Clarina Irene Howard Nichols
Abolitionist and First Feminist of Kansas Territory.
"As a result of her efforts, when Kansas entered the Union on Jan. 29, 1861, it had approved unprecedented reforms: The right for a woman to buy and sell property, The to equal custody of children in cases of divorce, The right to vote in local school elections."
"The Forgotton Feminist", The Kansas City Star, Saturday, November 6, 1999 page E1 by Diane Eickhoff.
This article is found in
Gambone, J. "The Forgotten Feminist of Kansas: The Papers of Clarina I. H. Nichols, 1854-1885," KHQ, v. XL, no. 4 (Winter, 1974), p. 537-543.
[TO THE EDITOR OF THE WYANDOTTEGAZETTE] 56
- [Pomo, California]
- [December, 1882]
- [Editor Gazette:]
What a blessed leveler is poverty to the vulgar demoralizing pride that seeks position through false pretence of superabundant means. In the impecuniosity of that grand collapse of the city of Quindaro, we extended our empty hands warm with human sympathy, and eyes smiled into eyes that lighted with a glad sense of brave companionship. No man or woman was ashamed to confess the honest shifts compelled by circumstances pressing alike on all. In that time of lean larders and collapsed purses, woman's wit and woman's thrift and sympathy were factors of some account in the general summinig up. We counseled together in our straits; congratulated and imparted to each other the inventive skill which made the best of what we had-'made something of nothing,' as the saying is and trimmed it with our ingenuity, and were dimly conscious of enrichment in the growth of moral independence, and courageous endurance.
We of the feminine gender turned our Sunday skirts - frayed and faded - wrong side out and topside down. We repaired the masculine ward-robe; binding the worn cuffs and in the worn places of coat body and sleeves, inserting new; reseating the pants and cutting off and turning the legs before the knees quite came through, - thus saving the expense of a new outfit; I should have said averting the rags and nudity which befel many a scoffer at yankee economy. I have not forgotten that such repairing was not a new thing under the sun, and that it is still practiced, as I hope it will long be, by good housewives. Indeed I find it quite impossible to dissociate such repairs from good housewifery.
But not then, as in our "better days," were there better suits hanging in our closets to fall back upon for Sunday and holiday wear. Not now as then, when a citizen of the district is sent to represent his fellow citizens in the Legislature, does his clothing represent his wife's ability to make garments "good as new" of soiled and worn ones. Neighbor B--, firmer than the city bluffs which could cave upon occasion - would rather have gone coatless than to have appeared among his political compeers in a turned one. 57 And I am not sure that discreet wife ever enlightened him as to the vest, a fine cassimere that, turned, washed and pressed, completed his very respectable outfit for a place in that august body.
But scant as were our wardrobes, money in hand was equally rare as proved b y our friend W.W. D. -, in his preparation to take neighbor B's place in the succeeding Legislature. 58 His credit was good, as is always the case with those who make no debts to disappoint when pay day comes, - but not a man in all Quindaro could spare him the price of a stage ride to the Capital!
It was a genial face - it could in no circumstances have been otherwise - which met me in my kitchen the evening prior to his journey, and a somewhat embarrassed utterance that apologized for an "untimely call." He had been to every man where there was hope of raising the necessary three dollars, and his mother, as a last resort, had sent him to me. "She knew if Mrs. Nichols had it she would lend it to him." "O, woman, great is thy faith" said our Savior. And the faith may be great though the subject matter of it be ever so small. And it took the faith of two women in that day, to extract the last cent, though only three dollars, from a purse whose mains were all cut off. True indeed were they who could draw on my faith like W.W.D - then; and now, when two decades have passed, he and his are remembered as among the truest and best. It is in our need, whether of sympathy or counsel or means, that life long friendships are sealed.
I haredly need say that at this time, speculation which at an earlier day had made fortunes and sacrificed competence, was cornered; and without money nobody could "turn an honest penny," for credit there was none, and hands and brains were idle for lack of work that would command bread. There was demand; the difficulty was wherewith to pay. Another neighbor, had negotiated for a load of Col. Park's apples, which he would sell in Lawrence, if only he could borrow the purchase money. He had tried and failed. If I had it to spare till his return from Lawrence he would divide to me half his profits. I had become so accustomed - indeed so expectant of loss, that the suddenly presented idea of unearned gain was quite unsettling. So I substituted a trifling business commission and secured the enjoyment of my neighbor's successful venture.
But why am I telling these simples tales? Ah, tell me why memory has stored them among her treasures? - why hung such simple pictures in the best light to catch the sunset glow? Perhaps because they are among the most satisfactory rinancial transactions of that sharp pioneer experience; or perhaps like halflights, they tone the shadows and brighten the surroundings. In such trifles as these are chronicled the dead, financial calm of the two years immediately proceeding the winter of '62, when the 2d Kansas Regt. quartered in the buildings among the bluffs, spiced with a pungent variety the outer and inner circles of Quindaro life. 59
'57 and '58, had been full of stirring interest for the immigrants. In the first of these years a hundred buildings - many of them of stone and brick - including hotels, Dry Goods, Hardware and Grocery stores, a Church and School house, had been built. Substantial private residences with cellars walled in cement, and conveniences of the eastern pattern, astonished our Missouri border neighbors.
The year '58, saw many substantial additions and improvements, notwithstanding the checks on business which had already made an impression on the more cautious and experienced of the population and decimated the speculators, whose funds and victims were less ready to their hands. In all the excitement of changed conditions and inflated hopes, the great moral and social questions were not left in the rear.
Temperance and freedom eagle-eyed sentineled the town, and when either sounded its call, there was an immediate and effective rally. The town Company was pledged against liquor license; and that pledge had been the inducement to many immigrants, especially women to prefer the City on the Bluff to the more smooth and inviting location of Wyandotte.
The first onslaught of the temperance police, if I recollect aright, was caused by vagaries of hidden whiskey in the hollow west of the Quindaro House. Half a dozen women from that vicinity, led by Mrs. Hugh Gibbons, 60 an intelligent Scotchwoman with whom my after acquaintance ripened into a warm and confidential friendship - entered a complaint at the Company's office, and were referred to me with the suggestion that a petition, regularly got up and presented to the Company, would receive immediate attention. The petition with some 30 names of women only, was formally presented, a meeting called, and before set of sun the obnoxious whiskey barrel was hauled from beneath the owner's bed and spilled in the street gutter. 61 Only toward its final breaking up was there any serious effect for the toleration of liquor saloons in Quindaro. Then a meeting was called, at which it transpired that certain empires in council had decided on a whiskey prescription, as a specific for the failing vitality of the doomed city. But all in vain. To its last expiring breath it was never so demented as to consent to the sale of intoxicating liquors within its corporate limits.
A majority of the settlers were from the industrial classes of the rural districts of the eastern States. This was notably true of a bevy of young men - "mothers boys," considerate, affectionate, helpful; nurtured in home love, and inured to the toil, care, and responsibilities of the farm or work shop. - Beardless youths crowned with the sovereignty of a first or perhaps second vote - they had come to Kansas with the purpose of becoming woof to the warp of freedom - of putting had and brain into the struggle for "Free Knsas." They did not wait for affairs to get settled, but went to work in their own way to settle them. They supplemented the hard toil of the day with books of physical social and moral science in homes improvised by their own skill. One of these bachelor homes - "Uncle Tom's Cabin," - has a historical interest apart from its uses as the intellectual center where sundry citizens, your correspondent among the number, were wont to meet for Lyceum discussion and to enjoy the wit and wisdom of its weekly journal "The Cradle of Progress." 62 "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was dedicated to emancipation without proclamation, and as such one of the most convenient stations on the Underground Rail Road, which had several branches and termini in the interior of the Territory. Of the many slaves who took the train of freedom there, it was remarkable that only one and he through, lack of caution in his approach for help, was ever taken back to Missouri from Quindaro. Uncle Tom's boys could tell of some exciting escapes from Quindaro to the interior, by day and by night. In '58 I carried to my native town in Vermont a pair of manacles filed by Uncle Tom's boys from the ankle of a stalwart black, who had escaped from the vicinity of Parkville, having drawn one foot from the encircling iron and brought the chain still attached to the other, in his hand. 63 The man having learned that he was sold south attempted to escape and was at once put in irons. The night before the time set for delivery of the property, assisted by a fellow slave he got loose. The absence of a boat from the vicinity would have indicated their course so they hauled an old dug-out to the riverbank and traveled ten miles up the river where they confiscated a boat and floating down the stream, turned the boat adrift just above the Quindaro landing, where they concealed themselves in the brush-wood at the foot of the bluff on the side of which stood Uncle Tom's Cabin in solitary but inviting hospitality.
Later, a freight wagon, with two large, dry-goods boxes, in passing Bartles, 64 hotel on the Lawrence road, was accosted by an Indianian who had known the driver as conductor of an eastern U.G. Road, with - "Hello T - , where going?" "To Lawrence," 'What you got in your boxes, - niggers?" "Well, what do you think?" - was the careless, smiling answer, and the trembling freight was carried leisurely and safely through. Just before setting off T - had said to me, "if I can get by Bartles' I'm safe; but there's a fellow there who knew me at home and it would be like him to overhaul me." He was a man so reticent and quite - trained among friends - that we had none of us suspected, till now that there was need of this, his reserve of qualifications for the emergency.
My cistern - every brick of it rebuilt in the chimney of my late Wyandotte home - played its part in the drama of freedom. One beautiful evening late in October '61, as twilight was fading from the bluff, a hurrid message came to me from our neighbor - Fielding Johnson, 6565 - "You must hide Caroline. Fourteen slave hunters are camped on the Park - her master among them." My cistern had been cleaned and nicely dried preparatory to a wash of cement for some undiscernable leakage. Its dimensions were 7 by 12 (square) and a rock bottom; eight feet in depth and reached from a trap in the floor of the wing; an open space between the floor and mouth - when left uncovered - affording ventilation from the outside. Into this cistern Caroline was lowered with comforters, pillow and chair. A washtub over the trap with the usual appliances of a washroom standing around, completed the hiding. But poor Caroline trembling and almost paralyzed with fear of discovery her nerves weakened by grieving for her little girl transported to Texas, and the cruel blows which had broken her arm and scarred her body - could not be left alone through the night. As I must have an excuse if found up at an unusual hour, I improvised a sick room. My son sleeping on the sitting-room lounge for a patient; my rocking chair; a stand with cups, vials and night lamp beside him were above suspicion.
All night I crept to and fro in slippered feet. Peering from the skylight in the roof, from which in the bright moonlight all the approaches could be plainly seen anon; whispering words of cheer to Caroline in her cell, and back again to watch and wait and whisper. At 12 o'clock - mid the cheerful crowing of cocks on both sides of the river - having taken a careful survey from the skylight, I passed a cup of fresh hot coffee to Caroline and sitting by the open floor drank my own with apparent cheerfulness, but really in a tremor of indignation and fear; fear of a prolonged incarceration of the poor victim of oppression and indignation at the government that protected and the manhood that stayed its hand from "breaking the bonds and telling the oppressed go free." Seven o'clock in the morning the slave-hunters rode out of town into the interior. When evening fell again Caroline and another girl of whome the hunters were in pursuit found a safe conveyance to Leavenworth friends.[C.I. Nichols]
56. Wyandotte Gazette, December 22 and 29, 1882. Mrs. Nichols's letter was published in two installments.
57. Mrs. Nichols apparently refers here to M. W. Bottom of Quindaro who served in the 1863 and 1864 state legislatures. No additional biographical information has been found.
58. Mrs. Nichols refers here to William W. Dickinson of Quindaro who served in the 1862 state legislature. For additional biographical information, see Andreas and Cutler, History of the State of Kansas, p. 1250. Apparently Mrs. Nichols is in error in stating that Dickinson succeeded Bottom in the state legislature. (Web editor note: The first selection on the History and Education page takes the viewer to Cutler's online History of the State of Kansas).
59. The Second Kansas cavalry was quartered iin Quindaro from January 20 to March 12, 1862. The soldiers gutted the town by tearing up everything for firewood. For additional information, seeFarley, "Annals of Quindaro: A Kansas Ghost Town." p. 316; Fifteenth Biennial Report of the Kansas State Historical Society (Topeka, State Printing Office, 1907), pp. 60-61; Andreas and Cutler, History of the State of Kansas, p. 182.
60. No biographical information has been found on Mrs. Gibbons.
61. For the text of the petition, see Gambone, "The Forgotten Feminist of Kansas: The Papers of Clarina I. H. Nichols, 1854-1885," KHQ, v. 39 (Autumn, 1973), p. 403.
62. No information has been found on the newspaper, The Craddle of Progress.
63. This is the only reference that Mrs. Nichols ever made concerning a trip to Vermont in 1858. No additional information has been located.
64. Mrs. Nichols refers here to Six-Mile House, a tavern just west of Quindaro on the stage road from Independence to Leavenworth that was owned and operated by J.A. and Theordore Bartles. No biographical information has been located on the Bartleses. For additional information on Six-Mile house, see Farley, "Annals of Quindaro: A Kansas Ghost Town, " pp. 317-319.
65. Fielding Johnson migrated to Kansas in 1857 and settled in Quindaro. In 1866 he moved to Topeka and engaged in the mercantile business until his death in 1872. For additional biographical information, see "Kansas Biographical Pamphlets," v. 8, library, KSHS.