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.
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