Emily Dickinson & Helen Hunt Jackson: Another Famous Friendship

Helen of Troy will die, but Helen of Colorado, never“:  Helen of Troy, of Greek mythology fame as the most beautiful woman in the world, is probably a familiar name to you, but who, you’re most likely wondering is  “Helen of Colorado”?   I know I was when I read that quote by the poet Emily Dickinson about her friend Helen Hunt Jackson, who lived in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

A popular poet, fiction writer and essayist, Helen Hunt Jackson was a prominent and indomitably outspoken advocate of the rights of Native American people.  She produced a barrage of words–letters, speeches, articles, essays and two important books,  A Century of Dishonor,  a searing critique of the U.S. government’s policies, and Ramona, a romance about a mixed race woman and her Indian husband that she wrote “in a way to move people’s hearts,” to change, she hoped, their bigoted attitudes.  (Ramona was adapted for several Hollywood movies.   Since 1923, it has been performed as a pageant at the Ramona Bowl in Hemet, California.)

Born two months apart in Amherst, Massachusetts, Helen (b0rn first) and Emily were childhood friends.  A mutual friend reconnected them when they were in their late 30s.  By then Helen’s two children and her husband had died and she turned to writing to fill the void and support herself.  Emily, who was living in her childhood home, had disengaged from social activities and focused on her poems, making clean copies of earlier poems and produced many more new ones. (More than 800 poems in 40 handsewn booklets were discovered after she died!)  Sending letters back and forth they rekindled their friendship.  On two occasions in the 1870s, Helen visited the reclusive Emily.

They were different in so many ways.  In appearance, except for the same middle-of-the-head part in their hair,  Helen was full bodied, with plump checks, Emily a thin-faced, wisp of a woman.  Helen was  nationally known: Emily was an unknown. While Helen was trying to change policies and attitudes with her words, Emily was keeping hers private, a fact that exasperated Helen.   “It is cruel and wrong,” she fumed in a letter, for Emily to deprive people of her unique poems: “I do not think we have a right to withhold from the world a word or a thought any more than a deed, which might help a single soul.”

Yes, they were as different but their friendship endured, sustained by a shared passion, a passion for words, for writing.

Helen Hunt Jackson died in 1885.  A year later so did Emily Dickinson.

The first link is to a marvelous website, “lit2go” where you can read and listen to the works of many authors. The second is to for Emily Dickinson’s material.





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Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt was born today–Oct. 11th–in 1884. I’ve photographed many landmarks to ER, including this plaque at The Robert Treat Hotel in Newark, NJ, marking 1/18/36  the night she stayed there with FDR. Her words at the top read:   There is no more liberating, no more exhilarating experience than to determine one’s position, state it bravely and then act boldly. Action creates its own courage, and courage is as contagious as fear.ER:TreatHotel

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Sojourner Truth

Today–October 4th–in 2002 a statue was erected honoring Sojourner Truth in Florence, Massachusetts, a village near Northampton. It is one of my favorite statues.SojournerTruthFlorencebest

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Hard Hatted Woman

Cool trailer for “Hard Hatted Woman,” a documentary in progress about women in the trades.  In the mid-90s I regularly gave talks for women who were training for hard hat jobs in New York City at Nontraditional Employment for Women. Their headquarters–a Civil War Era firehouse–was where the publisher held the book party for my book Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II.  In another life, I can imagine being a hard hatted woman. The link is to a kickstarter campaign https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1774810154/hard-hatted-woman

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Maria Mitchell Discovers Comet, October 1, 1847


In front of Maria Mitchell’s home with the director.

A strong-faced woman with her hair arranged in sausage curls, Maria Mitchell was a groundbreaking astronomer.  Today on October 1 in 1847 on the roof of her home in Nantucket, Massachusetts,  twenty-nine-year old Maria discovered a comet.  Here is a link to a wonderful write-up http://www.massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=284   Last year I went mariamitchellgravesmallto Nantucket and had a fascinating tour of her home. Mitchell_Maria_desk


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Meet Penny Colman

Tonight I was organizing files on my computer (long overdue task!!) and discovered Meet Penny Colman, a 2011 6-minute video filmed and edited by Vicki Cobb, president of iNK  (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) Think Tank, a web site with resources galore for readers and teachers of nonfiction literature. Watching myself three years later is a bit embarrassing but still an accurate glimpse of “where I write.”



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Delicious juicy peaches at our local Farmers’ Market this year!!  Wait, I told Linda as she was about to cover this peach and pecan pie that we made for dinner with a friend tonight, I’ve got to take a picture.  The rest of the menu is: grilled salmon; corn on the corn; a vegetable medley; and raisin, nut pumpernickel bread–all from a Farmers’ Market, long may they stay in business!!! peaches

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What Have I Been Up To?

Quick update via a question and answer format to fill in the gap between my 2/15  and 9/3 posts, although I did post on August 26th, Women’s Equality Day:

Have you been speaking?

Penny:  Yes–13 illustrated programs between then and now in various venues and on different topics–”Celebrating Women,”  Adventurous Women: Eight True Stories About Women Who Made a Difference, and  Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World.  In March, I was delighted to give the keynote speech at an event honoring World War II women who had served in the military and the workforce (co-sponsored by Bergen County, NJ and the League of Women Voters).  The link to my 18-minute keynote speech and slide show is on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bb54q_Be5Uw&feature=youtu.be
The photos are: Barbara Ward Christianson, Marine; Beverly Rosenstein, WAC (Army); and Dorothy Dempsey, SPAR (Coast Guard), who is shown receiving a medal and commendation from Kathleen Donovan, the County Executive.Marinesmall

WACsmallSPARsmall(My Fall calendar is posted on my website with my talks on Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II to Corpses, Coffins and Crypts: A History of Burial, and Thanksgiving: The True Story). http://pennycolman.com/speaking-engagements/calendar/

Have you been writing?

Penny: Yes! I am about finished with Listen!: Wise Words from Our Foremothers.  I am wrapping up revising and updating a new edition of my 2000 bestselling book Girls: A History of Growing Up Female in America.  My book, The Truth About How Women Got the Vote, is underway.  If you want to receive email updates about these projects, including when they’ll be available, please contact me at pennycolman@gmail.com

Did you have fun?

Penny: Yes, from 19 days in Alaska, which include a visit with my sister Cam and her husband Rich, to lots of grandmothering. Photos are: me and Linda at the Mendehall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska, me and Linda at Girls on the Run event with 10-year-old Sophie, her daddy Jon and Uncle Steve;  me on Mothers’ Day with 3-month-old Quinn and Balan: Quinn and Balan at the Jersey Shore for the first time & not quite sure what to make of it, 8/25/14. plmendensmallS,J,S,P,LgirlsQ:B:PmotherdaysmallQuinnshoresmallBalanshoresmall

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Lucky and happy me! I had two birthday celebrations this year with all three of my sons and their families, including 10-year-old Sophie & 6-month-old Balan and Quinn! First the weekend with my brother Kip (his b-day is two days before mine) and family at Bemus Point, NY, on Lake Chautauqua, then last night at home in Englewood, NJ. Photos: our excursion to the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Museum & Center for Comedy in Jamestown, NY (l-r front row: Aunt Joyce with Balan, Penny, Nickie with Quinn, Linda, Sophie; back row: David (over Nickie’s shoulder), Steve, Ursula (over Linda’s shoulder), Jon, Katrin).  Me and Kip on 8/30 opening the box of once-read thriller that Linda and I passed on to him; me with Quinn and Sophie on 9/2 familylucyabout to blow out candles on a rapidly melting ice cream cake.P&KCandles

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Women’s Equality Day

August 26th!! It’s Women’s Equality Day established by Congress to celebrate the day in 1920 when the the Nineteenth Amendment was certified. The long, hard struggle against enormous resistance was over; women had won the right to vote!! CattVictoryNYCsmallThe photo is of an exuberant Carrie Chapman Catt, a key strategist in the final decades of the fight, at the victory march in New York City. “The vote is the emblem of your equality, women of America, the guaranty of your liberty . . . Prize it!

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