Everyone knows about the ”Votes for Women” campaign that led to the 19th Amendment in 1920. Few know just how long the struggle really was. Decades earlier, brave women began breaking the taboo of remaining silent at gatherings that included men. They began signing their names to petitions, flexing political muscle long before they had the vote. They wrote millions of words and published some of the most influential books and journals of their day. No one represents this early struggle — the small triumphs and discouraging setbacks — better than Clarina Howard Nichols (1810-1885), the Vermont newspaper publisher whose speeches made a powerful case for equality.
Nichols, herself the victim of a failed marriage, was a magnet to abused and mistreated women and was their advocate at a time when her sex was just beginning to speak up. And when she felt progress wasn’t coming soon enough, she moved west, to Bleeding Kansas, where she would make history and show the world that feminism could thrive on the frontier.
Diane Eickhoff, who first wrote Nichols’ biography in 2006 as Revolutionary Heart, has reimagined her story for all ages. Booklist declared, ”The name Clarina Nichols deserves to be placed next to those of such luminaries as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton,” and readers of this inspiring historical biography will heartily agree.
Title: Clarina Nichols: Frontier Crusader for Women’s Rights
Author: Diane Eickhoff
Genre: Nonfiction | YA (ages 12+) | Biography | Women
Publisher: Quindaro Press
Published: March 1, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 240 pages
FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review. Opinions expressed are mine.
Diane Eickhoff brings to the page one of the many American heroines who fought for the rights of women during the late 19th century. In Clarina Nichols: Frontier Crusader for Women’s Rights, Eickhoff pulls back the curtain on Clarina Nichol’s life and legend.
Although comprehensively written, this biography will appeal to all ages. Filled with Clarina’s intellect and wit, the story unfolds rapidly and with highly researched detail. There are things revealed in Clarina’s story I never heard in a history class:
- I knew girls and young women were discouraged from attending school and were educated in order to better their chances at a good marriage. Therefore, their time was spent learning piano or voice, needlework, art and how to manage a home. However, Eickhoff shares that the girls received an ornamental education vs. a scientific education which boys and young men were given. (p. 19)
- Divorce was not an option for women (which I knew) no matter how bad her life and the lives of her children had become. However, if her husband died, all of her problems, except an income, were solved. Yet, if she married again, she became a non-entity and guardianship of her children was passed to her husband stripping her of her rights as their mother. Yes, this was the law. (p. 69)
- Poor widows were auctioned off to the man bidding the lowest price. The town then paid him to give minimum care for her. There was no incentive to offer good care; the less he spent on the widow the more he had for himself. (p.67)
There were other examples, but too many to list here.
Eickhoff is generous with her writing. She writes Clarina’s story so that it is accessible to those of us somewhat older but also to younger people. Do not be fooled by the classification of “YA (ages 12+).” Clarina Nichols is a book for the whole family.
Personally, I recommend all families interested in raising well-rounded young men and women use this book as a family read. There will be many questions of “why” and “why not” which lend themselves to looking up more information. Eickhoff ensures fair representations of men’s and women’s rights during the time period are made.
The history of women’s rights is often forgotten in our curricula in the 21st century. We remember certain names but others have never been mentioned:
Other pioneers remain largely unknown. Frances Wright. Angelina and Sarah Grimké. Lucretia Mott, Jane Swisshelm. Lucy Stone. Ernestine Rose. Sojourner Truth. Antoinette Brown Blackwell. Paulina Wright Davis. Abby Kelley Foster. Frances Dana Gage. Matilda Joslyn Gage. Clarina Nichols. These women were as important tot he future of this country and to liberty as the Founding Fathers of the 18th century or the Civil War Generals of the 19th. (p. 198)
The book is also beautifully indexed allowing the reader to move about Clarina’s story again and again to read favorite passages or speeches or travels.
Kudos to Diane Eickhoff for bringing Clarina Nichols’s story out of the attic and for writing it with clarity and authenticity for her readers to learn more about our history as a country and as women.
Diane Eickhoff grew up on a farm in Minnesota, taught school in Appalachia and New York, and helped edit a newspaper for an anti-poverty program in Alabama. She has written widely for publications aimed at high school and younger readers. Her biography, Revolutionary Heart, from which this book is adapted, was named a Kansas Notable Book and the winner of ForeWord magazine’s Book of the Year competition in biography, among other honors. She lives with her husband, author Aaron Barnhart, in Kansas City.
Follow the rest of Diane Eickhoff’s tour here.