Last Known Surviving Widow of a Civil War Veteran Dies at 101 in Missouri

Joelle Goldstein
·4 min read

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Helen Viola Jackson, the last known widow of a Civil War soldier, has died. She was 101.

Jackson's death was confirmed in a statement by the Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival, which revealed that she died on Dec. 16 at Webco Manor Nursing Home in Marshfield, Missouri, where she had been living for many years.

Though she kept details of her life mostly private, Jackson recently disclosed to her minister while working out the details of her funeral that she had married James Bolin, a 93-year-old Civil War veteran, when she was 17 years old, the statement read.

At the time, Jackson had been providing daily care for Bolin, a widower who served as a private in the 14th Missouri Cavalry through the Civil War.

Because the war veteran "did not believe in accepting charity," he asked Jackson "for her hand in marriage as a way to provide for her future," according to the statement.

"I never wanted to share my story with the public," Jackson reportedly said during an oral history recording in 2018. "I didn't feel that it was that important and I didn't want a bunch of gossip about it."

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Born on Aug. 3, 1919, Jackson grew up in a family of 10 children and was raised on their family farm during the height of the Great Depression, according to a blog post from the Cherry Blossom Fest.

She and Bolin met at the church near her home, and it wasn't long before Jackson's father volunteered her to make daily visits after school to Bolin's home to assist him with chores and other tasks, the statement read.

Eventually, Bolin suggested he wed Jackson because he did not have any money to pay her and wanted to show his appreciation for her help, according to the blog post.

"He said that he would leave me his Union pension," Jackson explained during an interview with Historian Hamilton C. Clark, per the statement. "It was during the depression and times were hard. He said that it might be my only way of leaving the farm."

On Sept. 4, 1936, the pair officially wed in front of a few witnesses at Bolin's Niangua home.

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The ceremony was recorded in Bolin's personal Bible, and the organization Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War also recently confirmed Jackson's marriage through a signed affidavit from the last living witness, according to the statement.

A spokesperson for Daughters of Union Veterans confirmed the marriage to PEOPLE.

Despite being married, Jackson insisted on doing things her way and continued to live with her family on their farm, and kept her last name.

She also disclosed their marriage to few people other than the witnesses who were at the nuptials, explaining in 2018 that, "I had great respect for Mr. Bolin and I did not want him to be hurt by the scorn of wagging tongues."

"Mr. Bolin really cared for me," she added in an interview for Our America Magazine. "He wanted me to have a future and he was so kind."

The pair were married until Bolin died on June 18, 1939, according to the statement. But even after his passing, Jackson never applied for his pension in fear of having her reputation ruined after receiving a threat from one of her step-daughters.

"All a woman had in 1939 was her reputation. 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," she said during the oral history interview, according to the statement.

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From that point until the winter of 2017, Jackson kept her marriage to Bolin private and opted to never remarry or have children.

Instead, she devoted her life to community engagement, becoming a charter member of the Elkland Independent Methodist Church and Cherry Blossom Festival Auxiliary, a member of the Juanita Day Garden Club of Niangua, and a lifetime member of the Webster County Historical Society, among other groups, according to the blog post.

Jackson also received several accolades in her lifetime, including being the first recipient of the Cherry Blossom Medal in 2006, receiving a star on the Missouri Walk of Fame in 2018, and having a play about her life written and performed at the Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival in 2019, the statement read.

Prior to her coming forward with her story, Maudie Hopkins held the title of last surviving Civil War bride. Hopkins died in Arkansas in 2008 and historians believed there were no other Civil War widows left in the nation, the blog post stated.