Clarina Howard Nichols and the Politics of Motherhood
Marilyn S. Blackwell and Kristen T. Oertel
Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize, Finalist
Clarina Howard Nichols was one of America's pioneering social reformers. From Vermont to Kansas to California, she forged a political role for women by using her stature as a lady and a mother to lobby vigorously for women's rights, antislavery, and temperance. After joining the antislavery migration to Kansas, Nichols championed freedom in the territory, assisted former slaves, and argued successfully for women's school suffrage before ending her career in California, where she continued to promote women's full enfranchisement. Despite her accomplishments and considerable respect from contemporaries such as Susan B. Anthony, she has been largely overlooked by historians. Marilyn S. Blackwell and Kristen T. Oertel remedy this oversight and examine Nichols's important role in women's rights, antislavery, and westward expansion.
“Provides an excellent model for future studies of ‘forgotten feminism’ and their contributions to the history of women’s rights in the United States.”
—Journal of American History
“Meticulously researched, well written, and grounded in the social, political, and cultural mores of the era, Blackwell and Oertel have brought back into historical discourse an important figure of the early women’s rights movement.”
—Western Historical QuarterlySee all reviews...
“A valuable addition to nineteenth-century U.S. women’s history, the history of the West, the history of reform, and political history.”
—Great Plains Quarterly
“A solid contribution to the growing body of scholarship on feminism, suffragae, and nineteenth-century activism.”
“The authors have carefully and ably crafted the life of an early women’s-rights advocate who is now overshadowed by the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott.”
—Northwest Ohio History
“Linking all phases of [Clarina Howard Nichols] life to show the impact that the westward movement of people and ideas had on national and state politics, this book is a comprehensive portrait of an overlooked nineteenth-century feminist. Based upon sound and vigorous scholarship, it is engagingly and accessibly written, and will be enjoyed by general readers as well as by academics.”
“[This] carefully crafted and well-researched biography offers numerous insights into the politics of women’s rights activism in the nation’s heartland and into the complex factors shaping and circumscribing the strategies nineteenth-centurry female reformers employed.”
—Annals of Iowa
“A compelling portrait of a complicated and fascinating woman. . . . This scholarly but accessible political biography offers compelling material for readers interested in women’s, political, and western history. Moreover, it will intrigue readers not only for its analysis of women’s political past but also for its connections to our political present and future.”
—Montana The Magazine of Western History
“Nichols’s biographers have a wealth of published materials to draw on and have made good use of them to show the extent of and contradictions inherent in 19th-century reform movements.”
“A beautifully written and captivating account of a nineteenth-century woman whose life intersected and influenced some of the most important moments in American history. The authors not only make an important contribution to the history of womens rights, westward expansion, and violent conflict over slavery, but they also tell a great story about an interesting and complicated woman, her desire to shape the nation, and the costs of such a career in the nineteenth century. An outstanding biography of interest to general readers as well as scholars.”
—Carol Faulkner, author of Women’s Radical Reconstruction: The Freedmen’s Aid MovementSee fewer reviews...
In their comprehensive portrait, Blackwell and Oertel uncover the fascinating story of a complex woman while providing a window on presuffrage political engagement and the creation of public womanhood in the nineteenth century. Their insightful narrative places Nichols in the context of American reform politics and western migration. It shows the effectiveness of Nichols's "politics of motherhood," examining her relationships with other female reformers and with male politicians. Nichols's story reveals the role Northern women played in "Bleeding Kansas" and how women's rights became entwined in the battle to rid the expanding nation of slavery.
The authors cast Nichols as a deeply private person who guarded the secret of her divorce to protect both her political influence and her social position. By digging deeper than previous historians-into Nichols's few surviving letters, her columns as a journalist, and her speeches-they discover much about her failed first marriage and show how divorce gave her a unique insight into a legal system that disadvantaged many women. Nichols's personal struggles to overcome the stigma of her divorce and to settle in frontier Kansas form the dramatic backdrop to the development of her public career as a journalist and social reformer.
Overcoming both personal hardships and political barriers, Clarina Howard Nichols left a trail of new rights for women across the nation. Frontier Feminist restores this crusading woman to her rightful place among the pantheon of reformers who sought full citizenship for women and freedom for black Americans.