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Chat about 'Revolutionary Heart'

September 20, 2007

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Diane Eickhoff

Author Diane Eickhoff wrote the biography "Revolutionary Heart" to draw attention to its subject Clarina Nichols, a forgotten figure in the women's rights movement of the mid-19th century. Nichols lived part of her life in Kansas and helped mold the state's constitution to include groundbreaking rights for women. "Revolutionary Heart" is this year's Read Across Lawrence book. Eickhoff, who also does a first-person portrayal of Nichols, will take questions about her book, its namesake and Read Across Lawrence events.

Moderator:

Welcome to today's chat. We're joined by Diane Eickhoff, author of "Revolutionary Heart," a biography of Clarina Nichols, which has been chosen as this year's Read Across Lawrence book. I'm Mindie Paget of the Journal-World, and I'll be moderating the discussion. Thanks for being here, Diane.

Diane Eickhoff:

Hi! It's great to be back in Lawrence

slandoll:

First of all, I have enjoyed every aspect of the book. I was wondering how long it took you to gather all the information found in the book? You did a great deal of research and as a reading teacher I am fascinated by the amount of work involved in writing a non-fiction book. Would you ever be interested in doing a renactment for junior high 8th grade students when they study Kansas History? I teach at SWJH in Lawrence,KS.

Diane Eickhoff:

Sure. I'm excited by the idea of Kansas students learning about Clarina Nichols. Actually, they'll not just be learning about CN but about the exciting period in which she lived, including the ever-fascinating era of "bleeding Kansas." Please see me after the show, er, contact me via email. I'll be happy to talk with you further.

ChristyLittle:

What was Clarina Nichols' specific tie to Kansas? How long did she live here?

Diane Eickhoff:

Nichols was excited about the idea of bringing women's rights to Kansas Territory, for she hoped to be on the ground floor in getting women's rights built into the constitution of the new state. She was part of the New England Emigrant Aid Society -- They were an antislavery group of people who came to Kansas determined to keep slavery out. She was on the same page with them and had gotten to know many of these people out east as they were making plans to emigrate to Kansas, or K.T., as it was called in those days.

trombeck:

How much did Clarina Nichols do single-handedly in terms of women's rights issues, and how much was she a figurehead working with other women?

Diane Eickhoff:

Oh, that's an interesting question! I don't think she was a figurehead at all. She was right there in the trenches, doing the day-to-day work involved in trying to set the stage for a change in public opinion. But perhaps your point is about the larger community of women, both in Kansas and nationally, who were involved in women's rights, and yes, it is absolutely true that it takes a whole village to raise an idea -- especially an idea that is, at base, a revolutionary change in the way people view themselves and their society. In Kansas, Nichols worked with women in Linn, Douglas and Shawnee counties. There were many supporters, but my understanding is that none of these women had the same kind of experience Nichols had in terms of speaking in public.

jniccum:

Do young audiences today even realize women couldn't vote until 1920?

Diane Eickhoff:

Some do. Some do not. The history of the antebellum women's rights movement, in particular, and suffrage history, in general, is little known. People know the name of Susan B. Anthony, and that's about all. Suffrage history has been minimalized and trivialized over the years, but the movement to win civil and political rights for women was the longest running civil rights campaign in U.S. history.

Moderator:

What did you learn that surprised you most about Clarina Nichols or the antebellum women's rights movement as you were researching the book?

Diane Eickhoff:

There were many things that surprised and delighted me. One of them was how interconnected all these women were, how much of a sisterhood they created and relied upon. In terms of Clarina Nichols herself, I became more and more impressed with her integrity and commitment. There were all kinds of little and big surprises. The integrated school she helped organize and the fact that she foresaw the issues that would lead directly to Brown v. Board of Education. That's one example. Her work as "lay doctor" in the community was another. She was something of a health nut. I love that about her.

Moderator:

Someone asked earlier how long it took you to gather all the information for the book. Could you talk a little about your research -- when you started, when you finished, where you traveled, etc.?

Diane Eickhoff:

I started locally -- with an 8-part series that appeared in the Kansas History Quarterly -- original writings (mostly public stuff like newspaper articles and speeches) collected by a Kan. historian name Joseph Gambone in the 1970s. I followed his footnotes to see where they would lead. We made two trips out east (to New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts) because theat's where she was born and spent the first 44 years of her life, and two trips to California, which is where she lived the last 14 years of her life. I combed through the files of the KSHS and a couple dozen historical societies. One of the best things I found was correspondence between Nichols and Susan Wattles at the KSHS. It had been around for years but untranscribed. That was a treasure trove of primary material. Going the places your subject has gone, walking in her footsteps, breathing the air she breathed, seeing the hills she climbed -- all this is invaluable. Going into the Quindaro Ruins in Old Quindaro, Kansas, was almost a religious experience for me -- Nichols lived there about 10 years, and it is a really inspiring locale to visit.

ChristyLittle:

How would you compare Kansas to other states in terms of advancing women's rights?

Diane Eickhoff:

I'd say Kansas was in the forefront of advances for women's rights. It's funny. The movement for women's rights (not just suffrage but education, property and custody rights, etc.) started in the East, but it was in Western states that the early adoptions of these rights came about. I think Nichols was right about this idea: Western states had less "fossilized" ideas about women's rights. hey were more open to new ideas. Much more needs to be written about this.

trombeck:

For all that she did, why is it that Clarina Nichols isn't a household name, or at least isn't part of many Kansas history lessons in schools?

Diane Eickhoff:

You tell ME! I'm hoping that will change -- especially in Kansas, where it seems to me she should be as well known as John Brown. I'm doing what I can to change that state of affairs, but it's an uphill climb. Being selected as the "Read Across Lawrence" book" is a wonderful opportunity for more people to learn about this women. But I want to say that this isn't just about one woman and her achievements. It's about a community of women. It's about the collective efforts of these women to change the basic course of civilization. This whole struggle should be better known, but it's also true that those who write history *make* history.

Moderator:

Thanks for your time today, Diane. To wrap up, could you please talk about some of the events coming up for Read Across Lawrence that will give residents an opportunity to learn more about the book and discuss it with others?

Diane Eickhoff:

"Read Across Lawrence" is being sponsored by the Lawrence Public Library, and I believe our faithful moderator here is going to post some links to actual dates for events. I did a program last night at the library, but there are some book discussion groups coming up, and I know they would love to have people come to the library and request copies of the book for their book groups. (What a deal!) I'll be doing a program for a senior class at the high school later in the fall, but the big wrapup for "Read Across Lawrence" is Sunday, October 14, which is the date for the River City Reading Festival. All kinds of great stuff will be going on -- many different authors will be reading their works (including Denise Low, Kansas poet laureat), workshops, etc. I'll be performing my first-person monologue (in costume -- with long side curls) as Clarina Nichols at, I believe, 1:30 p.m. Hope to see all of you there.

Moderator:

Copies of "Revolutionary Heart" are circulating around Lawrence and can be reserved at the Lawrence Public Library. The book also can be purchased at The Raven Bookstore, at Amazon.com and from Quindaro Press, http://clarinanichols.googlepages.com/home. Read a story about the book and get a complete schedule of events at http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2007/sep/17/pioneer_revival/. And e-mail Diane with any other questions (diane@tvbarn.com). Happy reading!

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