Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Clarina Nichols's Civil Wars

Clarina Irene Howard Carpenter Nichols (1810 - 1885)
Kansas State Historical Society
She was about 30 in this photo, perhaps a wedding memory from
her second marriage in 1843 to George Washington Nichols.

Vermont-born Clarina Nichols was at war with society's wrongs most of her life. Women's rights, slavery's abolition and freedpeople's welfare concerned her. Her first marriage to Justin Carpenter was miserable enough that she obtained a divorce in 1843.

The Townshend Vermont Historical Society has Clarina's divorce papers. 
She accused Justin Carpenter of cruelty, unkindness and intolerable severity.

Clarina obtained custody of their three young children Bertia, Chapin Howard and Aurelius. She turned to newspaper writing for support.

Second husband publisher George Washington Nichols (1782-1856) 
holding their son George Bainbridge Nichols in the late 1840s.

In the months before the Civil War she was a widow living in Kansas where she and George had come to serve the free-state cause in the Squatter Sovereignty wars of the mid 1850s. George died soon after they moved to Kansas.

Clarina was a founding resident of the Kansas town of Quindaro, established on Wyandotte tribal land across the Missouri River from the slave-state of Missouri as a refuge for African-Americans fleeing slavery. In Quindaro she wrote for the Chindowan.

Quindaro's Ruins
Built on cliffs over the Missouri the town wasn't really viable
due to its inaccessibility and soon became a ghost town to Clarina's regret.
The area's been absorbed by Kansas City, Kansas.

When Kansas became a free state in 1861 its constitution gave women property, custody and some voting rights, thanks to Clarina's advocacy. She'd sat in many hearings and meetings, listening while  knitting and lobbying for women's rights (and occasionally speaking to the conservative men's horror.).

Home funded by the National Association for the Relief of 
Destitute Colored Women and Children in Washington

During the war she toured the central states advocating women's rights and in 1863 moved to Washington City to work in the Union Army's Quartermaster Department. She then took a position as matron of a Georgetown residence for "Destitute Colored Women & Children" before returning to Kansas to campaign for women's rights.

Rare photograph of Quindaro residents during its few thriving years

One drama in Clarina's crusades concerned Lydia W. Peck's fight to gain custody of her children, which Clarina explained in a letter to friend Susan B. Anthony. Horatio N. Peck had kidnapped his two children from Vermont and, as Huck Finn later put it, he lit "out for the Territory," changing his name to James Diamond. Determined to rescue the children from a Quindaro  "hovel" with a "desperately vile father" Clarina, her son and several of Peck's neighbors were arrested, accused of kidnapping the children.
Horatio had "lived for years on the earnings of [wife Lydia's] needle, beaten her once to death's door and town support, and later choked her to insensibility.... Compelled to apply for a divorce, as the only hope of getting her little ones and the control of her earnings for their support.... Just before the trial for divorce [Horatio] sold her furniture to pay his fare and came to Kansas, changed his name and had been living in our midst two years, when the mother having, laid by $400 in gold, followed and found her children living on the charity of their neighbors...."
After the nine arrestees including a Congregational clergyman and his wife were freed Clarina went to the Territorial Legislature and spoke in favor of Lydia's divorce and custody claim.

Probably Clarina writing as "Quindaro" in 1860.

"The Forgotten Feminist of Kansas, The Papers of Clarina I. H. Nichols, 1854-1885," Editor Joseph G. Gambone. Kansas Historical Quarterly, Autumn 1973.

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