The last known surviving widow of a Civil War veteran dies at 101 years old

Kelly McLaughlin
Helen Viola Jackson is shown this April 2017 photo. Jackson was believed to be the last surviving widow of a Civil War soldier when she died Dec. 16, 2020 in Marshfield, Mo. She was 101.
Helen Viola Jackson is shown this April 2017 photo. Jackson was believed to be the last surviving widow of a Civil War soldier when she died December 16, 2020 in Marshfield, Missouri. She was 101. Nicholas Inman via AP
  • Helen Viola Jackson, believed to be the last known widow of a Civil War veteran, died in December, aged 101, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) announced last week.

  • Jackson married her 93-year-old Civil War veteran neighbor James Bolin when she was just 17 in 1936.

  • Jackson's father had volunteered his daughter to do chores for Bolin when she was in high schoool, and to pay her back, Bolin offered to marry her so she could get his soldier pension after he died. 

  • She agreed, but was never intimate with him, never lived with him, and kept the marriage secret for decades.

  • After he died in 1939, she never applied for his pension and never remarried.

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The last surviving widow of a Civil War veteran has died at 101 years old.

Helen Viola Jackson, who was just 17 when she married her 93-year-old Civil War veteran neighbor James Bolin in September 1936, died on December 16, 2020, in Marshfield, Missouri, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) announced last week.

According to the SUVCW, Jackson's father had volunteered his daughter to help Bolin, who fought for the Union in the Civil War, with cleaning and chores when she was in high school in the 1930s.

To pay her back, Bolin offered to marry Jackson so that when he died, she would could have his soldier's pension that he received for serving as a private in the Union Army's 14th Missouri Cavalry seven decades earlier during the Civil War.

Jackson hid her marriage from her parents and friends, and according to the Associated Press, she and Bolin were never intimate and never lived together during their three-year marriage.

Bolin died in 1938, but Jackson never applied for his pension and never remarried, the SUVCW said.

Despite being quiet about the marriage as a teen, Jackson went public with the marriage later in life as she was working out the details of her own funeral, the Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival, which Jackson helped launch, said in a statement.

After her family learned of her marriage, they put a framed photo of Bolin in her room at the nursing home in Marshfield, Jackson's pastor and longtime friend Nicholas Inman told the AP

"She broke down and cried," he said. "She kept touching the frame and said, 'This is the only man who ever loved me.'"

Inman told AP that "harboring this secret that had to be eating her alive" for years.

"It was sort of a healing process for Helen; that something she thought would be kind of a scarlet letter would be celebrated in her later years," Inman told AP of Jackson.

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