Helen Viola Jackson, the last known surviving widow of a U.S. Civil War veteran, has died. Jackson died in a Missouri nursing home at the age of 101 on Dec. 16, officials said.
Jackson was only 17 when she married James Bolin, a 93-year-old widower who served as a private in the 14th Missouri Cavalry through the end of the Civil War. Jackson, who was one of 10 children, helped care for Bolin and assisted him with daily chores after school, an arrangement that was made by Jackson’s father. After a period of time, Bolin asked for Jackson’s hand in marriage, as a way to provide for her future, according to the Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival.
On Sept. 4, 1936, the couple married in front of a few witnesses in Niangua, Missouri. Bolin said that the marriage would be on her terms, which included keeping her last name living on her family farm with her immediate family, the website said.
"He said that he would leave me his Union pension," Jackson told the historian Hamilton C. Clark during an interview. "It was during the depression and times were hard. He said that it might be my only way of leaving the farm."
The marriage lasted for three years until Bolin died in 1939. Jackson never officially applied for his pension after one of Bolin’s stepdaughters threatened to ruin her reputation. The Daughters of the Union Veterans confirmed Jackson's marriage using historical documents, including a signed affidavit from the last living witness at the wedding, the website reported.
“All a woman had in 1939 was her reputation,” Jackson said at the 2018 Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival, an annual festival that has taken place since 2003. “How do you explain that you have married someone with such a difference in age. I had great respect for Mr. Bolin and I did not want him to be hurt by the scorn of wagging tongues."
For decades she kept the marriage private. It was only as Jackson worked on the details of her own funeral with a minister that she decided that it was time to share her complete life story. During an oral history recording in 2018, she said that she never wanted to share her story with the public. "I didn't feel that it was that important and I didn't want a bunch of gossip about it."
In an interview with "Our America Magazine," Jackson shared how kind Bolin was to her and how he wanted her to have a future. “Mr. Bolin really cared for me,” she said.
The pair never had children, nor did Jackson every remarry. She did, however, became a historical icon in her small town and served as grand marshal in the hometown’s annual Independence Day Parade.
Bolin recorded the wedding in his personal Bible, which is now part of a rotating exhibit on Jackson that has traveled to several museum locations, including the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri, according to the site.
Jackson was the last known surviving widow of a Civil War veteran. Maudie White Hopkins, who grew up during the Depression in Arkansas, was 19 when in 1936, she married William Cantrell, a Confederate Civil War veteran. He was 67 years her senior. In 2008, Hopkins died. She was 93, the Seattle Times reported.