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.
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!
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 womens reading habits. The women I know tend to prefer fiction over history or biography. Heres 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 arent 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 youre 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, its 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 thats 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 husbands creditors. Then, as now, domestic abuse was a huge problem -- and there were no laws on the books making it even a misdemeanor. Were 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.
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.
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?
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. Im 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 womens rights until the very end of her life in 1885. Having the connection to the womens 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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 20 Apr 06 10:33
That's a great thing to offer! How cool.
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.
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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