Clarina Irene Howard Nichols
Journalist and advocate for women's rights, temperance, and antislavery. Contributed to reform of married women's property rights in 1847 and introduced school suffrage for women in Vermont. First woman to address the Vermont Legislature. Participated in the free-soil movement in Kansas and secured parity for women in school affairs in the Kansas Constitution.
Date of Birth01/25/1810
Date of Death01/11/1885
Clarina Howard Nichols was the first woman to advocate for women's rights in Vermont. The eldest daughter of Birsha Smith and Chapin Howard, she grew up in West Townshend and married Justin Carpenter of Guilford in 1830. Migrating to western New York and later to New York City, the Carpenters had three children. Their marriage ended after Justin spent much of Clarina's inheritance and failed to provide adequate support for the family. She separated from him and eventually secured a divorce.
In 1843 Clarina married George W. Nichols, editor of the Windham County Democrat in Brattleboro, with whom she had one more child. As George's health deteriorated, she assumed the editorship of the Democrat and began her career as a political journalist and advocate for social reform. A lively and scarcastic writer who provided advice about domestic and partisan affairs, Nichols was a keen supporter of temperance and a friend of antislavery. Her editorials on behalf of married women's property rights were instrumental in passage of a significant reform act in 1847, allowing married women to write wills and protecting their inherited real estate from their husband's debts. In 1852, she organized a petition to the Vermont Legislature seeking women's right to vote in school meetings. Despite her stellar presentation before the Vermont Legislature, the first woman to do so, Vermont did not allow women to vote in school meetings until 1880. Nichols participated in numerous national conventions on women's rights in the Northeast and lectured widely on temperance and women's issues.
In 1854, Nichols moved her family to Kansas, where she supported the movement to secure free soil in the territory and became active as an abolitionist. After her husband died, she worked tirelessly for women's rights in Kansas. She helped ensure that married women's property and custody rights were included in the Kansas constitution and wrote a clause guaranteeing equality for women in school affairs, which allowed women to vote in school elections. Known as a "mother of Kansas" for her matronly presentation and stature, she continued to advocate for full suffrage and equal treatment of husbands and wives in family law.
During the Civil War, she and her daughter worked as government clerks in Washington, D.C., and she became the matron of a home for freed black women and children. After the war, she engaged in a failed campaign to secure universal suffrage rights in Kansas and eventually migrated further west to Potter Valley, California, where one of her sons had pioneered. Nichols continued to write and publish articles advocating for women's full equality and their important role in the nation until her death at age seventy-five.
Organizations or Movements
- Women's Rights