Nichols, Clarina (1810–1885)

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Nichols, Clarina (1810–1885)

American journalist and women's rights leader. Name variations: Mrs. C.I.H. Nichols; Clarina Irene Howard Nichols. Born Clarina Irene Howard on January 25, 1810, in West Townshend, Vermont; died on January 11, 1885, in Potter Valley, California; daughter of Chapin Howard (a landowner and businessman) andBirsha (Smith) Howard; educated at district school and attended an academy for one year; married Justin Carpenter (a Baptist preacher), on April 21, 1830 (divorced February 1843); married George W. Nichols (a newspaper publisher), on March 6, 1843 (died 1855); children: (first marriage) Birsha C. Carpenter, Chapin Howard Carpenter, Aurelius O. Carpenter; (second marriage) George B. Nichols (b. 1844).

Opened a girls' seminary in Herkimer, New York (1835); returned to Vermont and began writing for the Brattleboro newspaper (1840); married publisher of Brattleboro's Windham County Democrat, George W. Nichols, and assumed editorial duties at the paper (1843); wrote series of editorials on the subject of married women's property rights which led to the passage of legislation by the Vermont legislature (1847); led failed campaign to secure the vote for women in district school elections (1852); lectured extensively, mainly on women's rights (early 1850s); settled in Kansas Territory (1855), where she wrote articles and lectured on women's rights; addressed Kansas legislature on need for married women's property law (1860); moved to Washington, D.C. (1863); returned to Kansas and unsuccessfully campaigned with Susan B. Anthony toward full women's suffrage in the state (1867); moved to California to live with her son (1871).

As a newspaper editor and women's rights leader, Clarina Nichols played an important role in helping women to obtain legal rights to inherit, own, and bequeath property; she also worked to obtain the vote for women. She was born on January 25, 1810, to Chapin and Birsha Smith Howard of West Townshend, Vermont; her father was a large landowner and at various times ran a number of businesses, including a tannery, tavern, shoe store, and blacksmith shop. She received what was then a fairly good education for a woman, attending public schools, and spent one year at an academy.

Nichols married Justin Carpenter, a Baptist preacher, in Townshend on April 21, 1830. They moved shortly thereafter to Herkimer, New York, where she raised three children and opened a girls' seminary around 1835. By 1839, however, she had returned to Townshend without her husband, and the following year began writing for Brattleboro's Windham County Democrat newspaper. Nichols was divorced from her first husband in February 1843, and in March she married George W. Nichols, 25 years her senior, who was the publisher and printer of the paper. The next year a son, George B., was born. Nichols assumed editorship of the paper and increased its scope to include literary pieces and editorials supporting various reform movements. A series of editorials she wrote on the lack of property rights available to married women led in 1847 to laws passed by the Vermont legislature which guaranteed married women the right to inherit, own, and bequeath property. This legislation was subsequently expanded. Nichols was also instrumental, through her editorials and speeches, in gaining support for legalizing joint property deeds for married couples, permitting women to insure their husbands' lives, and broadening inheritance rights for widows. In 1852, she campaigned for women to have the right to vote in district school meetings. Although a speech she gave failed to convince the legislature to enact such legislation, she won sympathy and support for her cause.

Nichols eventually became a sought-after lecturer, who sprinkled her talks with personal experiences and the liberal use of Biblical quotations. She was an avid knitter, and her habit of knitting on trains on the way to speaking engagements often surprised people who had falsely assumed that she was not domestic. As Nichols became known outside the state of Vermont, she was invited to speak at women's rights conventions and attended the "Whole World's Temperance Convention" in 1853. That fall, with the encouragement of her husband, she joined physician Lydia Folger Fowler in a 900-mile speaking tour to Wisconsin sponsored by the Woman's State Temperance Society.

In 1853, the Democrat went out of business, and the next year the family prepared to move to Kansas. Nichols and her two older sons joined a Kansas-bound party sent by the New England Emigrant Aid Company, arriving in Lawrence, Kansas, on November 1, 1854. She soon went back to Vermont for her husband and the following spring returned to Kansas with him and their younger children. Their Missouri River steamboat ran aground during the journey, at which point she took advantage of her captive audience to organize and address a women's rights meeting on board. The family took up residence near Ottawa, Kansas, where her husband died in August 1855. After settling his estate in Vermont, she moved with her daughter and youngest son to Wyandotte County, Kansas.

As the territory moved closer to statehood, Nichols wrote a steady stream of newspaper articles campaigning for the inclusion of women's rights clauses in the Kansas constitution. She also lectured and circulated petitions on behalf of the Kansas Woman's Rights Association, founded in 1859. When the state constitution was written in Wyandotte (later Kansas City), it granted women equal rights to education, to custody of their children, and to the vote in local school matters, all largely because of Nichols' ceaseless campaigning. She also worked for ratification of the constitution. Representing the Kansas Woman's Rights Association, she spoke about the need for a married women's property law in front of a joint session of the first state legislature in 1860. It was not until 1867, however, that such a law was passed.

Between 1863 and 1866, Nichols lived in Washington, D.C., working first in the Quartermaster's Department and then as the matron of the Georgetown home run by the National Association of the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children (1865–66). In 1867, she was among the women who joined Susan B. Anthony in a push for women's suffrage in Kansas. (They were unsuccessful.) In December 1871, Nichols moved to Mendocino County, California. Although her health had begun failing, she wrote articles for a local farm journal, the Rural Press, before her death at the home of her son George in Potter Valley, California, on January 11, 1885.


Edgerly, Lois Stiles, ed. Give Her This Day. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House, 1990.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

suggested reading:

Barry, Louise. "The Emigrant Aid Company Parties of 1854," in Kansas Historical Quarterly. May 1943.

Cabot, Mary R., ed. Annals of Brattleboro, 1921.

Morgan, Perl W., ed. History of Wyandotte County, Kansas, Volume I, 1911.

Nichols, Clarina. "Reminiscences," in Elizabeth Cady Stanton , et al., History of Woman Suffrage, I, 1881, pp. 171–200.

——. "The Responsibilities of Woman, A Speech … at the Woman's Rights Convention" (Worcester, Oct. 15, 1851), 1854.


Various articles by Clarina Nichols published in the Windham County Democrat are available in scattered copies at the Vermont State Library, Montpelier, Vermont.

Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont

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Nichols, Clarina (1810–1885)

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