Clarina Nichols

Do you know the history of one of Wyandotte County’s most famous suffragists, Clarina Nichols? Below is a great article written by the Kansas State Historical Society. To learn more about Clarina Nichols, check out a copy of Revolutionary Heart: The Life of Clarina Nichols and the Pioneering Crusade for Women’s Rights by Diane Eickhoff.

Clarina Nichols listened and knitted during debates at the Wyandotte constitutional convention. As the official representative of the Moneka Woman’s Rights Association, Nichols was assigned a seat in the convention hall, and she was asked to address the delegates on woman’s rights issues. During recess and at every other opportunity, she met with delegates to share her strong views about equality for women and men. Because of her commitment, Nichols made an impact on Kansas history.

Clarina Howard was born in 1810 at West Townshend, Vermont, received an above-average education for her day, and married at age twenty. She had three children, taught school, and worked for a newspaper. In 1843, she divorced her husband, Justin Carpenter, and almost immediately married George Nichols, a newspaper editor twenty-eight years her senior. They had one son.

Nichols was involved in the temperance, abolition, and suffrage movements in the nineteenth century.  She became a passionate advocate for woman’s rights.  She was a recognized leader of the national movement and a champion of these various reform causes long before she decided to move West. In 1854 she joined the New England Emigrant Aid Society and soon moved her family to a claim in southern Douglas County, near Lawrence, Kansas Territory. Her husband died the next year, and after spending much of 1856 on the campaign trail, Nichols moved the family to Wyandotte County, where she became associate editor of the Quindaro Chindowan, an abolitionist newspaper.

Quindaro Chindowan article

Clarina traveled throughout the territory lecturing about equality, gathering signatures on petitions, and by 1859 building support for her participation at the Wyandotte Convention. These petitions persuaded the delegates to give Nichols a voice and a platform.

The final version of the Wyandotte Constitution reflects Nichols’ influence. It included three provisions dear to her heart: women’s rights in child custody, married women’s property rights, and equality in matters pertaining to public schools.

Kansas was a vital battleground for woman’s rights, and events here were important to the national movement. Thus, when the Kansas campaign for equal suffrage was launched in 1867, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Olympia Brown, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton joined Clarina Nichols in a valiant but futile effort. Kansas voters rejected amendments for both female and African American suffrage. The cause of woman’s rights advanced slowly thereafter, but it did advance, thanks to women such as Clarina I. H. Nichols. In 1912 Kansas women succeeded in their long effort to amend the state constitution and gain equality at the polls.

Nichols left Kansas in 1871 to be with two of her children in California. She died there in 1885. Through strong speaking and writing, Clarina Nichols made history in Kansas and advanced the cause of human rights.

Anne Lacey 
Kansas Collection Librarian