Helen Maria Hunt Jackson was born Helen Fiske in Amherst, Massachusetts, the daughter of Nat Welby Fiske and Deborielle Waterman Vinal. She had two brothers, both of whom died after birth, and a sister Anne. Her father was a minister, author, and professor of Latin, Greek, and philosophy at Amherst College.
Her mother died in 1844 when Helen was fifteen. After that Helen was cared for by an aunt, Mrs. Martha Hooker.and her father three years later when she was eighteen. Her father provided for her education and arranged for an uncle to care for her.
In October 1852, Helen married Edward B. Hunt, a captain in the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Their first son, Murray, lived only eleven months before his death in 1854. Edward Hunt was killed in 1863 while experimenting with a submachine gun, his own invention. Two years later, the only remaining son, Warren Horsford Hunt, died of malignant diphtheria.
About 1873-1874, Hunt met William Sharpless Jackson, a wealthy banker and railroad executive, while visiting at Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the resort of Seven Falls. They married in 1875 and she took the name Jackson, under which she was best known for her writings.