Helen Viola Jackson Biography — Wiki
Helen Viola Jackson is the last known widow of a Civil War soldier who has died, ending a remarkable life story that she had kept to herself for over 80 years. When Maudie Hopkins of Arkansas died in 2008, it was believed that there were no known Civil War widows left in the nation.
Then, in December 2017, Helen Viola Jackson of Marshfield, Missouri, decided to tell her own astonishing tale.
How old was Helen Viola Jackson?
Helen Viola Jackson was 101 years old at the time of death.
Obituary: Helen Viola Jackson Death and Cause of Death
‘I never wanted to share my story with the public,’ she said in 2018. ‘I didn’t feel that it was that important and I didn’t want a bunch of gossip about it.’
Helen Viola Jackson explained that she was 17 when she married 93-year-old James Bolin, in 1936.
Bolin was a friend of her family, and the teenage Jackson was sent by her father to assist him in his old age. He was unable to pay her for her service, and so he suggested they marry, in order for her to claim his Union pension. Jackson, one of ten children, agreed – but on the condition, she could keep her unmarried name, and continue living with her family on the farm. Bolin agreed, and they remained married until his death on June 18, 1939.
Jackson never remarried and had no children. She also never claimed his pension, after Bolin’s step-daughter threatened to smear her reputation if she did so.
‘I didn’t want them all to think that I was a young woman who had married an old man to take advantage of him.’
Jackson’s death, and her story, was confirmed by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War
The Jackson family – James Washington Jackson, his wife Thursa Arizona Shelby Jackson, and their 10 children – farmed just outside Niangua, and began to assist the elderly widower. Helen Jackson met Bolin at church, during the height of the Great Depression, and her father volunteered her to stop by his house each day and assist him with chores as she headed home from school.
Bolin, who did not want to be seen as a charity case, came up with the idea of marrying Helen, as a way of securing her financial future.
‘He said that he would leave me his Union pension,’ Jackson explained, in an interview with Hamilton C. Clark, a historian.
The couple married in front of a few witnesses at his Niangua home on September 4, 1936.
‘Mr. Bolin really cared for me,’ she said in an interview for Our America Magazine.
After the wedding, Jackson remained on the family farm, and few knew of the arrangement.
Speaking at the 2018 Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival – which she helped found – she gave her reasons for keeping the marriage a secret.
‘How do you explain that you have married someone with such a difference in age,’ she said.
‘I had great respect for Mr Bolin and I did not want him to be hurt by the scorn of wagging tongues.’
In a remarkable twist, after his death she never did claim his pension: one of Bolin’s daughters threatened to make the arrangement public, and ruin her reputation.
Jackson received numerous accolades, including serving as grand marshal in her hometown’s annual Independence Day Parade.
What we know so far about Helen Viola Jackson
Helen Viola Jackson was active in her Methodist church, where the ladies’ ministry was named in her honor, and in her local gardening club.
She also received an honorary high school diploma from Niangua High School, courtesy of the class of 1937.
A play about Jackson’s life, The Secret Veil, was written in 2019 and performed at the Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival as a fundraiser for the Randy Travis Foundation, set up by the country music star for stroke victims.
Jackson died on December 16 at Webco Manor Nursing Home in Marshfield, Missouri, where she had been a resident for many years.
She was working on her funeral arrangements in 2017, when she finally decided to open up about her life.