’s Silver Mine” Google Books, Nelly’s Silver Mine, one of the first children’s book to make use of place as almost another character.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -also writing as Angela Raines
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women’s History

For a list of Angela Raines BooksHere 
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18 thoughts on “The Many Names of Helen Hunt Jackson

  1. Love this. I know she is like a sister to you, and you love her. I enjoy your reports to us on her and other early women. I love the name Marah but didn’t know what it meant. Thanks, Doris. Sad that her husband married her niece. Cher’ley


    1. Thank you Cher’ley. She is an inspiration to me, that is for sure. What she accomplished, in terms of writing, is amazing. And to think she didn’t start until she was in her thirties. Doris


  2. What an amazing array of names for one person. I’d never be able to keep track. I am slightly confused, though, when near the end of your post you say that
    “It seems that the use of Helen Hunt Jackson for Helen’s works occurred after her husband William married her niece, also named Helen. This change may have been to avoid confusion between Helen Jackson the author and Helen Jackson the niece.”
    Do I assume by then Helen the author was divorced from Mr. Jackson or did he ‘bigamously’ marry the niece?


    1. Sorry, William married Helen’s niece after her death in 1885. If I remember correctly he married the niece a few years later, around 1888. Sometimes you know something, then you forget to add the details. *Smile* Doris


  3. Thanks for this post, Doris. I always learn something from your posts about Jackson. When I was working on my thesis about Ramona, I got confused by several references to Helen Jackson, couldn’t make sense out of them. Finally I realized there were three Helen Jacksons–the original, the niece, and the niece’s daughter. I don’t recall the Odell bio mentioning that William Jackson married Helen’s niece, but the Banning bio did (and suggested that Helen’s absence during much of the marriage and her niece’s presence in the Jackson home might have led to the relationship). When I told my thesis adviser about my confusion over the second Helen, who had also married Mr. Jackson, he said, “What do you make of that?” Well, nothing.


    1. You are welcome Kathy. The three Helen’s can be confusing. I’d actually met the grand niece and spent some time on the phone with one of the descendants of the second wife. Perhaps the closeness of the second Helen helped, but I get the feeling it may not have been due to the circumstances Banning indicates. It was a least three years before Wm. married the second Helen. Studying his story, it think there may have been more to his choice than most realize. (Just my opinion, of course.) Doris


  4. She sounds like an amazing woman. Losing her husband Edward in 1863 makes me wonder if he was a Civil War soldier. Sad that she outlived her children. I haven’t, but I will click on the link and check out her children’s book.


  5. Mike, Yes, Edward was a graduate of West Point and was in charge of fortification in Florida at the beginning of the war. He was killed when the invention he was working on, a means to fire rockets from a ship, created fumes that were not vented correctly. (That’s the short version, and a fascinating story. There are some that say if he had lived…)

    Despite outliving her children, or in spite of it, she was one of the most prolific writers of her time, and a highly thought of poet. Doris


    1. You are welcome Abbie. Even though she was writing poetry in the 1800’s a lot of her work reads pretty modern. Hope you enjoy if you get the chance to read or hear it. Doris

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Very interesting post, as always, Doris! I have a question: when husband #2 married her niece, was he still also married to Helen? Were they Mormon? Or were they divorced? I wonder if she was able to keep track of all the different names she used during her writing career? I wouldn’t be able to! Thanks for a great post!


    1. Gayle, it was my error. The first Helen had passed away about three years prior to the marriage of William to her niece.

      Knowing her as best I can, I would probably say she kept a written record of which work had which name. *Smile*

      Thank you for your kind words, I love sharing the history I find. Doris


  7. Enjoyed the history as always. I have heard Helen Hunt Jackson but didn’t know all these details or the many names she used. I, too, would have been confused trying to keep all my “personalities” straight! But do see it as useful if writing in different genres. Perhaps the niece helped care for Helen before she died, or lived with them. Not uncommon for the surviving spouse to marry someone they had close contact with then. And not uncommon to keep a family name like Helen in succeeding generations back then either. Sounds like a very interesting lady with a very difficult life and writing probably was her outlet and sanity saver.


    1. Neva, she was and continues to be a source of interest and inspiration for me. You are spot on about it being a family name and that Helen, while I’m not sure the niece Helen helped care for the author Helen, she did stay with the William and her aunt on occasion.

      It is a study in discipline when researching earlier eras to keep current thoughts about how things should be out of the equation. Not always easy. Thank you for your comments and insights. Doris


  8. Some writers still struggle with pen names. Those who write in different genre tend to use a different name for each type of work. My practice of using my initials has served me well in the Photography industry. Most publishers assume the work was done by a man, but that is okay the bank will cash checks made out to Mr S. J. Brown. Thanks for sharing this interesting post.


    1. S.J., I use a pen name for my fiction. Like you, it has come in handy.

      I can see where using your initials is a good practice, but in my book women can and are just as talented as their male counterparts. *Smile* Doris


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