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Helen Jackson (1919–2020), last known widow of a Civil War veteran

by Linnea Crowther

Helen Jackson was the last known surviving widow of a Civil War veteran.

Her historic life

Jackson volunteered as a caregiver to Civil War veteran James Bolin when she was a young woman and he, a neighbor, was in his final years. He appreciated her help, but he couldn’t afford to pay her – so he offered to marry her so she would inherit his Civil War pension when he died. The two were wed in 1936, when she was 17 and he was 93. Jackson told few people of the marriage, not wanting to invite salacious gossip about the arrangement. She kept her name and continued living at her own home even after the marriage, though she still helped care for Bolin until his death in 1939.

It was only in recent years, as she planned her own funeral, that Jackson disclosed the truth of her early marriage. Prior to the disclosure, the last known surviving widow of a Civil War veteran had been Maudie Hopkins, who died in 2008. Jackson’s marriage was verified by the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War via testimony of a witness, as well as a notation of the ceremony in Bolin’s family Bible. Jackson never remarried, and she was active in her community as a member of her local garden club, historical society, and other groups.

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Notable quote

“Mr. Bolin really cared for me. He wanted me to have a future and he was so kind.” —from an interview with Our America magazine

Full obituary: People

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