|January 25, 1810—January 11, 1885 (aged 74)
|Journalist, lobbyist, public speaker
Clarina Howard Nichols was an American journalist, lobbyist and public speaker involved in the temperance, abolition, and the women's rights movements. Despite her prominence in her time, she has been largely overlooked by historians until recently.
Nichols was born on January 25, 1810 in West Townshend, Vermont. After graduating as class valedictorian, she attended an advanced school in West Townshend for further education, then taught for a year or two before marrying Justin Carpenter, a recent law school graduate and member of a prominent local family; the couple moved to Brockport, New York. In 1939, after several unhappy years and financial setbacks, they separated and Nichols returned to her parents' home in Townshend. She supported herself and her three children on "women's wages"—one-half to one-third of what men received for similar work—as a newspaper journalist. One of the newspapers she wrote for was the Windham County Democrat in Brattleboro. After her divorce was finalized, she married the editor and publisher of the Democrat, George Nichols, who was more than 25 years her senior. Within a year, Clarina had a son and had quietly taken over George's duties at the paper as he became ill.
Under Nichols leadership, circulation of the Democrat increased to about 1,000 subscribers before ceasing publication in 1853. Nichols also began organizing women's rights conventions throughout the East and was a sought-after speaker. In 1847, a series of columns she wrote about wives' lack of economic security prompted the Vermont legislators to modify the state's marriage law to allow wives to write wills and to retain limited control over their real estate. Her continued focus on women's marital rights resulted in additional legal reforms protecting widows from poverty. In 1852, she became the first woman to address the Vermont State Legislature in her unsuccessful campaign secure the vote for women in district school elections.
When the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 threatened to establish slavery outside of the South, Nichols and her family moved to the Kansas Territory with other free-soil pioneers recruited by the New England Emigrant Aid Company. After her husband's death one year later, she settled in Quindaro, now Kansas City. She became associate editor of the Quindaro Chindowan, an abolitionist newspaper. She argued successfully for married women's property and custody rights and for women's school suffrage. She was also an Underground Railroad Station Master and Conductor and assisted former slaves. During the Civil Nichols followed her daughter to Washington, D.C., clerking briefly in the quartermaster general's office before becoming matron of the National Home for Destitute Colored Women and Children in Georgetown. When Kansas entered the Union as a free state in 1861, its state constitution granted women the freedom to control property, share custody and vote in local school elections. After returning to Kansas in 1866, Nichols participated in the 1867 referenda campaign for universal suffrage.
In 1871, Nichols moved to Potter Valley, California to be with her youngest son, George. She published columns on women's legal and political rights in the Pacific Rural Press of San Francisco and remained a nationally recognized voice for women's rights until her death on January 11, 1885.