This Place In History: Clarina Howard Nichols

BARRE, Vt.

At 'This Place In History' we visited the Vermont History Center with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins. 

"Clarina Howard Nichols, very important to Vermont and our country in general. She was an abolitionist. She was involved in the Temperance Movement and a great proponent of early women's rights. We're going to talk a little about Clarina Hoard Nichols, who was a real force of nature. We're asked Lyn Blackwell, a former board member of the Vermont Historical Society and great scholar to talk to us about this woman," said Perkins.

"Nichols was one of the pioneers of the early Women's Rights Movement in the 1840s. She was a colleague of Susan B. Anthony. She was born in a small village, West Townshend, Vermont to a family that had come up here after the Revolutionary War. She later began writing for the Windham County Democrat, a paper in Brattleboro. Eventually she married the editor, George Nichols. She turned that paper into what we think of today as an early reform journal," introduced Blackwell.

"She advocated for women's rights, for temperance and antislavery. Her columns were well-received. She had lots of battles with other newspaper editors around the state over various issues; particularly one man from Middlebury who challenged her women's rights agenda."

"But her columns did influence the legislature. In 1847, they passed a modest reform of married women's property rights. Two or three years later, she was the first woman to speak in front of the legislature. She had at the time submitted a petition to the legislature requesting that women be able to speak at the school meetings. Of course women couldn't vote at that time. She argued that if women were supposed to control and monitor children and oversee their education, therefore they ought to be able to vote at the school meeting."

"This was an innovation for the legislators to see a woman speak in front of them because it was not common for a woman to speak to a male audience. She was very, very nervous. They listened attentively, they clapped, but afterwards they quickly dismissed her petition because most men believed that women shouldn't get involved in what they called the nasty business of politics."

In 1854, she went out to Kansas. She took two of her sons who were interested in buying land out there and they settled on the frontier. This was quite the change for a woman who had grown up in and was used to the commercial center of Brattleboro, which was quite bustling, to settle in a log cabin on the frontier. She continued and became very prominent out in Kansas as a women's rights leader. She spoke and wrote extensively in Kansas newspapers."

"After the Kansas Situation became resolved, she was able to sit at the First Constitutional Convention. She wrote clauses that were inserted in the constitution that guaranteed women legal property rights, custody rights and equality in school affairs. This was the State Constitution, still exists today. Her clauses allowed women to be equally involved in schools and vote in school meetings. In Kansas, she was successful in getting the major reform she cared a lot about." 

At 'This Place In History'!

For more from our 'This Place In History' series, click here.

To find Vermont's roadside historic markers, click here.


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