Nicholson, Asenath Hatch

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NICHOLSON, Asenath Hatch

Born 24 February 1792, Chelsea, Vermont; died death date unknown

Wrote under: A. Nicholson, Asenath Nicholson

Daughter of Michael and Martha Hatch; married Norman Nicholson

Asenath Hatch Nicholson's parents were descendants of New England Puritans. Their example of broad charity and religious tolerance inculcated those virtues in their daughter, who said of her clergyman father: "He hung no Quakers, nor put any man in a corner of the church because he had a coloured skin. He rebuked sin in high places with fearlessness."

Nicholson was trained as a schoolteacher before she married a New York merchant. About 1832 Nicholson opened a Temperance Boardinghouse based on the principles of Sylvester Graham in the old Five Points section of New York, the city's worst slum. Her rules and their rationale are the subject of Nature's Own Book (1835). It is a book of crotchets; she was a vegetarian who objected to tobacco, alcohol, coffee, and even tea, which she argued was capable of giving its users the delirium tremens.

After Nicholson was widowed, she set off for Ireland in 1844 on a self-appointed mission to bring the Bible to the Irish poor. For 15 months, she walked through Ireland distributing tracts supplied by the Hibernian Bible Society. Everywhere she scolded against dirt, drink, and tobacco, but her compassion and generosity won Nicholson the acceptance of the Irish country people; others disapproved of her genuine concern for the poor and her outspokenness on matters that outraged her principles.

Nicholson narrates her adventures in Ireland's Welcome to the Stranger (1847), a book valuable for its remarkable picture of 19th-century Irish country life. It is unique among Irish travel books of the time because Nicholson lived among the poor and recorded details of daily life. Although the book is full of her eccentricities, it is marked by vivid writing and by her efforts to help the people she met. Nicholson's wish to serve the Irish poor was fulfilled by the end of the decade. Even before she left Ireland in August 1845, the first signs of the potato blight had appeared. With aid from American charitable organizations, Nicholson arrived in Dublin again in 1847 to establish her own soup kitchen. She worked with the Dublin Central Relief Committee until July 1847, when she went to Belfast. Nicholson spent the following winter in the west of Ireland in those areas most devastated by famine, organizing relief for the poor.

Lights and Shades of Ireland (1847) is the journal of Nicholson's famine experience. Her portraits of the leaders of the Dublin Quakers in the Central Relief Committee, her description of the rural relief officers who worked courageously among the dying, and her vignettes of individual human suffering make the book an important document.

Nicholson left Ireland in 1848 but continued to live in Europe until 1852. In 1850 she was an American delegate to the Peace Conference in Frankfurt. Her last book, Loose Papers (1853), a series of sketches, was published after her return to the United States. She wished to be remembered for her work as an educator, a missionary, a reformer, and a humanitarian. However, Irish social historians value her for Ireland's Welcome to the Stranger, a book that Sean O'Faolain and Frank O'Connor considered one of the two or three most valuable records of Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine, and for Lights and Shades of Ireland, a documentary of one woman's efforts to ease human suffering.

Other Works:

The Bible in Ireland (edited by A. Sheppard, 1925).


Reference works:

Saints and Scholars (1929).

Other references:

Dublin magazine (1934).


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Nicholson, Asenath Hatch

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