inkwell.vue.269 : Diane Eickhoff: Revolutionary Heart
permalink #51 of 63: Gail Williams (gail) Sun 16 Apr 06 18:14
    
It seems so nonsensical from today's perspective.  It's very hard to
understand the cultural climate then, even though there are still so many
echos and resiodual effects today.  Things are simultaneously moving 
both fast and slow.
  
inkwell.vue.269 : Diane Eickhoff: Revolutionary Heart
permalink #52 of 63: Laura MacEachen (laura-mac) Mon 17 Apr 06 00:03
    
Gail, I swear there are days - morbidly cynical days, admittedly -
when I truly feel that virtually *nothing* has changed since Clarina
Nichols' day.  

Like the day in the late nineties that (then) Governor Pete Wilson
signed legislation mandating that health insurers allow women who had
had mastectomies to stay overnight in a hospital.  Buh?  Outpatient
mastectomy procedures???  

Holy whistlin' Jesus, as my paternal grandma would have said.  I had
somehow missed that the HMO-ization of medical care had
institutionalized hatred of women in this country.  Hell, I hadn't even
thought about phrases like 'institutionalized hatred of women' in 30
years.   And that it was so egregious that even Gov. Wilson (in my
mind, a dweller in the political camp located somewhere to the right of
Attila the Hun) got it and took steps to correct it, truly broke my
heart. 

I kid you not - I wept for days.  And then started keeping my eyes
open, and finding that there's been some change in behaviors, but
there's still a fair amount of lip service paired with no real change. 
Not unlike attitudes/behavior towards racial minorities, I might add. 

Diane, thank you for writing this book (and discussing it with us) -
I've never before read an historical autobiography that was even
*close* to being a page-turner and you managed to accomplish that!  
Ms. Nichols was quite a woman then, and today, I suspect, would be a
major player.   

I struggled a bit with the temperance movement framework - but that's
my stuff - I have a recovering alcoholic's perspective on the futility
of  someone telling a practicing alcoholic that they shouldn't drink -
oh, yeah, that'll work.  Nonetheless, it served as an organizing
springboard for some incredible work by Ms. Nichols and her cohorts. 
Balancing her political work with family life and self-support - it's
almost unimaginable *now*, much less then!

I'm still processing what I read - a sure sign of impact!
  
inkwell.vue.269 : Diane Eickhoff: Revolutionary Heart
permalink #53 of 63: Diane Eickhoff (diane-eickhoff) Mon 17 Apr 06 08:28
    
>I've never before read an historical autobiography that was even
*close* to being a page-turner and you managed to accomplish that! 

Thanks, Laura. I am happy to hear you say the book was a page-turner.
That is exactly what I was trying to accomplish. 

I have a theory about women’s reading habits. The women I know tend to
prefer fiction over history or biography. Here’s my theory: fiction is
where the women are. Want to read about how women think, feel, act?
Read fiction. Want to know how women from long ago thought, felt,
acted? Read historical fiction. 

In most historical accounts women are absent or bit players. There
just aren’t a lot of biographies about historical women. And too many
biographies  have too much of what my late sister used to call to-ing
and fro-ing. Who cares? I wanted to write an historically accurate
biography of a *lost* woman and combine it with some of the
page-turning qualities of  fiction. But I didn't want to make up any
dialogue -- the chief vehicle for fiction. That was the challenge.

 

>I struggled a bit with the temperance movement framework. 

I know what you’re saying.I struggled with it also. I was involved in
Al-Anon for a decade myself, and I know how successful it would have
been to make my loved one sign a temperance pledge or to have poured
all the “ardent spirits” in the house down the toilet.

But in terms of the early temperance movement, it’s important to keep
the historical context in mind. First of all, think of a society that
drinks three times as much per capita as we do today. (And that’s not
even taking into consideration that there were many women -- and some
men too - -- who were tee-totalers.) 

Add to that the fact they knew nothing about the physical, genetic, or
psychological forces involved in alcoholism. They thought it was all a
matter of will power and commitment. A moral problem.

Then you have the whole gender thing. Married women were legally
“dead,” had no rights, not even to their own wages. Think of what this 
would mean in a household with an alcoholic husband -- vexation,
desperation, financial ruin. A woman could end up in the poorhouse or
on the streets or with not a stick of furniture in her house.
Everything could be taken from her by her husband’s creditors.

Then, as now, domestic abuse was a huge problem -- and there were no
laws on the books making it even a misdemeanor. We’re not doing so hot
in that area ourselves. But we do have shelters. We do have laws on the
books making domestic abuse a crime. Police and emergency room
personnel are being trained to watch for signs of abuse. None of that
existed. A man's home was his castle. What happened behind closed doors
was nobody's business.

Tenperance seemed a way to address poverty, domestic abuse, and to
some extent, the limited options of married women. And it was part of
the optimistic, reform-minded spirit of the age. These antebellum
reformers believed they could solve all the world's problems, and since
alcoholism was the one closest to home, they decided to take it on.

In that context temperance  sounds almost progressive. Get everybody
to swear off alcohol. With nobody drinking, re-create the Garden of
Eden. They were not only optimistic. They were extremely naive.

One of the good things about the temperance movement is that it
brought women together and was one of the springboards into the women's
movement. In some places it was hard to tell a temperance meeting from
a women's rights meeting. 
  
inkwell.vue.269 : Diane Eickhoff: Revolutionary Heart
permalink #54 of 63: Carl LaFong (mcdee) Mon 17 Apr 06 10:59
    
Another lens for the temperance movement: it was largely a Protestant
movement from small-town/rural America aimed at big-city Catholic
immigrants who liked to drink (Irish, Italians, and Germans).  This
places it right in line with other "drug wars," which have generally
been aimed at the chosen intoxicants of hated or feared groups.  As you
point out, there were a lot of threads that fed into the temperance
movement, but that was certainly one of them.

Interestingly, Prohibition was also overturned largely due to the
efforts of a group of upper-class women, a story much less familiar
than Carrie Nation and her hatchet.
  
inkwell.vue.269 : Diane Eickhoff: Revolutionary Heart
permalink #55 of 63: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (peoples) Mon 17 Apr 06 11:01
    





> The new Republican Party had its eye on all those freshly emancipated
> black males and wanted to swell the ranks of the party with new voters.
> It's a complicated story as to why they didn't want to bring in 
> female voters at the same time  ...

There's a quote in "Revolutionary Heart" that you attribute to an
unnamed lawyer who crashed the inaugural Kansas Impartial Suffrage 
Association meeting in the early spring of 1867. The lawyer was outraged
at the very thought of women getting the vote. He said "If I was a negro,
I would not want the woman hitched to my skirts."

I find that quote particularly stunning. In a white culture where for the
past couple centuries blacks had been considered [by many] to be on a par
with a farm animal, *woman* was viewed as even less than that. 

Given that kind of mindset amock in the culture, I can see why the
Republican Party would be leery of appearing to favor women's suffrage.
It's horrible and discouraging, certainly. But it's understandable since
we know that, with rare exception, politics has always been a game of 
back-scratching and compromise, with true moral conviction getting little 
but lip service.


    *****************

Amazingly, Nichols persisted in her efforts to further the cause of 
women's rights, despite the disappointment she must have felt when the
women's suffrage amendment failed in the Kansas election in 1867. 

Diane, I don't think I could have continued. I'd have thrown up my
hands at that point, said to hell with it and left the arena. What do
you think gave Nichols the strength to carry on? 
  
inkwell.vue.269 : Diane Eickhoff: Revolutionary Heart
permalink #56 of 63: Diane Eickhoff (diane-eickhoff) Mon 17 Apr 06 20:38
    
>What do you think gave Nichols the strength to carry on?

She had the strength of her convictions. She knew that she and all the
other suffragists  had right on their side. She knew history would
vindiate their efforts. There was never any question in her mind about
those things, and she made peace with the fact that she wouldn't be
around when it happened.

I’m sure she must have been discouraged many times. Perhaps if she had
left a journal behind, we would have more evidence of that
discouragement, but we do have a letter she wrote to Susan B. Anthony a
couple years after Kansas denied woman suffrage in 1867.

 “I sometimes cry out at being hedged in by circumstances, from
joining the triumphant march of womanhood. I seem almost to have
dropped out by the way, unable to keep up, but....O how I watch and
pray! I do all I can with my pen.”

She kept on writing about women’s rights until the very end of her
life in 1885.

Having the connection to the women’s movement, feeling like she was
part of something bigger than herself and that she was contributing in
some way to the larger whole gave her life its central defining purpose
and meaning. I think it would have been harder for her to have given
up than it was to carry on. Giving up was not in her nature.
  
inkwell.vue.269 : Diane Eickhoff: Revolutionary Heart
permalink #57 of 63: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (peoples) Tue 18 Apr 06 08:16
    

> I think it would have been harder for her to have given
>  up than it was to carry on. Giving up was not in her nature.

Yes, I can see that. She was quite a remarkable woman. 

She grew up in a somewhat unusual family, in that her parents didn't
treat the daughters differently than the sons, particularly in terms
of parental expectations about their abilities and intelligence. 

How much of an influence do you think her upbringing, and particularly
the evenhandedness with which her father treated her, influenced her
sensibilities about equality for women? 
  
inkwell.vue.269 : Diane Eickhoff: Revolutionary Heart
permalink #58 of 63: Diane Eickhoff (diane-eickhoff) Tue 18 Apr 06 13:40
    
≥How much of an influence do you think her upbringing, and
particularly the evenhandedness with which her father treated her,
influenced her sensibilities about equality for women?

From everything I can tell, Nichols had two sensible and progressive
parents -- strict and Puritanical to be sure, but fair and supportive
as well. She was the oldest of 8 and given a great deal of
responsibility at an early age. Her parents were well-off, the
wealthiest or second-most wealthy family in their small town. 

Chapin Howard, her father, was a community leader. He had his finger
in a lot of pies. Operated a tannery and a hotel. Owned property in
territorial Michigan. Served in the state legislature. Backed every
project he thought would benefit the town. 

 Her mother made sure all five daughters learned all they might need
to run successful households -- a wide variety of practical skills that
included (but were not limited to) spinning, weaving, sewing,
churning, milking, gardening, cooking, baking, cleaning, canning. It
wears me out just making the list.

In addition to his other duties, Nichols's father was "overseer of the
poor" in Townshend, Vermont. It was his job to dole out the town's
charitable funds to those most deserving. Nichols says her father often
invited her to sit in on these interviews. Imagine the effect this
must have had on a young, impressionable girl.

Sometimes she would see her dad's eyes well up with tears as he told
one person or another that his hands were tied, that the law did not
allow him to help her. If this was meant as some kind of object lesson
-- and I think we can be pretty sure that it was -- it succeeded
wildly. The faces of some of those women haunted Nichols all her life.

One interesting sidenote to this is that Nichols's younger brother,
Aurelius, willed $10,000 (a sizable sum in the early 1880s) to
Townshend, the interest of which was meant to take care of the town's
poor. To this day the town has never touched the principle. Aurelius
must have gotten the same lesson from his father as Clarina did.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton tells a story similar to Nichols's. Cady
Stanton's father was a judge who allowed Elizabeth to listen in on his
appointments with women who came to him for help. This resulted in the
exposure of another early women's rights advocate to the inequalities
of the law regarding women.

 One difference between their experiences is that Cady Stanton
remembered her father sighing and saying that he wished his wonderfully
intelligent girl had been born a boy. Nichols never reported that kind
of sentiment from her father. 

Nichols's parents sent all 8 children to district (elementary) school.
She also had a year at a "select school" for boys *and* girls, where
she had a classical education, again somewhat unusual for girls in
those days. (Her graduation speech -- the only serious speech given by
a girl -- was entitled "Comparative of a Scientific and an Ornamental
Education to Females.")

 That one year of what we would call high school was the only
"advanced" educatiom she received, but for the rest of her life she was
an avid reader of everything she could get her hands on.

Finally, her parents' will stipulated that their estate be divided
equally among their five daughters and three sons -- another unusual
move in those days.

When you lay it all out like that it's pretty clear that Nichols had a
privileged childhood and adolescence but that she wasn't spoiled. She
felt responsible for using her rights to fulfill her responsibilities.
I think it's fair to trace it back in part to her upbringing -- though
there were other factors. There always are.
  
inkwell.vue.269 : Diane Eickhoff: Revolutionary Heart
permalink #59 of 63: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (peoples) Wed 19 Apr 06 09:28
    

Indeed... I suspect her relationship with her second husband, which was
based on principles of marital equality and co-sovereignty, helped
strengthen her resolve to see all women gain equal rights in the
political realm and in the home.

There's been a lot to explore about Clarina Nichols, and I feel like
we've barely scratched the surface over the past two weeks, Diane. I
don't want this conversation to end, though, before I've had a chance
to ask you about what your plans are as far as future Clarina Nichols 
performances. You have a list of your scheduled appearances
on your web site: <http://www.clarinanichols.com/news>

Are all of these open to the public? Are there any particular events
within this group of appearances that you'd recommend attending?

Also, if people wanted to look at a sample from "Revolutionary Heart,"
can you point us to the right page on your web site?

And last, but not least, having invested so much time and energy and
heart into Clarina Nichols's story, do you feel ready to move on to
a new subject? 
  
inkwell.vue.269 : Diane Eickhoff: Revolutionary Heart
permalink #60 of 63: Diane Eickhoff (diane-eickhoff) Wed 19 Apr 06 21:14
    
>Are all of these open to the public? Are there any particular events
within this group of appearances that you'd recommend attending?

The events currently listed on my calendar are in Kansas and Missouri
(they're open to the public unless listed otherwise), but I'm planning
author tours to other areas in the coming year. If you're interested in
hearing me if/when I come to your area, send me an email through
clarinanichols.com, and I'll personally let you know if I'm coming in
your neck of the woods. 

 

>Also, if people wanted to look at a sample from "Revolutionary
Heart,"can you point us to the right page on your web site?

Here's chapter 1. 

http://www.clarinanichols.com/excerpt

>And last, but not least, having invested so much time and energy and
heart into Clarina Nichols's story, do you feel ready to move on to
a new subject? 

I'm getting there! I have three different ideas in mind. Whatever I do
will be historical nonfiction and probably set somewhere in the 19th
century. But first I need to finish my last paper for a graduate
history course I'm taking and plant my garden.
  
inkwell.vue.269 : Diane Eickhoff: Revolutionary Heart
permalink #61 of 63: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 20 Apr 06 10:33
    
That's a great thing to offer!  How cool.
  
inkwell.vue.269 : Diane Eickhoff: Revolutionary Heart
permalink #62 of 63: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (peoples) Fri 21 Apr 06 06:49
    

Sorry for my delay in responding. I unexpectedly had to have some
electrical work done in my home office yesterday and was without power
all day. arg! 

Thanks so much for joining us, Diane. I've so enjoyed getting to know
a bit about you, as well as about Clarina Nichols. 

I also enjoyed reading "Revolutionary Heart" and I'd encourage anybody 
who's interested in finding out more about Nichols and the times she
lived in to go get a copy. It's a great read as well as a great story.

Good luck with your next project. I hope you'll let us know when it's
published. I'd love to see it, and maybe you can come back to Inkwell
to talk about it with us.
  
inkwell.vue.269 : Diane Eickhoff: Revolutionary Heart
permalink #63 of 63: Diane Eickhoff (diane-eickhoff) Fri 21 Apr 06 09:04
    
Thanks very much, Cynthia. It's been fun, and as Clarina Nichols would
say when signing her letters in the days before slavery ended and
women's rights was no more than an idea in a few brave women's minds:
"Yours for freedom everywhere."
  



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