Jackson, Helen Hardin (1933-2018)

  • By Melinda Van Wingen
  • Posted 11/01/2011
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9913
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Helen Hardin Jackson grew up in New Mexico, received an excellent education, and after a brief first marriage, became a secretary to a senator in Washington, D.C. There, in 1961, she met and married Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (1912-1983), a Democrat from Everett. Helen became known as a hard-working wife, mother, and co-campaigner with her husband through his re-election campaigns and two unsuccessful presidential bids. After her husband's unexpected death in 1983, she established the Henry M. Jackson Foundation as a living memorial to him. The foundation assists public officials, diplomats, and journalists in addressing international problems and funds scholarships, visiting faculty, and other programs at the University of Washington's Jackson School of International Studies. Helen also took on a variety of leadership and philanthropic projects in and around Everett and during the 1980s and 1990s often hosted fundraisers in her home. The Helen H. Jackson Endowed Chair in Human Rights at the Jackson School of International Studies was created in 2008 to recognize her personal commitment to human rights. Helen Jackson was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2003, and health conditions prevented her from being as active and public in the community as she had previously been. Helen Jackson continued to reside in Everett, where she was widely admired for her graciousness, generosity, and leadership abilities, until her death in 2018.

Early Life and Education

Helen Eugenia Hardin was born in Clovis, New Mexico, on August 17, 1933, the only child of Marion Moody Hardin and Jeanne Hardin. She spent her early childhood in Hobbs, New Mexico. When she was 10 years old, Helen's family moved to Albuquerque, where her father served as president of the American Gypsum Company. Helen's maternal grandfather, Dr. Clyde Campbell, was a Methodist missionary who taught English and Bible studies at the University of Soochow in China from 1907 to 1911. Helen's mother was born in China, a place that has always held special interest for her. Helen credits her grandfather with instilling in her an early love of reading and literature.

Helen was a well-educated young woman. She attended the Hockaday School, a private college preparatory day and boarding school for girls in Dallas, Texas. She graduated from high school in Albuquerque, then studied for a year at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, before transferring to Scripps College in Claremont, California.

At Scripps she served as senior class president and graduated with a degree in English and philosophy in 1955. Helen returned to Scripps in 1976 to deliver a commencement address on "The Role of Women in Public Life." She earned a master's degree in English literature, specializing in Virginia Woolf, from Columbia University in 1958. While there, she studied under Mark Van Doren (1894-1972), a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, writer, and critic, who had a profound influence on Helen's intellectual development. After graduating from Columbia, she worked as secretary to the editor of medical publications at Oxford University Press in New York.

First Marriage and Divorce

In April 1955, shortly before her college graduation, Helen became engaged to Dr. William Fuller from Albuquerque, who was a surgical resident at New York Hospital. The couple's five-year marriage ended in divorce, and Helen returned home to Albuquerque.

In 1960 she took a speedwriting course to improve her secretarial skills. Helen referred to this as a "ghastly part of my life" (The Seattle Times, March 8, 1972). She had an excellent education, but the sexism of the era limited her career opportunities to secretarial work. Helen's vocational training in Albuquerque nevertheless proved to be an important career move. She soon received an offer to work for Senator Clinton P. Anderson (1895-1975), a Democrat from New Mexico and a family friend. Helen relocated to Washington, D.C., in January 1961 to begin a new career in the nation's capital. The move was to have a profound effect on her life.

From Career Girl to Senator's Wife

Helen's first day on the job, January 4, 1961, was auspicious. Senator Anderson invited Helen to attend a swearing-in ceremony for new senators. In an elevator on the way to the ceremony she met Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson, the Washington state Democratic senator, 21 years her senior.

Helen and Scoop made a striking first impression on one another. A few weeks later, he invited her to tea and then took her on several bicycling dates. The couple courted throughout the spring and summer of 1961. They rarely did anything extravagant "because Scoop was thrifty" (Kaufman, 128).

Single, successful, and 48 years old, Scoop was considered one of the capital's most eligible bachelors. That changed on November 27, 1961, when Scoop and Helen announced their engagement. They wed on December 16, 1961, in an intimate ceremony at the Central Methodist Church in Albuquerque. President Kennedy sent a telegram "extending heartiest congratulations to you and your bride on this happy day" (Kaufman, 128).

The newlyweds took a two-week honeymoon to Hawaii, where Helen found little respite from her husband's high-profile political life. Helen noted that "half the State of Washington appeared to be in Hawaii" (Everett Daily Herald, January 2, 1962). Senator Jackson talked to reporters and attended a briefing on antisubmarine warfare and the communist submarine threat in the Pacific. The newlyweds dined with several Washingtonians in Hawaii, including Commander and Mrs. John Riley of Everett and Commander Don McLain, aboard the U.S. naval destroyer escort USS Whitehurst. The lack of privacy or break from politics that the Jacksons experienced during their honeymoon became a recurring theme with which Helen graciously coped throughout their marriage.

The couple returned to Everett, Washington, Scoop's hometown, on January 2, 1962. This week-long visit was the first chance many Washingtonians had to meet the senator's new bride. Mr. and Mrs. Henry C. Gaul and Mr. and Mrs. Charles G. Westrom hosted a reception in the couple's honor on Sunday, January, 7, 1962, at the Gauls' picturesque Lake Stevens home. Guests traveled from as far away as California to attend the reception, eager to meet the young woman who took the bachelor senator off the market. The Everett Herald reported, "The lovely blonde who was just the right girl for Sen. Henry M. Jackson, won the hearts of many of his longtime, hometown friends Sunday afternoon" (Everett Herald, January 8, 1962).

Senator's Wife

The couple returned to Washington, D.C., on January 9, 1962, as Congress reconvened. The new Mrs. Jackson transformed the former bachelor pad at 2500 Q Street into a suitable family home. When Congress was not in session, the couple returned to Everett, where they lived with Scoop's beloved older sisters, Gertrude and Marie, at 3602 Oakes Avenue.

Being married to a hard-working senator was often challenging for Helen. She credited her year-long position in Senator Anderson's office with teaching her about political life and helping her learn cope with the challenges. She learned what a senator's life was like before she married one, and thus had a fairly easy time adjusting to her husband's long workdays and to managing the household alone.

As the wife of a prominent senator, Helen became a public figure in her own right. However, domestic life remained a top priority. She enjoyed decorating, entertaining, and even cleaning and ironing, but she was not particularly fond of cooking. After the birth of the couple's two children, Anna Marie (b. 1963) and Peter (b. 1966), childrearing and family became primary concerns. Helen believed strongly in being a good partner to her husband and a good mother to their children, as well as maintaining two households and managing the family's social relationships. She worked hard to strike a balance between the competing demands for her time, energy, and attention.

Charming, gracious, and publicly reserved, Helen played the part of a dutiful wife to an ambitious senator extremely well. She possessed a great deal of depth and intellect; however, the media often characterized her in simplistic and superficial terms. They focused on her svelte figure, attractive good looks, or decorating and fashion choices. Those close to Helen are quick to note her wry sense of humor, wit, and intellect, which the media often overlooked or rarely saw, especially in the early years of their marriage.

Setting Down Roots in Everett

In 1967 the couple purchased a large colonial revival house at 1703 Grand Avenue in Everett, where Helen Jackson continued to reside until her death in 2018. Scoop had strong Everett roots, and it was important to him to return to Everett as often as possible. The Jacksons split their time between Washington state and Washington, D.C.

Although not a Washington native, Helen quickly grew to love life in Everett. The small mill town offered a slower pace, the family had friends there, and the children had greater freedom than they did in Washington, D.C. The Jacksons' Everett neighbor, Jeanne Metzger, describes Helen as a very loyal member of the community. She has long been active and committed to her department of the Everett Woman's Book Club. The whole family enjoyed taking part in simple neighborhood activities, like caroling and trick-or-treating. Harry Metzger once noted that "Helen adopted his [Scoop's] sense of community. She was dedicated to staying here" (Kaufman, 187).

Candidate's Wife, Round One

When Senator Jackson officially announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination on November 19, 1971, Helen Jackson was thrust into the national limelight. She was enthusiastic about her husband's candidacy. "I think any woman would enjoy being First Lady," she told a reporter five months before the official announcement (The Seattle Times, June 27, 1971).

Senator Jackson had many assets that made him a suitable presidential candidate, not the least of which was his wife. Young, charming, energetic, and attractive, Helen campaigned actively with her husband as his "ever-cheerful sidekick" (The Seattle Times, March 8, 1972).  Crisscrossing the country on Scoop's "campaign for common sense," Helen also managed to attend to her domestic responsibilities and their children. 

Although many presidential hopefuls and their wives traveled and campaigned separately, for the 1972 election campaign, the Jacksons almost always campaigned together. Helen considered campaigning together good for the marriage because it united the couple in a common cause. Helen was adamant that she not make speeches for her husband. "You end up giving your husband's philosophy secondhand" (The Seattle Times, March 8, 1972). Helen cited day-care centers, the environment, and helping the elderly as her own top priorities if she were to become First Lady.

Candidate's Wife, Round Two

Senator Jackson won the Washington state caucuses in 1972, but lost in all other states. Undeterred, he remounted a stronger campaign in 1976. This time the Jacksons adopted a different campaign strategy, and the couple traveled and campaigned separately. As a result, Helen emerged as a more outspoken figure in the 1976 election than she had been four years earlier.

Because Helen was campaigning and speechmaking without her husband by her side, the public was able to gain greater access to her. They discovered a charismatic woman who expressed sincere professional and personal admiration for her husband, whom she called "Dear Heart" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 8, 1975). She spoke more openly on a wide range of issues, from senior citizens to national defense. The public picture of Helen Jackson that emerged in the 1976 campaign contrasted dramatically with the "happy homemaker" persona of 1972 (Everett Herald, June 12, 1976). Some journalists covering the 1976 election described Helen's charisma and warmth as Scoop's secret weapon in the 1976 campaign (Everett Herald, April 2, 1976). She was able to charm and connect with audiences in a way her husband did not.

Helen believed it was her responsibility to inform the public on Scoop's views, whether or not she agreed with them. "Sometimes my opinions differ radically from Scoop's, but my job is to tell people what his opinions are. Otherwise when they get to the ballot box they will be confused. Did he say this? Or did she say this?" (The Oregonian, February 13, 1976). Abortion was one notable issue upon which Helen and Scoop disagreed. Scoop supported abortion only when the mother's life was at stake; Helen took a more pro-choice stance.

Jackson lost the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination to Jimmy Carter, and the couple was disappointed when Scoop was not selected as Carter's running mate at the 1976 Democratic convention. However, the family soon returned to its old routines, splitting time between Washington, D.C., and Everett. Helen remained an active force in Scoop's senatorial re-election efforts in Washington state.

Views on the Women's Movement

As the wife of a presidential hopeful during the 1970s, Helen was often asked to take a stance on the women's movement. Her responses suggest that Helen struggled internally to balance competing roles and priorities as a wife, mother, and public figure and to find a meaningful identity for herself within the burgeoning feminist movement.

She told one reporter, "At first it turned me off ... but they no longer consider housewives second-class citizens. I enjoy being a housewife, and I used to resent that" (The Oregonian, May 3, 1975). She reiterated her earlier aversion to the women's movement a few months later, stating, "At first it was such a shrill movement that it turned me off. Now that the emphasis seems to have settled on a woman doing what is right for her -- that she should have a say in what she'll do with her life, then I applaud it" (Everett Herald, September 2, 1975).

Helen appeared to embrace and accept the women's movement much more comfortably once she was able to find a place for her work in both the private and public spheres. Although not a feminist in the "bra burning" sense, Helen held strong convictions about equality of the sexes and had for many years (Panorama, June 5, 1976).

Congressional Wives for Soviet Jewry

Helen cited such relatively safe causes as the elderly and child care issues as her would-be platform as First Lady. After the 1976 election, she began to take on more controversial issues. In 1978 Helen co-founded a group called Congressional Wives for Soviet Jewry with Joanne Kemp (b. 1936), wife of Jack Kemp (1935-2009), a Republican congressman from New York.

The 45-member group lobbied for human rights in the Soviet Union. At a December 4, 1984, rally in Portland, Oregon, Helen stated:

"The Soviet leaders are now systematically promoting anti-Semitism as state policy ... . They do so for their own reasons but perhaps because they think they can get away with it. They see little evidence that the world is paying attention" (The Oregonian, December 5, 1984).

The group's goal was to work with other political wives from around the world to lobby to ease restrictions on Soviet Jewish emigration. The group and cause, while very much Helen's own, was nevertheless well-aligned with Senator Jackson's staunch anti-Soviet and pro-Israel positions. 

Henry M. Jackson Foundation

Helen Jackson was widowed unexpectedly at the age of 50, on September 1, 1983. She wasted no time in ensuring that her husband's long legacy of political activism would not be forgotten. On October 25, 1983, she announced the formation of the Jackson Foundation to assist public officials, diplomats, and journalists in addressing international problems, and to fund scholarships, visiting faculty, and other programs at the University of Washington's Jackson School of International Studies. The foundation was created with $600,000 left over from the senator's 1982 re-election campaign funds. Helen headed the foundation and devoted herself full-time to raising $10 million in private donations in its first two years.

For Helen, the foundation was a means of following through on her husband's unfinished agenda and cementing his legacy in state and national history. She shaped the foundation's mission to address concerns of interest to the late senator, such as foreign policy, national security, energy, and the environment. Helen called the foundation a "living memorial for Scoop" (The Oregonian, November 17, 1985). In creating the foundation and assuming responsibility for its major fundraising goals, Helen Jackson successfully stepped from the sidelines, where she had comfortably spent many years, and into the forefront of political action. The foundation -- and the commitment to keeping Scoop's memory alive -- gave her life a new direction and purpose. 

Helen Jackson served as chairman of the board of governors for the foundation for more than a quarter century. Her children, Peter H. Jackson and Anna Marie Laurence, served with her on the board. In its first 28 years of operation, the foundation granted more than $22 million to nonprofit organizations and educational institutions in the United States and Russia. Grant-making and strategic initiatives fall in four program areas, all of which reflect the senator's interests: international affairs and education, environment and natural resource management, public service, and human rights. The foundation and its many successes would not have been possible without the dedication, resourcefulness, and fundraising talents of Helen Jackson.

A Chair in Her Honor

On March 18, 2008, the Henry M. Jackson Foundation announced that it would donate $1 million to the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington to endow the Helen H. Jackson Chair in Human Rights. The endowment provides funding for a full-time professor to teach on human rights issues.

The endowed chair was a fitting recognition of Helen's impressive leadership talents and also provided the necessary momentum to create a permanent home for the study of human rights at the University of Washington. The Center for Human Rights opened in 2009 within the Jackson School. It is a strong testament to Helen Jackson and her family's long commitment to human-rights advocacy.

At Home in Everett

Although she was neither born nor raised in Everett, Helen Jackson adopted it as her permanent hometown. When her children were young, she enjoyed setting down roots in Everett with her husband and becoming part of the community. Helen remained close with Henry Jackson's sisters, Gertrude and Marie, and later brought her grandmother to live in the family home on Oakes Avenue. She adopted Everett, and it in turn adopted her. She recalled, "I'll never forget the way the people of Everett rallied to my side when Scoop died" (The Seattle Times, May 27, 1987).

Helen's philanthropic work and community activism peaked in the 1980s. In addition to chairing the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, she became actively involved in a number of civic and charitable organizations, such as the Everett General Hospital (now Providence Hospital) and the United Way, as a board member, advocate, and fundraiser. She assumed a more active role in the Gertrude Jackson Memorial Fund after her husband passed away. Scoop established the fund in 1969 to honor his sister, who taught at Everett's Garfield Elementary School for over 40 years, by funding scholarships to deserving students in Everett. According to the Henry M. Jackson Foundation executive director Lara Iglitzin:

"Helen in her own right has provided tremendous leadership, serving on hospital boards and playing a major role in many of the civic organizations in Snohomish County. She has always opened her home for fundraisers and was often asked to speak and provide leadership" (The Seattle Times, March 19, 2008).

Helen Jackson was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2003. Her declining health prevented her from remaining as active with the Henry M. Jackson Foundation and with the Everett community as she had been previously. Nevertheless, she remained an Everett icon, a beloved local woman almost always described as "gracious" by friends, colleagues, and casual acquaintances. Helen Hardin Jackson died on February 25, 2018, at the age of 84. 


Robert G. Kaufman, Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000); "Helen Hardin Engaged to Dr. Fuller," Dallas Morning News, April 6, 1955; Ruth O'Brien, "Helen Jackson Hits Campaign Trail, Too," The Springfield Sunday Republican, January 23, 1976, p. 31; Jeanne Edwards, "Helen Jackson: How Life is Going After the Hectic Presidential Race," Panorama Everett Herald/Western Sun, June 5, 1976, p. 1-3; "Miss Helen Hardin Married to Senator Henry M. Jackson" The New York Times, December 17, 1961, p. 92; "Interne is Fiance of Helen Hardin," Ibid., April 6, 1955, p. 33; Barbara Gamarekian, "Congressional Wives Take on Delicate Issue," Ibid., April 2, 1984, p. A-16; Ann Blackman, "Helen Jackson Takes Steps on Husband's Campaign Trail," The Oregonian, May 3, 1975, Section B; Abigail McCarthy, "Candidate's Wife Brings Understanding to Campaign," Ibid., February 13, 1976, p. E-1; "Soviet Stance on Jewish Emigration Hit," Ibid., December 5, 1984, p. B-3; Karyn Houston, "Helen Jackson 'Follows Through' for Late Senator," Ibid., November 17, 1985, p. 12; Alice Frein Johnson, "Little Miss Jackson Progressing Fast," The Seattle Times, June 30, 1963, p. 10; "June Anderson Almquist, "'First Lady' Sounds Good to Mrs. Jackson," Ibid., June 27, 1971, p. G-3; Ann Blackman, "A Candidate's Wife: Helen Jackson," Ibid., March 8, 1972, p. D1; "Jackson's Widow to Head Foundation," Ibid., October 26, 1983, p. C-1; Marsha King, "Helen Jackson: Life Goes On," Ibid., December 23, 1983, p. D-1, D-3; Don Duncan, "Carrying Scoop's Torch -- Helen Jackson is Keeper of the Flame for Senator's Rich Legacy," Ibid., May 27, 1987; Diane Wright, "Jackson Foundation to Fund UW Chair," Ibid., March 19, 2008; "Engaged," The Everett Daily Herald, November 27, 1961, p. 11; "Arrived Today," Ibid., January 2, 1962, p. 1; Frances Phinney, "Senator, Wife Greeted at Sunday Party at Henry C. Gauls' Lake Stevens Home," Ibid., January 8, 1962, p. 8; Jeanne Metzger, "Helen Home for Summer," The Everett Herald, June 24, 1971, p. 4-B;  Jeanne Metzger, "Helen's happy -- it's official," Ibid., November 19, 1971, p. 5-B; "Much Earlier China Recalled," Ibid., July 12, 1974, p. 1-B; Jeanne Edwards, "Helen Jackson Balances Private and Public Life," Ibid., September 2, 1975, p. 2-A;  "Abortion: Jacksons Differ," Ibid., March 11, 1976, p. 2-B; Jeanne Edwards, "Helen Jackson Adds Campaign Charisma," Ibid., April 2, 1976, p. 1-A; Jack Morgan, "Helen Sees Scoop as Possible VP on Demo Ticket," Ibid., June 12, 1976, p. 2-A; Jack Morgan, "Helen Jackson Ready to Go," Ibid., July 16, 1976, p. 2-A; "Jackson Foundation Launched," Ibid., October 26, 1983, p. 10A; Jim Haley, "Helen Jackson Honored by Endowment for UW Chair," Ibid., March 12, 2008; Ann Blackman, "Helen Jackson Braces for Campaign Year," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 8, 1975, p. D-4; Marcia Friedman, "The Gracious Style of Helen Jackson," Ibid., April 13, 1986, p. F-4; Linda Bryant, "With Memories of Scoop; Helen Jackson, Back Home in Everett, Wash," The Washington Post, May 28, 1987, p. C-2; Historylink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Butler-Jackson House: Everett Landmark" (by Kit Oldham) and "Jackson, Henry M. 'Scoop' (1912-1983)" (by Kit Oldham) http://www.historylink.org (accessed August 2011); "Henry M. Jackson Foundation Board of Governors" and "Program Areas," The Henry M. Jackson Foundation website accessed August 2011 (http://www.hmjackson.org); "The Center for Human Rights," Jackson School for International Studies website accessed August 2011 (http://jsis.washington.edu/); "A History of Scripps College Commencement Speakers," Scripps College website accessed August 2011 (http://www.scrippscollege.edu/); Melinda Van Wingen interview with Peter Jackson, August 24, 2011, Seattle; Melinda Van Wingen interview with Larry O'Donnell, August 26, 2011, Everett; Melinda Van Wingen interview with Jeanne Metzger, August 26, 2011, Everett; Julie Muhlstein, "Helen Jackson, Widow of Sen. Henry Jackson, Dies at 84," The Herald, February 25, 2018 (http://www.heraldnet.com).
Note: This entry was updated on February 26, 2018.

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