Diane Eickhoff narrates "Frontier Freedom Fighter," her audio book about Clarina Nichols
Read Across Lawrence Events
All events are free and open to the public, and take place at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt., unless otherwise noted:
- "Recovering the Life of Clarina Nichols," talk by Diane Eickhoff, author of "Revolutionary Heart," and her husband, Kansas City Star TV Critic Aaron Barnhart, 7 p.m. Wednesday
- "Butternut and Blue: Cultural Differences in Missouri and Kansas Women," by historian and author Barbara Brackman, 7 p.m. Sept. 24
- "What's in a Constitution?," by William D. Young, professor of history at Maple Woods Community College in Kansas City, Mo., 7 p.m. Oct. 2
- Book discussions, led by Maria Butler, community relations coordinator for the library, 7 p.m. Sept. 25, 10 a.m. Sept. 29 and 7 p.m. Oct. 3.
- "Clarina Nichols," a first-person Chautauqua-style performance by Diane Eickhoff, in conjunction with the River City Reading Festival, 1:30 p.m. Oct. 14, Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H. Eickhoff also will sign copies of her book from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.
- "View of Early Lawrence, Kansas," a pencil drawing circa 1854 by Clarina Nichols, will be on display Sept. 19-Oct. 14 at the Spencer Museum of Art, 1301 Miss.
As a women's rights activist herself, Diane Eickhoff knew the names Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
The pair gained notoriety during the 19th-century movement to win equal rights for the fair sex.
But it wasn't until Eickhoff visited the Wyandotte County Museum after moving to the Kansas City area a decade ago that she first heard the name Clarina Nichols.
Born in 1810 to a wealthy, progressive family in Vermont, Nichols became a leader in the antebellum women's rights crusade, eventually moving to Kansas to influence the formation of the state's constitution.
Although she was respected in her time, few people today know anything about Nichols.
"So I thought, wow, here's a chance to recover the life of a very interesting person," says Eickhoff, who published the first biography of Nichols last year with Quindaro Press.
The pioneering activist's name will be on the lips of a lot more people in coming weeks because Eickhoff's "Revolutionary Heart: The Life of Clarina Nichols and the Pioneering Crusade for Women's Rights" has been selected as the 2007 Read Across Lawrence book. Copies are circulating the city, and readers are encouraged to attend talks and book discussions scheduled through October.
This isn't the first time Nichols has been heralded as a key figure in Bleeding Kansas history. She was the subject of a program during Civil War on the Western Frontier four years ago and again during the Chautauqua in 2004, when Eickhoff performed a one-woman re-enactment of Nichols' life story.
She continues to deliver the first-person presentation across the state as part of the Kansas Humanities Council's touring program.
When she first started researching the Nichols book, Eickhoff, who previously edited textbooks for middle schools and high schools, thought she would be writing it for children.
"But I was really struck by the dearth of historical biographies about women," she says. "There are tons of things about men, of course. You go to the biography section in any library or bookstore, and it's men, men, men - and very few women.
"The ones that ARE there are repeated over and over again, or they are the wives, the daughters, the sisters of somebody famous."
Nichols captured Eickhoff's imagination, in part, because no one had written about her. But more than that, she felt a personal connection to the woman, who, like her, came from a conservative religious family, held progressive ideals, worked as an editor and divorced her first husband.
"Of course as you get into it, you realize that there's a whole lot of it you don't understand, that you can't take anything for granted and that you can't superimpose 20th- or 21st-century values on a 19th-century woman," says Eickhoff, of Kansas City, Mo.
Nichols married young and had three children with her first husband. When that union ended disastrously, Nichols got a taste of the precarious legal position occupied by women.
Her second marriage, to a newspaper editor, proved a success, and opened doors to her career as a journalist and lecturer on temperance, women's rights and abolition.
Nichols spoke publicly for the first time in 1851, at the National Women's Rights Convention in Worcester, Mass., Eickhoff says, and in 1852 she became the first woman to address the Vermont Legislature on the subject of gender equality. She continued to lecture prolifically throughout that decade.
So why hasn't she gotten as much attention as Susan B. Anthony?
"Why hasn't anybody gotten more attention on the scale of Susan B. Anthony?" Eickhoff says.
"Most people, including myself when I started this project, had no idea how many women were involved in (the antebellum women's rights movement) and what a major movement it was, how this began in many different places, that it wasn't just Susan B. Anthony organizing the troops and having them all march to her drumbeat."
Ahead of her time
Eickhoff thinks of the movement as another kind of Civil War, only on the domestic front.
"And it wasn't a war of women against men; I want to emphasize that," she says. "There were, in fact, many liberal, radical men who were involved in the movement as well.
"And there were as many, probably more, women against it than in favor of it. Even basic things such as suffrage were considered unladylike, unfeminine behaviors and a lot of women wanted nothing to do with it."
Nichols forged ahead in spite of them.
She came to Kansas Territory in 1854 with the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society, settling in Douglas County and later living in Wyandotte County. She thought she could have more impact on a government still in its formative stages.
"She influenced the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention to include rights for women that were far in advance of the rights granted women in most states at the time," Eickhoff says.
Those included custody rights for married women, property rights for married women (to inherit, bequeath and control property apart from their husbands) and education rights (to attend the state university and vote in school district elections).
Eickhoff and her husband, Kansas City Star TV Critic Aaron Barnhart, traveled the country, following Nichols' route, to research "Revolutionary Heart." They visited Vermont; upstate New York, where Nichols lived during her first marriage; and California, where she resided the last 14 years of her life and is buried.
"Just going to those places is a very important part of anybody's journey when they're writing a biography," Eickhoff says. "You have to step in the steps that your subject has stepped in."
Eickhoff's diligent research and accessible writing are part of the reason Maria Butler, community relations coordinator for the Lawrence Public Library, chose "Revolutionary Heart" for Read Across Lawrence.
"It's written for the average reader," she says. "There isn't a whole lot of academic analysis in it."
Butler also wanted to draw more attention to Nichols and her importance in Kansas history.
That's a significance Eickhoff says has less to do with her tangible accomplishments - though Nichols had plenty - than her pioneering spirit.
"I think she was breaking ground, especially in the women's rights movement, and breaking ground is always a very hard thing to do," Eickhoff says.
"Most people who break ground are not the ones who build the skyscrapers, but they are the trailblazers. And that's what I see her as, as a trailblazer - somebody who really had ideas that later on would become much more commonplace. But somebody has to break the trail before others will follow."