Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Helen Hunt Jackson
Thousands were saddened when, Aug. 12, 1885, it was flashed across the wires that
Helen Hunt Jackson was dead. The Nation said, "The news will probably carry a pang of
regret into more American homes than similar intelligence in regard to any other woman,
with the possible exception of Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe."
How, with the simple initials, "H.H.," had she won this place in the hearts of the people?
Was it because she was a poet? Oh no! many persons of genius have few friends. It was
because an earnest life was back of her gifted writings. A great book needs a great man or
woman behind it to make it a perfect work. Mrs. Jackson's literary work will be abiding,
but her life, with its dark shadow and bright sunlight, its deep affections and sympathy
with the oppressed, will furnish a rich setting for the gems of thought which she gave to
Born in the cultured town of Amherst, Mass., Oct. 18, 1831, she inherited from her
mother a sunny, buoyant nature, and from her father, Nathan W. Fiske, professor of
languages and philosophy in the college, a strong and vigorous mind. Her own vivid
description of the "naughtiest day in my life," in St. Nicholas, September and October,
1880, shows the ardent, wilful child who was one day to stand out fearlessly before the
nation and tell its statesmen the wrong they had done to "her Indians."
She and her younger sister Annie were allowed one April day, by their mother, to go into
the woods just before school hours, to gather checkerberries. Helen, finding the woods
very pleasant, determined to spend the day in them, even though sure she would receive a
whipping on her return home. The sister could not be coaxed to do wrong, but a
neighbor's child, with the promise of seeing live snails with horns, was induced to
accompany the truant. They wandered from one forest to another, till hunger compelled
them to seek food at a stranger's home. The kind farmer and his wife were going to a
funeral, and wished to lock their house; but they took pity on the little ones, and gave
them some bread and milk. "There," said the woman, "now, you just make yourselves
comfortable, and eat all you can; and when you're done, you push the bowls in among
them lilac-bushes, and nobody'll get 'em."
Urged on by Helen, she and her companion wandered into the village, to ascertain where
the funeral was to be held. It was in the meeting-house, and thither they went, and seated
themselves on the bier outside the door. Becoming tired of this, they trudged on. One of
them lost her shoe in the mud, and stopping at a house to dry their stockings, they were
captured by two Amherst professors, who had come over to Hadley to attend the funeral.
The children had walked four miles, and nearly the whole town, with the frightened
mother, were in search of the runaways. Helen, greatly displeased at being caught,
jumped out of the carriage, but was soon retaken. At ten o'clock at night they reached
home, and the child walked in as rosy and smiling as possible, saying, "Oh, mother! I've
had a perfectly splendid time!"