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Grace Hudson's mother, Helen McCowen Carpenter (1838-1917), grew up in Indiana and when a teenager graduated from the Bloomingdale Quaker Academy with a teaching credential. In 1855 Helen moved with her family to Kansas Territory, where she began her professional career at age 17. Kansas was in political turmoil as it prepared to enter the Union, and the McCowens, who were staunch abolitionists, worked to make it a "free" state rather than one that allowed slavery. Helen met her future husband, who was also on the abolitionist side, when Aurelius Ormando Carpenter was wounded fighting for the free-state movement at the "Battle of Black Jack," an altercation that is now considered the first military engagement leading up to the Civil War. After helping nurse Aurelius to health, Helen and he married on Christmas Day in 1856. Five months later the newlyweds traveled west to California in an ox wagon train with Helen's parents and other family members. Helen was four months pregnant with her first child when they arrived in Grass Valley, California, in October 1857. Within two years, the Carpenters and McCowens had moved further west to Potter Valley in Mendocino County, where other relatives were already settled. There Helen became the first teacher certified by the new County Board of Education, and worked as an educator for the next decade.

In 1865, Helen gave birth to twins Grace and Grant, who joined their elder sister, May. Seeking more opportunity for economic viability for the growing family, in 1869 the Carpenters relocated to Ukiah, the county seat. There they established a photography studio, where Helen assisted her husband, "A.O.," by running the studio, and taking portraits, during his extended work-related absences as a newspaperman and traveling photographer. In addition, she spent her days caring for their children, the last of whom, Frank, was born in 1870. She also contributed enormously to Ukiah's civic and fraternal life, blessed with endless energy and admirable executive ability. In particular she was very active in the Order of Eastern Star and the Rebekah Lodge, and helped establish churches, a social club, and the library within her new hometown. Beyond her teaching and organizational skills, Helen was talented as an amateur artist and fine musician. She instilled a serious appreciation for the arts in her children, and was quick to encourage their creative abilities. Her admiration for the beautiful basketry of the Pomo Indians led her to become a respected Pomo basket collector; an avocation she passed on to her daughter Grace, and son-in-law John Hudson. A prolific writer, whose work is now enjoying increased recognition, Helen wrote and published articles and stories on the customs and history of the local Pomo Indian peoples, and early pioneer days in Potter Valley and Ukiah. She even dabbled in poetry, advertising jingles, and songs. Grace recalled that her well-rounded mother was "one of the belles of early California . . . beautiful and accomplished with sparkling intelligence."