« Previous  
 Next »

Vermont Women: Eickoff book on Clarina Howard Nichols

03/22/07 12:00AM
 MP3   Download MP3 

(HOST) This week VPR is honoring the accomplishments of notable Vermont women. Clarina Howard Nichols was a pioneering newspaper editor, an early women's rights advocate and the first woman ever to address the Vermont legislature. Educator Deborah Luskin has been reading the Diane Eickoff book about Nichols that explains why she became an activist.

(LUSKIN) Clarina Howard Nichols was born in West Townshend in 1810. She was the first woman ever to address the Vermont legislature, one of the first female newspaper editors in both Vermont and in the country, and a founding mother of the women's movement. In Revolutionary Heart: The Life of Clarina Nichols And The Pioneering Crusade For Women's Rights, Diane Eickoff follows Nichols career as a popular speaker, a prolific writer and a staunch believer in women's rights. Sadly, her political activism was a direct result of an abusive first marriage.

Little is known about Justin Carpenter, Nichol's first husband, beyond his failure to support his wife and children. Earning an income fell to Clarina, who plied her needle to keep the family clothed, fed and lodged. Worse, the law gave Carpenter automatic custodial rights of their children, as well as control of Clarina's meager earnings. Ultimately, Clarina gained a divorce from Carpenter - even his own family testified against him. As a result, Clarina Howard became a women's rights activist. Clairina Nichols worked hard to change laws so that women could maintain custody of their children and own and inherit property in the event of a husband's death.

In 1843, Clarina remarried. Her second husband, George Washington Nichols, lived in Brattleboro, where he published The Windham County Democrat. Shortly after the marriage, George fell ill and left the running of the newspaper to his wife. While Clarina acted as publisher and editor, she did not at first allow her name to appear on the masthead. Just when bloomers - pants worn under dresses - were coming into fashion for the liberated woman, Clarina Nichols made it clear she didn't want to wear men's pants, but neither did she want a man to own her dress. She believed that in order to achieve security for them selves and their children, married women needed the legal right to own and control their own property and wages.

What she wanted was economic security for women who had the misfortune to marry men too improvident, abusive or alcoholic to support their wives. She wanted women to be able to fulfill their maternal duties by maintaining custody of their children and supporting them. Her activism for women's property rights led to her involvement in the suffragette movement, and her belief in human rights for all made her an ardent abolitionist.

Nichols came to believe that the East was entrenched in its ways - it was on the frontier that women's suffrage and fair property laws had the best chance of passage. But this was in the 1850's, when America's western expansion intensified the national debate about slavery. Nichols moved west, hoping to draft fair property laws into the constitution in Kansas' bid to become a state. But the controversy over slavery overshadowed women's rights.

Women's Suffrage, Temperance and Abolition were the great reform movements of nineteenth century America. Clarina Howard Nichols, born and educated in Vermont, played a national role in all three.

Deborah Luskin teaches writing and literature to non-traditional students in hospitals, libraries and prisons throughout Vermont. Tomorrow we'll hear from Cyndy Bittinger about how Grace Coolidge and Dorothy Thompson attempted to rescue Jewish children from Germany in 1939. And don't forget to tune in tonight for Switchboard when host Fran Stoddard talks about women in Vermont history -- some famous, and some completely unknown -- with guests Susan Ouellette, from Saint Michael's College; Deborah Clifford, a writer on women in Vermont history; and Judith Irving of the Vermont Women's History Project. Call in with your questions and stories - tonight at 7 here on VPR.

comments powered by Disqus
Supported By
Become an Underwriter | Find an Underwiter