Matthew Hill received Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies and Psychology from Columbia International University. Hill also received an M.A. and Ph.D. in History from Georgia State University. He has over 10 years of teaching experience as a professor and online instructor for courses like American History, Western Civilization, Religious History of the United States, and more.
Childhood and Education
It is ironic that someone who showed little inclination toward reform in college became a leading champion of Native American rights. Helen Hunt Jackson's legacy was built on her literary talents and her humanitarian interests.
Jackson was born on October 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. She was one of four children, though her two brothers died young. Her father, Nathan Fiske, was a professor of classical languages at Amherst. Both her mother and father died while she was a teenager, and she was raised by her aunt. Fortunately, her parents had provided the means for her to attend boarding schools in New York. She then attended college at Amherst, where she befriended Emily Dickinson, a famous poet and lifelong friend and correspondent of Jackson.
Marriage and Tragedy
In 1852, Jackson married Edward Bissell Hunt, who was an Army engineer. They had two sons, but both died while young. On top of this, her husband was killed in an accident in 1863, and she suddenly found herself without a family. Jackson took up writing at this stage, most likely as a way to express her grief.
Jackson began writing poems that were published in newspapers. In time, her writings were published as collected works, such as Verses (1870), Bits of Travel at Home (1878), and Easter Bells (1884). Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a noted poet of the era, provided her valuable advice on publishing and introduced her to other literary talents. Given the suspicion of female authors during this period of time, Jackson often wrote under the pseudonym 'H.H.' among others. Her claim to fame, though, rests on her literary work on Native Americans.
Moving Out West
In 1872, Jackson took a train from New York to San Francisco to gather material for a book and became mesmerized by the Western landscape. In ill health, she moved to Colorado Springs, where she remarried. Her husband, William Sharpless Jackson, was an executive for the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad and then became a prominent banker. Her time in the West proved important, as it put her closer to the Native Americans she would write about.
A Century of Dishonor
Jackson showed little interest in reform work until she attended a lecture of Ponca and Omaha Indians in Boston. Jackson was especially moved by the speech of the chief of the Ponca tribe, Chief Standing Bear. She then used her literary talents to champion their cause. The result, the 1881 A Century of Dishonor, not only chronicled the tragic relationship between the U.S. government and Native Americans, but was also written to affect government policy. In fact, Jackson sent a copy to each member of Congress. Her work was a sensation and brought the plight of Native Americans to the general public.
Department of the Interior
Many in the U.S. government were impressed with Jackson's compassion toward Native Americans. Hiram Price, who was Commissioner of Indian Affairs under President James Garfield, tasked Jackson with conducting a field study on the Mission Indian tribes in Southern California for the Department of the Interior. The result was a 56-page report for the government titled, Report on the Condition and Needs of the Mission Indians in 1883. Unlike her other writings, this was more educational in nature, but it was useful for government policy-making. Jackson was captivated by California culture, and based on her exposure to the surrounding tribal culture, she soon penned her best-known novel, titled Ramona.
Ramona and California
Ramona is the story of a mixed Indian-Scots girl raised on a Spanish mission. She falls in love with a Native American boy named Alessandro, and they had to elope because their marriage was looked down upon. In the first half of the novel, the two triumphed; in the second half, the two lost their land due to government seizure of Native American land.
Ramona was a fictional story designed as social commentary, but an unintended result of the novel substantially increased tourism in the state of California due to its romantic setting and idealized image. The significance of Ramona in raising awareness for the struggles of Native Americans is often contrasted with the impact Harriett Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, had on slavery.
Final Years and Legacy
One of her last acts before her death was to write a personal letter to President Grover Cleveland. In her letter, Jackson urged him to read A Century of Dishonor and to pursue friendly policies toward Native Americans. Jackson died in August 1885 in San Francisco about a year after the publication of Ramona. She was frustrated that her work did not bring about immediate change in government policy, but her works were increasingly referenced by other spokespersons on behalf of Native Americans. Although A Century of Dishonor and Ramona remain her best-known works, her collected poetry has enjoyed a wide readership over the years.
Helen Hunt Jackson played a key role in becoming an advocate for Native Americans. A graduate of Amherst and friend of Emily Dickinson, she showed little interest in reform work until attending a lecture of Ponca and Omaha Indians in Boston. Her exposé, A Century of Dishonor, chronicled the dismal history of the government's actions toward Native Americans. The federal government took notice, and she published a field study of Indians in Southern California titled Report on the Condition and Needs of the Mission Indians.
Her popular novel, Ramona, was a fictional story on the same theme, though its somewhat romanticized setting in Southern California inspired heightened tourism in the state. She also published several works of poetry, and although less popular than her two works on Native Americans, they have received continual interest over the years.
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