The last living spouse of a Civil War veteran has died

In strange-but-true news, the last known surviving spouse of a Civil War veteran just died last month.

How is that even possible? The U.S. Civil War took place from 1861 to 1865, and no one who survived the war is still alive. However, there are two things that make it possible: 1) As much as we might like to imagine that Americans fighting over the right to own Black people was super ancient history, the Civil War was just 160 years ago. That's two 80-year-olds living back to back. 2) Some people live long lives and have unlikely marriages, which makes for fascinating historical stories like this one.

Helen Viola Jackson died December 16 at age 101. She was 17 when she married 93-year-old James Bolin, a widower who had served as a private in the 14th Missouri Cavalry of the Union army, in 1936.

A 17-year-old marrying a 93-year-old definitely raises some eyebrows, but the story is actually kind of sweet.

A statement shared by the Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival offers context to the union:


"She remained largely silent, even among her close family and friends about her link to the 19th century War Between the States, until three years ago, when she decided to share her complete life story as she was working on the details of her funeral with her minister.

Jackson grew up in a family with 10 children and met her husband at church near her home during the height of the Great Depression.

The Daughters of the Union Veterans confirmed Jackson's marriage using historical documents, including a signed affidavit from the last living witness to the nuptials.

'I never wanted to share my story with the public,' Jackson said in 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.'

James Bolin was a 93-year-old widower when Jackson's father volunteered her to stop by his house each day and assist him with chores as she headed home from school.

Bolin who was a private in the 14th Missouri Cavalry and served until the end of the war in Co. F, did not believe in accepting charity and after a lengthy period of time-asked Jackson for her hand in marriage as a way to provide for her future.

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

Jackson, who was 17 years old, married Bolin in front of a few witnesses at his Niangua, Missouri home on September 4, 1936. 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.

Although the two were married, Jackson explained that the nuptials were on her terms. She still wanted to live on her family farm with her immediate family and she wanted to keep her last name, sharing the information with few individuals outside of those who had served as witnesses.

'How do you explain that you have married someone with such a difference in age,' she said at the 2018 Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival. 'I had great respect for Mr. Bolin and I did not want him to be hurt by the scorn of wagging tongues.'

Jackson was wed to Bolin from 1936 until his passing on June 18, 1939. However, she never officially applied for his pension as one of her step-daughters threatened to ruin her reputation.

'All a woman had in 1939 was her reputation,' she continued in her oral history interview. '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.'

Jackson did not share her story from 1939 until the winter of 2017. She never remarried and no children were born to the union.

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

It's a bit sad that Jackson never applied for the pension that was the reason for the marriage in the first place, but life is complicated.

More than anything, this story is a reminder that it just wasn't that long ago that the U.S. nearly split in two over the southern states' desire to maintain the evil institution of slavery. Someone who was married to a soldier in that war was alive a month ago.

Today, we watched a violent storming of the U.S. Capitol by people carrying the Confederate flag, in a surreal throwback to the people who marched on the wrong side of history 160 years ago.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

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One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

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