Helen Hunt Jackson Collection, 1837-1999


Biographical Note

Helen Hunt Jackson was born Helen Maria Fiske in Amherst, Massachusetts on October 14, 1830. Her parents, Nathan Welby and Deborah (Vinal) Fiske, were orthodox Calvinists and Helen was raised as such. Her father was a minister who also taught Latin and Greek at Amherst College. Both of her parents were writers, and used writing to express their beliefs of predestination and Christianity. In contrast to her good friend Emily Dickinson, as a child Helen was known for her large personality and grand imagination.

In 1841, Jackson began what would become a lifetime of traveling, by going to live with family friends in Hadley, Massachusetts. Jackson’s mother suffered from tuberculosis, or consumption as it was then called. In 1843 Jackson went to live at a boarding school in Pittsfield. Deborah Fiske’s health did not improve and she died from tuberculosis in 1844. Her father was also not healthy, and died in 1846 of dysentery. At the age of 16, Helen was an orphan. Helen and her sister Annie went to live with Julius A. Palmer and his family. Mr. Palmer became the girl’s guardian, while their grandfather supported them financially.

In 1851, Helen went to live with Mr. Palmer’s brother, Reverend Ray Palmer, in Albany, New York. It was in Albany that Helen met and eventually married Edward Hunt, a civil engineer and lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers. They were married on October 28, 1852, a few weeks after Helen’s twenty-second birthday. In 1853, they had a son Murray. Helen was about to suffer more losses, as Murray died at age one of brain tumors. Helen and Edward conceived another child and Helen spent her pregnancy in fear. She gave birth to a second son in 1855, Warren Horsford, nicknamed Rennie. From 1857-1862, Edward was stationed in Key West, and didn’t see his family except in summers. In 1863, Edward was killed when testing a device he invented that could shoot torpedoes from submarines. In 1865, Helen and Rennie went to visit her sister Ann in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, where Rennie contracted diphtheria and died three days later. Though Helen locked herself away, she also began to write. Her first publication, titled “The Key of the Casket” (1865), was a poem for Rennie.

In the 1870’s Helen herself became sick and was instructed by a doctor to move to Colorado Springs in the hope that the climate would better agree with her. It was in Colorado Springs that Helen met William Sharpless Jackson, who would become her husband in 1875. It wasn’t long before Helen began to travel the Western United States. While traveling, Helen witnessed the poor treatment of Native Americans and took up an interest in expressing this unjust behavior to the rest of the country.

Helen’s most popular publication, Ramona, dealt with these injustices, and was based on a scene that Helen had witnessed involving a white man killing a Native American man. It was published in 1884. Helen wrote the book while dealing with her illness, which would later be revealed as cancer. She felt that was her mission to write this book, although she knew it would be her last. In 1885, Helen died in a boarding house in California.

Scope and Contents

This collection follows Helen Hunt Jackson’s life beginning when she was seven years old living in Amherst, Massachusetts through her final days in Colorado and California and into the years following her life as her writings continued to be read and cherished. Helen Hunt Jackson’s life was celebrated by Amherst, Massachusetts, and Colorado Springs, the two places that meant the most to Helen in her lifetime. The collection includes original manuscripts, poems, and letters, correspondence about publications of her works, scholarly articles, newspaper clippings, ephemera for her novel Ramona and subsequent film versions of the novel, and ephemera from centennial celebrations remembering her birth and death, and photographs and illustrations.


1.5 linear feet (3 manuscript boxes)

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.


The collection was started in 1930 by Charles Green, the first director of the Jones Library, and continued to grow well into the 1980’s. He began by collecting letters and manuscripts written by Helen Hunt Jackson, which were donated or sold to the library by her relatives or rare book collectors. While the provenance of the items in this collection is varied, the unifying factor in almost every instance is Green as a collector. This is an active collection and new items may be added at any time.

Preferred Citation

(Folder name), Helen Hunt Jackson Collection, Special Collections, Jones Library, Amherst, Massachusetts.

Processing Information

Processed in October and November 2009 by Lea Soranno. Finding aid re-written in 2022 by Katherine Whitcomb.

Related Materials

Emily Dickinson Collection, Series 1: Poems and Letters. Box 1. Two letters from Emily Dickinson: one to Helen Hunt Jackson in 1883 and a condolence letter to William S. Jackson in 1885.

Published Editions. A complete listing of editions of Jackson’s works and related publications held by the library can be found in the online catalog.

Biographical Reference. See folder: Tyler, Henry Mather: The Old Home in the Special Collections manuscript collections for a reference to the birthplace of Helen Hunt Jackson.

Articles. Articles are indexed in a card catalog in Special Collections.

Series Arrangement and Description

The collection is organized into six series:

Series 1: Writings, 1879-1885
This series contains 10 manuscripts, either being pieces of larger works or poems, some of which may be unpublished. One significant manuscript in the collection is a piece of her best-known novel, Ramona. Another significant manuscript in the collection is a poem titled Habeas Corpus, which was written on August 7, 1885, just 6 days before her death. Series 1 is arranged alphabetically.

Series 2: Correspondence, 1837-1884
This series contains 29 letters from Helen Hunt Jackson to friends and business associates. Jackson wrote the earliest letters in the collection at age seven to a family friend. The letters are of significance as many letters written by Jackson were destroyed upon her death according to her instructions. Series 2 is arranged chronologically as far as can be determined.

Series 3: Published Works, 1876-1939
This series contains several published articles and pamphlets written by Helen Hunt Jackson which were printed during her lifetime or re-printed after her death.

Series 4: Subject Files, 1884-1985
The bulk of the collection consists of subject files relating to Helen Hunt Jackson, her life, and her literary career. Included in the subject files are articles and news clippings about Jackson, letters pertaining to the publication of her work and subsequent film adaptations, press releases and programs to celebrations commemorating her life and death, and biographical memorabilia. In particular, this series contains ephemera from the novel, Ramona, including the pen Jackson used to write the novel. Series 4 is arranged alphabetically by folder title.

Series 5: Charles Green Correspondence and Notes, 1930-1985
This series contains letters to and from Charles Green in regards to materials for the Helen Hunt Jackson Collection, and notes that he took while researching Jackson’s life. It should be noted that not every letter to or from Charles Green in the collection is contained in this series, as some of the letters are kept with the materials to which they refer.

Series 6: Photographs, circa 1850-1884
The series includes photographic prints of portraits of Jackson, of her homes in Amherst, Massachusetts and Colorado Springs, and prints of engravings of Jackson.

Collection Inventory

Series 1: Writings, 1879-1885

Box Folder Description Date
1 1 “Bits of Talk for Young People” 
Manuscript contains many corrections. Several titles given: Attention and Observation, Captain Bright-Eyes and Lady Quick-Ear-A Sort of Fairy Story.

1 2 "Fealty"
A fourteen-line poem written by Jackson.
1 3 “Habeas Corpus” 
A poem in twelve stanzas. Written six days before her death.

1885 August 7
1 4 “In Time of Famine” 
A fifteen-line poem.
1 5 “Our Seven Lakes” 
Manuscript contains many corrections. First published in the New York Independent, May 1, 1879.
1 6 “Ramona”
A handwritten copy of the opening of chapter XXVI of the novel, Ramona, first published in 1884.
1 7 “Two Harvests”
A two-stanza poem by Jackson.
1 8 “The Way to Sing"
A two-line poem by Jackson.
1881 May 12
1 9 “The Victory of Patience"
A fourteen-line poem by Jackson.
Circa 1885
1 10 Diary Entry
Found in a book formerly the property of her family, but as yet no definitive proof this is the handwriting of Helen Hunt Jackson.
[no year] September
“Bits of Talk for Young People” 
Manuscript contains many corrections. Several titles given: Attention and Observation, Captain Bright-Eyes and Lady Quick-Ear-A Sort of Fairy Story.
“Bits of Talk for Young People” 
Manuscript contains many corrections. Several titles given: Attention and Observation, Captain Bright-Eyes and Lady Quick-Ear-A Sort of Fairy Story.
“Bits of Talk for Young People” 
Manuscript contains many corrections. Several titles given: Attention and Observation, Captain Bright-Eyes and Lady Quick-Ear-A Sort of Fairy Story.
“Bits of Talk for Young People” 
Manuscript contains many corrections. Several titles given: Attention and Observation, Captain Bright-Eyes and Lady Quick-Ear-A Sort of Fairy Story.
“Bits of Talk for Young People” 
Manuscript contains many corrections. Several titles given: Attention and Observation, Captain Bright-Eyes and Lady Quick-Ear-A Sort of Fairy Story.
“Bits of Talk for Young People” 
Manuscript contains many corrections. Several titles given: Attention and Observation, Captain Bright-Eyes and Lady Quick-Ear-A Sort of Fairy Story.
“Bits of Talk for Young People” 
Manuscript contains many corrections. Several titles given: Attention and Observation, Captain Bright-Eyes and Lady Quick-Ear-A Sort of Fairy Story.
“Bits of Talk for Young People” 
Manuscript contains many corrections. Several titles given: Attention and Observation, Captain Bright-Eyes and Lady Quick-Ear-A Sort of Fairy Story.

Series 2: Correspondence, 1837-1884

111To Mrs. Terry
Writing to a family friend thanking her for gifts that she had sent to her and her sister.
1837 October
112To Mrs. Terry
Jackson apologizes for the three-month delay in her response. She describes her dislike for Albany to her friend and writes, “If you have never seen the place I shall prejudice you.” Jackson also tells of a recent visit to her home by Mr. Julius Palmer and his daughter Lucy. Accompanied by transcript of letter written by donor, Fanny Haskins Boltwood.
1851 December 2
113Niagara Falls to Mrs. Seth Terry 
Jackson writes to tell her friend that she is sad that circumstances have kept them apart. Written from the Cataract House in Niagara Falls, NY. Accompanied by a transcript of the letter written by the donor, Fanny Haskins Boltwood.
1852 June 8
114Newport, RI to Mrs. Anne Lynch Botta
Jackson writes to tell her friend that she misses her, and hopes she will visit soon.
1855 October 11
115Newport, RI to Mrs. Botta
The letter is addressed to “my dear botany,” one variation of the nickname Jackson uses for her friend Mrs. Botta. Helen writes that she thinks it may be disrespectful to call her friend by this nickname, but says “there is something so irresistibly comic in this one".
1856 July 13
116Newport, RI to Mrs. Botta
The letter is address to “the one bottanie,” another variation of the nickname Jackson uses for her friend. The letter contains a sonnet by Jackson. The letter was written on the black-bordered stationery.
1868 February 24
117To Mr. Clarke
A letter declining payment for her stories, “A Short Catechism,” and “My Aunt’s Cure” because the stories are worth more to her.
1870 October 21
118Newport, RI to Miss Gilder
A letter responding to the request for her to get Charlotte Cushman’s autograph, for a friend. She states that she would be delighted to get the autograph. Charlotte Cushman was an actress who was friends with Helen.
1871 March 5
119To Mrs. Botta
Jackson tells her friend that she had Mrs. Cushman read her poem “Funeral March” and will send a copy to Mrs. Botta. Letter written on stationery with black border.
1872 January 14
120Newport, RI to Mrs. Botta
A letter from Jackson to her friend, Mrs. Botta.
1872 January 26
121Newport, RI to Mr. Fairbanks
The letter explains that Jackson was not satisfied with the stationery he sent. Written on stationery with black border.
1872 November 12
122Colorado Springs to Mrs. Botta
Jackson writes that she is sorry to hear about the death of Mrs. Botta’s mother. Written on stationery with a black border.
1874 January 28
123Colorado Springs to Mr. Ward
Jackson writes that she has received a note from Ellen G. Willington asking for her autograph, and assumes she was given Jackson’s address through him. She goes on to discuss a disagreement in payment from the New York Independent, the publication Mr. Ward worked for. Letter written on black-bordered stationery.
1874 February 28
124Colorado Springs to Mr. Welch
A letter containing the orders for carpets to be made for her friend’s house. She asks for carpets to be made in a week to ten days because her friend will be returning to her house in a month. Letter written on stationery with black border.
1874 May 12
125Colorado Springs to Messrs Coates and Company
Jackson writes that the books they were printing were well done and she believes the series will be a success.
1876 March 20
126Boston, MA to Mr. Nims
Apologizing for the accidental use of his father’s name in her novel, “Mercy Philbrick’s Choice.” She states that she did not mean to use the name and explains that it must have been imprinted in her brain from childhood.
1876 October 2
127Colorado Springs to C. W. Chase, Secretary of the Papyrus Club
A letter stating Jackson’s regret that she cannot attend the celebration given by the Papyrus Club.
1879 February 10
128Colorado Springs to Messrs Estes and Lauriat
A letter that corresponded with notes on children’s books that were sent to her. (Notes not in collection.)
1879 February 11
129Bergen, Norway to Mrs. Botta
Jackson writes to thank her friend for the newspaper clipping she sent about Indians.
1880 July 30
130London, England to Mr. Marion
A letter stating that she will send her friend the papers and photographs of the Strasbourg Cathedral.
1880 September 24
131Colorado Springs to Miss Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
Jackson writes that she would be glad to meet Miss Phelps’s friend and that, “any friend of yours in Colorado needs no more introduction to me”.
1881 September 23
132To the Agent or Manufacturer of Cross’s Stylographic Pen
Jackson is writing the manufacturer of pens she purchased and wants to return.
1883 July 20
133To Mr. Rideing
Jackson writes that she wants to write the “Indian Story” for the Youth’s Companion magazine.
1884 May 28
134To Mr. Wilkinson
Jackson explains that she has not written sooner because she was in bed with a badly broken leg for five weeks.
1884 July 28
135To Lizzie Ordway
This letter was written by Jackson when she was young. Written at the top of the letter is “Tuesday morning School Room,” Lizzie Ordway was one of Helen’s childhood friends. (Accompanying letter to Charles Green.)
136New York to Lizzie Ordway
This letter was written from New York, presumably when Helen moved to New York as a young woman. Jackson writes, “I opened a letter marked Lowell and seeing the writing of my still non forgotten and dear friend Lizzie!”
18-- May 12
137To The Literary World Boston
Jackson writes, “yes the sonnet is in ‘Verses to R.W.E.” Jackson wrote a poem titled “Tribute: R.W.E.” in honor of friend Ralph Waldo Emerson.
138To Mr. A. Smith
A letter stating that Jackson is sending a copy of her book.
139New York to unknown
A thank you note for using Jackson’s “Nez Perce” quote.
18-- February 4

Series 3: Published Works, 1876-1939

Box Folder Description Date
1 40 Several journal articles and printed pamphlets written by Helen Hunt Jackson. 1876-1939

Series 4: Subject Files, 1884-1985

Contains biographical essays on Jackson, two pamphlets titled “In Memoriam” from Jackson’s funeral, a poem about Jackson written by fellow poet Edith M. Thomas, a copy of Jackson’s baptism record from the Church of Christ in Amherst College, a catalog of the Ipswich Female Seminary from 1858 (a school Jackson attended in 1847).
142Boyer, Florence M. (Thesis)
A thesis written by Florence M. Boyer for her MA at Columbia University titled “The Life and Works of Helen Hunt Jackson”.
21Centenary Celebrations
Contains a cassette tape recording of a centennial speech given by Julie Dubrow at the Jones Library on September 16, 1985, newspaper articles on centenary celebrations of Helen Hunt Jackson, an invitation to the centennial celebration in 1987 at the Colorado History Museum, and two posters for the Amherst, Mass centennial celebration.
1931, 1985, 1987
Contains photocopies and transcripts of Jackson’s letters from collections other than the Jones Library including copies of letters between HHJ and her parents (1840-1845), a transcript of a letter from HHJ to Henry S. Goodale, Esq. (1879), and a copy of a letter to Miss Hutchinson (Oct. 29, 1882).
1840-1845, 1879, 1882
23Eastman, Elaine Goodale (Article)
A copy of an article titled, “The Author of Ramona”, published in The Classmate newspaper.
1939 January 21
24Flynn, Anna Agnes (Essay)
An essay titled “Helen Hunt Jackson’s Life in Amherst and its Influence on her Later Writings”.
Circa 1936
25Loving Rebel: A Portrait of Helen Hunt Jackson (Screenplay)
A screenplay by Victress Hitchcock based on Helen Hunt Jackson’s life.
26MacAndrew, Barbara Miller
A handwritten poem illustrated with sea moss and bound by ribbon. The title page reads: “Poem by Helen Hunt Jackson. Illustrated with Florida Sea Mosses.” The poem is an excerpt of “A Parable of Hope”, published in 1886 by Helen Hunt Jackson.
27Martin, Minerva Louise (Thesis)
A thesis written by Minerva Louise Martin for her PhD from Louisiana State University, titled “Helen Hunt Jackson in Relation to Her Times”.
28Mathes, Valerie Sherer (Articles)
An undated manuscript written by Valerie Sherer Mathes, at the City College of San Francisco; a 1981 reprint from Southern California Quarterly, “Helen Hunt Jackson: Official Agent to the California Mission Indians”; a copy of her 1989 article, “Helen Hunt Jackson and the Ponca Controversy” published in Montana the Magazine of Western History; and a copy of the 1999 California History magazine with article, “Helen Hunt Jackson and Southern California’s Mission Indians”.
1981, 1989, 1999, undated
29Narkiewicz, Beverly S. (Article)
A copy of the article “Poets and Friends” published in American History magazine.
1995 April 5
210Nevins, Allan (Article)
An article published in The American Scholar journal titled, “Helen Hunt Jackson, Sentimentalist vs. Realist”.
1942 Spring
211Newspaper Articles
Newspaper articles written about Helen Hunt Jackson.
The pen used by Helen Hunt Jackson while writing Ramona, most likely a Cross’s Stylographic Pen (see letter in Series 2: Correspondence dated July 20, 1883). The pen was given to the Jones Library by Jackson’s niece, Anne Fiske Davenport in 1923. Accompanying the pen is a letter written by Davenport to John M. Tyler, explaining her wishes for the pen to be given to the Jones Library.
32Ramona Clippings
Newspaper clippings on the novel and film versions of the novel.
33Ramona Correspondence
Twenty-one letters pertaining to publishing arrangements for varied printings of Ramona.
34Ramona Miscellaneous
Pamphlets, postcards and other ephemera for the novel.
35Ramona Productions
Memorabilia for film and theater productions based on the novel.
36See, Anna Phillips (Essay)
An essay titled, “The Naughty Girl of Amherst: Helen Hunt Jackson”.
Circa 1923
37Turner, Frederick W. (Article)
A photocopy of an article published by The Massachusetts Review titled “The Century after A Century of Dishonor: American Conscience and Consciousness”.
1975 Autumn

Series 5: Charles Green Correspondence and Notes, 1830-1969

Box Folder Description Date
3 8 Green, Charles: Accession Notes 1956-1969
3 9 Green, Charles: Incoming Correspondence 1930-1958

Series 6: Photographs, circa 1850-1884

Box Folder Description Date
3 10 Portraits of Helen Hunt Jackson, her homes in Amherst, Mass, and her home in Colorado. Circa 1850-1884