Lydia O. Jackson was born near Grafton, North Dakota, March 5, 1902, to Karl Olaf and Inga Schelstad Svarte. Her father died when she was four years old and her mother remarried a year later to Edward Thompson. Lydia was the eldest of eight children. Her family moved frequently during her childhood, living in various places in North Dakota or Minnesota and one winter in Norway. As she was about to enter high school, her family moved to the Canadian Northwest, leaving Lydia behind to complete her high school education. She confessed that this event had a profound impact on her, leaving her to yearn for home and family. After graduating from high school in Grafton, she taught in a rural school for a short time before marrying Arthur Jackson, December 20, 1920. She then settled down to become a homemaker on a 280 acre farm near Grafton.
Lydia O. Jackson began writing poetry seriously in the early 1930's, recording her poem "Home", November 9, 1934, in the first of her thirty-four notebooks of poetry. Her lonely high school years and her longing for a home life influenced the themes of much of her poetry. Her 1183 poems reflect her thoughts of her home and family, her role as homemaker and mother, and the goodness she saw both in people and nature.
She is the author of one book of poetry, Selected Poems, published in 1962 and two booklets of poems, Rhymes For Every Season, 1943, and Pardon My Gaff, 1965. In 1967, she compiled a booklet of peace poems entitled, A Peace Garden Of Verses which contains her poetry and the poems of eight other North Dakota Pen Women poets. Her poetry also appears in over two hundred periodicals, newspapers and poetry anthologies, including popular magazines such as Ideals and Guideposts.
She was a member of various poetry organizations including the Fargo Branch of the National League of American Pen Women, Midwest Federation of Chaparral Poets, American Poetry League, American Poets Fellowship Society, Idaho Poets and Writers Guild, World Poetry Day Association, World Poetry Society, and Centro Studi E Scambi Internazionali. These organizations published a poetry magazine to which Lydia was a regular contributor.
In recognition of her poetry, Lydia was the recipient of several awards: the National Farmers Union Writers Award, 1950; Bronze Medal, 1965, and the Silver Medal, 1967 from Centro Studi E Scambi Internazionali; the fifth Poet Laureate of American Poets Fellowship Society, 1972-1973; Co-Associate Poet Laureate of North Dakota, 1975, Co-Poet Laureate, 1979, and Poet Laureate of North Dakota, 1983. She is also included in the International Who's Who in Poetry, Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in the Midwest, and the Dictionary of International Biography.
Lydia Jackson was a voracious reader believing it was essential to feed her mind as well as her body. To further this need, she belonged to the Sigma Rho Study Club. Additionally she was a member of the Riverside Women's Club, the Ladies Aid Society of the Federated Church of Grafton, Order of the Eastern Star, and served as treasurer of School District 22 from 1931 to 1962 and treasurer of the Walsh County School Officers Association from 1945 to 1962.
Lydia O. Jackson died April 3, 1984.
The Lydia O. Jackson Papers consist primarily of autobiographical materials, correspondence, manuscripts, and publications containing her poetry. Also included in the collection is a series which contains pedigree information on John P. Jackson's, Lydia's father-in-law, Holstein cattle herd and the sale of the herd in 1925.
A variety of information can be elicited from the collection which in turn illuminates both the strengths and weaknesses of the Jackson collection. The papers reveal the picture of an intellectually curious and industrious farm homemaker and poet from the 1930s through the early 1980s. As social history, Lydia Jackson's correspondence and poetry detail the values held dear by many women of the time period, whether rural or urban: devotion and duty to family and home.
The autobiographical material describes only briefly the particulars of her life. It instead lists her literary achievements, a task she did almost yearly since 1951 to maintain her membership in the Fargo branch of the National League of American Pen Women. The short autobiographical notes she wrote for Who's Who entries also list her achievements.
Insights into Jackson's daily life and thought come mainly from a reading of her round robin correspondence with several poet friends across the country, none of whom she ever met. This correspondence lasted twenty-eight years, from 1943 to 1971. Additionally, two notebooks contain copies of letters written to relatives during the Depression. They describe living and farming conditions on the Jackson farm besides mentioning the groups and activities Lydia participated in off the farm. The collection, however, contains little other information regarding her club activities. Several of her essays are also autobiographical in nature.
Secondly, the collection reveals the publishing and editorial world of the small poetry magazine and newspaper poetry column, both of which published Lydia Jackson's poetry. Correspondence between Jackson and poetry editors describes the difficulties of maintaining the continued publications of these small magazines.
Social historians have recently addressed the question of women's friendships in the nineteenth century. Lydia Jackson, twentieth century woman of rural North Dakota, maintained many lasting friendships via pen and paper between not only poet friends, often publishing in the same poetry magazines, but also her poetry editors. Particularly noteworthy are the letters from Helen Lange, 1958 to 1984, editor of "The Lighter Side", a Chicago newspaper poetry column. These are located in the enclosure folders following Jackson's poetry notebooks.
Thirdly, the Jackson papers only minimally delineate Lydia's intellectual process of writing poetry. Several scraps of paper is all that is available to describe the process of rough draft to finished piece of poetry, although in one essay she reflects on various forms of poetry and illustrated each form with an example of her own poetry. Her round robin correspondence also mentions her excitement of attempting new forms of poetry and her successes and failures.
An interesting exception to the above are the letters from Hilario and Rosalia Nieves, Culion Sanitarium, in the Philippines. The Nieves were sponsored by the Jacksons and their correspondence vividly describes life in a leprosarium.
Series 1: Biographical Material
Series 2: Poetry
Series 3: Additional Unpublished Works
Series 4: Poetry Publications
Series 5: Correspondence
Series 6: Awards and Recognition
Series 7: Epsilon Sigma Omicron, Theta Chapter
Series 8: Jackson Holstein Cattle Herd
Series 9: Photographs