Lincoln's 'Little Sister'

New book published on Helm,
Mary Todd Lincoln’s half sister

Emilie Todd Helm resided in Madison for many years

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(February 2008) – In 1866, a Confederate Army General’s widow, Emilie Todd Helm, moved to Madison, Ind., with her mother and three children in an effort to escape the harsh post-American Civil War conditions in her beloved state of Kentucky.
The family had survived the chaos and near poverty of war in the South and the deaths of many of their male relatives who had fought for the Confederacy. Madison, with its flourishing community, offered a quiet opportunity for the family to have a new beginning.

Dorothy Darnall Jones

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Author Dorothy Darnall Jones
spent a year researching
information about Abraham Lincoln’s
sister-in-law, Emilie Todd Helm.

The Helm family, at one time a prominent family in the communities of Lexington and Elizabethtown, Ky., was like thousands of displaced families whose lives were torn apart during the conflict that separated the nation. There was one fact, however, that made Emilie Todd Helm different than others in her situation. The war widow, rumored to have at one point committed treasonable acts against the government, was the half-sister to Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of President Abraham Lincoln.
Madison resident Dorothy Darnall Jones uncovered these facts and more about the little-known war widow and has written “Emilie Pariet Todd Helm: Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Little Sister’.” The book was published by Deer Trail Publishing of Lexington Inc. It sells for $14.95 and is available online at Barnes & Noble Bookstores and other major bookstores. Locally, the book is available at the Jefferson County Historical Society and the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The book, which discusses Helm’s life, her family and her relationship to the Lincolns, is another opportunity for history buffs to learn more about the famous family as the nation’s Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration gets under way in February. Indiana and the rest of America will honor Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday (Feb. 12, 2009), with a celebration that will last through 2010.
Helm first met Abraham Lincoln in 1847, when he was a member of Congress, when he took Mary home to see her family before she was established in Washington for the winter. When Lincoln met the young girl, he remarked, “So this is Little Sister.” Thereafter, according to research, he always called Helm “Little Sister.”
When the Civil War began, Lincoln offered Benjamin Hardin Helm the job of army paymaster in the Union Army, but he declined. Instead, he became a Confederate general and was killed in the battle at Chickamauga, Ga., in 1863.
Jones, 80, was working as a docent giving tours at an historic home at 610 W. Main St., in Madison. The home had been listed in numerous brochures as the home of Emilie Todd Helm, widow of Brig. Gen. Benjamin Hardin Helm, Confederate States of American, and half sister of Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of President Abraham Lincoln. She was answering questions from visitors about the widow when she realized she really didn’t have any information about Emilie Todd Helm, herself. “I became intrigued with who Emilie was and what her history was,” said Jones, a retired home economics teacher.

Emilie Parist Todd Helm

Jones spent more than a year diligently researching Helm’s history and was encouraged by several people to write a book about her. “I can hardly believe that at age 80, I sent for a copyright to a book I wrote,” she said.
Others that know Jones don’t find that so unusual for her, though. “Dorothy Jones is a ball of fire,” said Ken Knouf, site manager for the Jefferson Proving Ground. Knouf read over the manuscript several times for Jones and helped put her in contact with Ron Harsin, owner of Deer Trails Publishing.
“Everyone could learn from her,” he said. “She made a goal and then went for it; she is a great role model.”
Besides writing a book, Jones is an active member of the Jefferson County Civil War Roundtable and a docent at several historic sites, including the Sullivan House and the Jefferson County Historical Society. She is also an active member at Christ Episcopal Church and works out at Fit for the King gym several days a week. “You have to stay active,” she said. “Staying involved helped me to deal with the death of my husband.” Jones was married for 54 years to Marsh H. Jones, who died in 2004.
During the past year, Jones traveled throughout the area giving speeches to schoolchildren and history groups on Helm. She said she has also been asked to portray Helm during the 2009 Madison Bicentennial Celebration.
Jones said two book signings are in the works for the local area. One will be at the Jefferson County Historical Society, and the other will be at the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Those dates have yet to be announced.

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