Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Women of Wednesday: The Women of Arthur Sullivan

Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan. Partner of William Schwenk Gilbert. Together, the two created fourteen operatic works; H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado among them. Sullivan produced many other works on his own or with others. The first of these pieces was an anthem composed when he was eight years old.

Sullivan never married, but he was a handsome son-of-a-gun, and charming, too. He had his share of love affairs, including one with the daughter of a renowned naval engineer. Her father didn't approve, which didn't stop Sullivan from starting a simultaneous affair with her sister. Such a rogue!

He had his one great love, the married-yet-separated Fanny Ronalds, an American socialite, amateur singer, and noted friend to the notables -- among them, Winston Churchill's grandfather and that skirt-chasing royal, King Edward VIII. Fanny was well-respected, and much-loved. She used her voice to raise money for charitable causes, including aid to American Civil War troops. She was, of course, drop-dead gorgeous. One contemporary account describes her like this:

"Her face was perfectly divine in its loveliness, her features small and exquisitely regular. Her hair was a dark shade of brown – châtain foncé [deep chestnut] – and very abundant... a lovely woman, with the most generous smile one could possibly imagine, and the most beautiful teeth."

Sullivan and Ronalds carried on their affair in secret for more than thirty years. To do otherwise would cause a scandal, of course. The relationship was not without some internal scandals itself. The rakish Mr. Sullivan had an eye for the ladies, and Fanny became aware of some of them. The two regularly 'broke up', but Sullivan always returned to his Fanny. In their later years, the sexual heat died out, and he began to refer to her as Auntie, and the tick marks he used to keep track of their sexual activity disappeared.

Sullivan died at ate fifty-eight of heart failure after an attack of bronchitis and a long-standing kidney disease. He had wanted to be buried with his family, especially his dear mother, at Brompton Cemetery, but Queen Victoria was having none of that. She ordered him to be buried at the Victorian Embankment gardens along the Thames.

My favorite of Arthur Sullivan's many women, is the last one, The Muse. She weeps at his grave, and catches up the wanderer (like me) with her emotion. The text on the monument are Gilbert's from The Yeoman of the Guard:

"Is life a boon? If so, it must befall that Death, whene'er he call, must call too soon."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mentor Monday – Online Opportunities

One important part of The Write Sister’s mission statement is that we want to be mentors to others interested in writing for children. Each of us learned and gained so much from the assistance of more experienced writers, and we feel it is important to pass that along. Hence our Mentor Mondays here.  But we’re not the only ones.

If you are new to the world of writing for children, you might be surprised at how generous many of the veterans in the field have been and continue to be. Jane Yolen is the mentor supreme, from her groundbreaking work with SCBWI to her having the heart to use her own name on AOL for all these years to the advice she still gives to all of us at conferences and on her website: .

Next, if you haven’t visited Harold Underdown’s site, bookmark it now: . It’s not fancy-looking, but Harold’s insights into the world of children’s book publishing and the rich compilation of information he provides is an important resource for all of us. Another venerable and super-useful site is Verla Kay’s

Darcy Pattison shares amazingly useful tips for writers on her website: .

Kate Messner thought she might get a couple of dozen teachers to sign up for her virtual summer camp; I think she has over a thousand registered now!  Even if you’re not a teacher trying to improve your writing so you can work more effectively with your students, there’s lots of good advice and positive sharing being handed around the campfire here:   Jo Knowles and Gae Polisner have joined in with warm-ups and feedback sessions on their own blogs.

There are many good listservs, discussion boards and other maillists for children’s writers. A few of the best: Verla Kay’s: (registration required) .
Yahoo Groups/Lists (all require a yahoo account and can be either read on the website or received as emails: Children’s Writers and Illustrators   Write For Kids and Non-fiction for kids: .

There are, of course, websites that offer lessons and advice for a fee, as well. You do need to be careful, as ever on the web, it’s hard to distinguish the rip-offs from the real thing.  If you’re looking for that kind of investment in your career, I think the most reputable of these is the CBI: . Or, for a more personal one-on-one experience, Laura Purdie Salas and Lisa Bullard have started Mentors for Rent: .

And of course, if you’re serious about being a professional, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is the must-join organization. Check for the regional chapter wherever you live, because the local groups and conferences are a great boost to a writer’s career.

What have I missed? Share your favorite links in the combox . . .

Friday, June 22, 2012

Poetry Friday: Origami

This word unfolds, gathers up wind
to speed the crane's flight
north of my sun to you.

I am shaping this poem
out of paper, folding
distances between our seasons.

This paper is a crane.
When its wings unfold,
The paper will be pure and empty.

                      -- Marjorie Evasco

It has just been one super-busy week, visitors arriving soon (it's summer!) and it's my turn to post for my favorite of all days, Poetry Friday.

I originally posted this poem at my now slumbering blog The Incredible Thinking Woman. Even today, long into its bloggy snooze, this post has proven to be one of my most-viewed -- at least according to my Real Time counter.

The post also featured Marjorie's wonderful and wonderfully short titled essay entitled Why I Write.

By the way, there are some pretty amazing things being done with cut paper today (not by me, b/c I'm too busy!). You can check them out here: Going West and Hoedown.

It's too rainy for Amy to be hoeing her crops over at the Poem Farm, but we're sure she's inside posting all our Poetry Friday entries and planning her next crop. Head on over!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Women of Wednesday: Presenting….US!

A few years ago the Write Sisters needed some kind of push.  We were all feeling stuck, bored, unable to create.  We needed…something…but we weren’t sure what that something was.

The short version of the story is that we came up with the idea of Women of Granite: 25 New Hampshire Women You Should Know. (See our blog dated August 21, 2007)  Working on a project together gave our meetings a new burst of creativity as we came up with women to profile, the length of the short biographies, and other aspects of the book we wanted to produce.

With a reason to go to the keyboard, our juices were flowing again and during these last few years we’ve written other books, blogged, tried our hands at other types of writing and, inshort got beyond that feeling of stagnation. Women of Granite begat Women of the Bay State: 25 Massachusetts Women You Should Know.  Those two books set us working on books about Texas, California, and New York.  They’ll soon be joined by books that cover the other New England states and Illinois.

While the Write Sisters have been busy with these and other projects, the contemporary women we profiled in Women of Granite have not led static lives either.  It is time to catch up with some of the changes that have occurred in the lives of some of the original Women of Granite.

And, so, we present: Women of the Granite State: 25 New Hampshire Women You Should Know.  The book’s title has been changed to fit with the other books in the series.  We’ve made some slight changes to the inside,too.  Most noticeably, we’ve added illustrations, Tidbits, and updated timelines.

For example, Jenny Thompson used to be the swimmer who won more Olympic medals than any other U.S. swimmer in history—until Michael Phelps came along. So now, we point out that she’s still the female swimmer who has won the most Olympic medals.  And, next month, she’ll be inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame.  That’s in there,too.

We’ve had to say goodbye to“Granny D” who passed away at age 100. May Sidore Gruber, however, celebrated her 100th birthday in style.

Jeanne Shaheen went to Washington as New Hampshire’s first woman senator and Linda Dalianis became the first woman Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

So go to the Apprentice Shop Books web site ( the next couple of weeks and check out our latest project. The new info will be up soon.

Oh, and Women of the Prairie State: 25 Illinois Women You Should Know, will be there, too.  Several of the Sisters pitched in on that one. We’ve been busy. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mentor Monday: Common Mistakes

Remember the Sesame Street song, “One of these things is not like the others?”  Pretend it’s playing in the background as you look at the following three words:

allot                          alot                          a lot

Which one is “not like the others?”  The answer is the one in the middle. The words on the left and the right are spelled correctly.  The one in the middle is not.  For some reason, this error crops up everywhere—in e-mails, resumes, personal notes.   I’m not sure why that is. Someone mentioned to me that the mistake has become so common that it has become accepted.  Ain’t that somethin’?

“The word alot does not exist.” says Grammar Monster.

“Though common in informal communication, alot is not a dictionary-recognized word, and it’s generally considered out of place in formal writing.” says

Want a trick to help you remember which spelling is correct?  A lot is the opposite of “a little.”  No one seems to try and put those two words together.  At least I haven’t seen that one yet.

Another error I have seen many, many times is the misuse of the word “loose” when the writer really means “lose” as in:

 “I’ve got nothing to loose.”

Really? Because your pants are already loose?  Your dog is already running loose?

I get the problem.  Loose rhymes with moose but people think it rhymes with choose.  Maybe thinking of a moose on the loose would help you remember?

What about you?  Got any pet peeve words that jump out at you?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Poetry Friday--"Digging"

Last week while I was looking for poems about poems, I came across a poem by Seamus Heaney. It's about being a poet, being a son, and the transmutation of physical labor--at least that's the way I read it. Since Father's Day is coming up on Sunday, I thought this would a fitting choice for today.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.

Under my window a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade,
Just like his old man.

My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.
You should definitely visit Mary Lee at A Year of Reading for the Poetry Friday Round-Up before heading off for a weekend of dad-miration!


Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Women of Wednesday - Cornelia Fort

Cornelia Fort was born into a wealthy Tennessee family in 1919.  She grew up on an estate of almost 400 acres, in a home with 24 rooms.  She attended private schools, was driven around by a chauffeur, and at 19, had a coming out party with hundreds of guests.  Her parents expected her to marry a southern gentleman and settle down as mistress of her own grand home and, perhaps, that’s even what Cornelia expected her life to be, but at the age of 21, she took a flying lesson, and any ideas she may have had about living the life of the stereotypical genteel southern woman flew out the window.  The southern belle had given up her fancy gowns for a jumpsuit.
Cornelia loved planes, and she loved to fly.  There was nothing better, as far as she was concerned.  In less than a year, she became the first female flight instructor in Nashville, and shortly after, moved on to Colorado as an instructor for the Civilian Pilots Training Program. 

But it was 1941, and a great deal of the world was at war.  The US, while helping the allies with supplies, had not officially entered the fray.  Still, many people assumed it was only a matter of time, and the government was preparing for the possibility.  They asked Cornelia to go to Hawaii to teach servicemen how to fly.  They didn’t care that she was a woman.  They were looking for people who could do the job, and Cornelia was one of the best.
Cornelia saw this as a great opportunity and packed her bags.  Her mother probably didn’t feel the same, and may have asked her to reconsider and come home.  In a letter to her mother, Cornelia wrote,   “If I leave here I will leave the best job I can have (unless the national emergency creates a still better one) a very pleasant atmosphere, a good salary, but far the best of all are the planes I fly.”  Cornelia stayed and taught men to fly.  

But there was one lesson that was not like any other.  On December 7, 1941, the day started out as usual.  Cornelia awoke, had her breakfast, and headed out to Rodgers Airport in Honolulu, to give a student flying lessons.  They got in the plane and the student took it up into the air.  He knew what he was doing.  He had been taking lessons for some time and this one was his last.  The next time he flew, it would be solo.  Cornelia had little to do but enjoy the scenery.
As they flew over the picturesque Hawaiian Islands, she noticed something on the horizon.  Upon closer examination, she discovered it was a plane coming in from the sea.  Not terribly unusual.  There were several military bases in Hawaii, and army planes were a common sight.   But still . . . .

Something about that plane niggled at her.  She stared and stared, wondering what it could be, and suddenly realized the plane was flying straight at them, guns blazing!  She grabbed the controls from the student and pulled the plane up, just avoiding the strafing as well as being smashed into bits.  The other plane zipped past and Fortin noticed the round red ball on its wing that signified the rising sun.  The plane flew off and she and her student caught sight of great plumes of black smoke darkening the sky over Pearl Harbor, just a short distance away.  America had been attacked.  The war had come home.

Now, Cornelia was asked to go to Delaware to join the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Service.  She was thrilled.  Her job would be to fly newly built planes from the factory to military bases around the country.  But while her government believed in her abilities, the male pilots she encountered along the way didn’t.  She wrote, “Any girl who has flown at all grows used to the prejudice of most men pilots who will trot out any number of reasons why women can’t possibly be good pilots . . . .” 

Flying those planes was not as easy as it seemed.  The navigation equipment was often a map and a look out the window.  They flew in open cockpits which was bad enough when the weather was good.  When it was bad, the cold, wind and rain was unbearable.  Fingers would stiffen, goggles would fog and the fog would freeze, visibility would become non-existent.  And then, it was a new airplane.  If there were any bugs or faults in it, the pilot would have to deal with them while flying.

On March 23, 1943, while making one of these flights to Love Field in Texas, Cornelia was flying her plane in a group of other pilots, both male and female.  One of the male pilots clipped Cornelia’s plane with its landing gear and her plane spun out of control and crashed to the ground so swiftly, there was no time to use a parachute.  Cornelia died in the crash.

Was it an accident, or did the male pilot try to rattle her a bit, to frighten the girl who thought she could be a pilot?  We don’t know.  But we do know that neither Cornelia, nor  any of the other women pilots who died flying military airplanes were recognized for their services.  The military didn’t even pick up the cost of their burials.  The women were, after all, civilians.

Cornelia was the first American woman to lose her life while on active military service.  It’s not the kind of distinction one strives for, especially not at the age of 24.  Her commanding officer, Nancy Love, wrote to Cornelia’s mother, “I can only say that I miss her terribly, and loved her.  If there can be any comforting thought, it is that she died as she wanted to – in an Army airplane, and in the service of her country.”

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mentor Monday - Exit, Stage Left

 Last time, we talked about using entrances to introduce a character and show characterization.  Exits, like entrances, are also devices that can strengthen a novel, although an exit is more likely to convey emotions, and help a scene rather than a character.  And like entrances, an exit can be more than going through a door.  Death is an exit, saying goodbye or goodnight is an exit, leaving is an exit.  So let’s take a look at some literary exits and see how others have used them.

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

Princess Alyss Heart’s parents have been murdered by her aunt Redd, who wants to be Queen of Wonderland.  As Alyss travels through a maze of mirrors, she encounters her dead parents who give her encouragement and confirm their love for her.  Now they have to leave.

 The royal couple turned and began walking off into the distance of the looking glass.

“Wait!” Alyss shouted.  “Don’t go!”

But Genevieve and Nolan kept walking.

“Wa-ait!  Will I ever see you again?”

They stopped, apparently surprised by the question.

“Again and again and again,” said Nolan.

“If you know where to look for us,” said Genevieve.

Then they were gone and Alyss’ reflection once again occupied the glass. All strength left the princess.  She fell to her knees and buried her face in her hands.

Beddor uses the exit to create a bittersweet moment here.  Alyss regains her parents, only to lose them a second time.  She might see them again if she can figure out how, but that secret has departed with her parents.  They’ve gone through the looking glass (the door) and it has closed behind them—Alyss sees her reflection rather than an empty mirror.

Beddor could have had Alyss simply remember her parents, but that would have been a stagnant scene with no movement or tension, and would have created little emotion.  He also could have left the door open after Alyss sees her parents vanish in the distance, but that would have offered up some hope.  Closing the door makes the situation seem hopeless and dark.  Alyss’ situation becomes a bit more complicated.

Here, in A single Shard by Linda Sue Park, the author hits us with a double exit.  This is not a big moment, but Park makes the most of it.  Tree-ear, the MC, is leaving Min, the potter, to cut wood.  He was hoping he’d get to stay and watch the potter create something.

 Tree-ear swallowed a sigh as he placed the ax in the cart.  Grasping the handles, he wheeled the cart onto the road.  He turned to wave farewell, but the potter was no longer there.  

Exit number one is Tree-ear leaving.  You can feel his disappointment in that sigh and in his turning back.  Park doesn’t have to say he’s disappointed.  She could have moved on from there and had Tree-ear get his firewood.  The first two sentences are serviceable and would have done the job.  But by adding that third sentence, we learn that Tree-ear cares enough about the potter to say goodbye, even though he will be returning soon, and that the potter doesn’t think much of Tree-ear and cares little for him.

 Again, it’s all unsaid by Park, but the potter’s exit implies it.  His exit also makes Tree-ear’s disappointment bigger, which, in turn, creates empathy in the reader for him.  Park has created emotions in the character and the reader with these two exits.  Without Tree-ear’s attempt to say goodbye, and the potter leaving, this would have been two empty sentences that did little for the story.

In Tender Morsels, author Margo Lanagan, gives us a scene of fourteen year-old Liga having a baby.  This is her second child, both by her father, who keeps her hidden away so people won’t know what’s going on.   The first time, she had no idea what was happening to her and gave birth all alone to a dead, misshapen thing out in the snow.  This time, she realizes it’s a baby, and underneath her fear and the pain of childbirth, there is joy and excitement.  The baby will be someone she can love, someone else in the house who isn’t Da.  But the baby is born dead, and Da has just walked in, asking her if she’s done yet.

 She gathered up the baby in her two hands, its unliving heat.  She turned, holding it as far out as the cord would let her.  She didn’t know why she was showing him, offering it to him—to him, of all people, and so tremblingly.  Maybe she imagined he would mourn with her?

“Give it here,” he said, disgustedly, coming at her big and heavy, alive and full of will.  He took the baby and went to turn away with it, but the cord dragged it off his hands.

She caught it.  “It’s still attached,” she said.  She was beginning to shake hard.

“Well, cut it, cut it!”

She thought he meant her to cut up the child.  “It is already dead.”

“Oh, you!”  He swung from foot to foot in his exasperation.  “Don’t you look at it.  Give it to me.  Don’t you go getting moonmoody on me; don’t imagine this is anything more than you bleed out every month.”  He took it again, more careful this time, and tried to interpose his shoulder between her face and his hands.

 The afterbirth came out, a great soft rag to her startled, wincing parts.

“Is that all of it?” he almost shouted, clawing for it, the child held like waste meat in his other hand, its head preoccupied with its ancient thoughts.

And then he was gone, taking everything dripping with him, and Liga was too glad to be rid of him to do more than kneel there, a drizzling mess, and stare at the fact that it was over, stare at the messed floor.

Lanagan has shown Da as a horrible man, and this horrible man could have tossed the dead baby out the window or into the fire and it would have been believable given his character.  But all that would have done was make him more horrible and keep the tension high.  And Liga would still be trapped in that house with him.

This, however was a long, somewhat graphic scene where the tension was kept at a high level for some time.  By the end of the scene, the reader has pretty much had enough, so having Da leave not only brings a bit of relief to Liga, but to the reader as well.  It gives both Liga, and the reader, a chance to breathe.

 And while we know Da has gone out, notice there is no mention of a door.  Mentioning one, and leaving it open, would imply something was going to change for Liga, that things would get better.  Closing the door would make the situation seem hopeless, as in The Looking Glass Wars example.  Not mentioning the door leaves things as they are.  Da will be back and nothing will change, and that is exactly what happens.  Liga’s father impregnates her a third time.

 One of the reasons entrances and exits can be powerful is because a door, in itself, is a metaphor.  An open door is welcoming, a closed door shuts you out.  Opening a door can represent new beginnings, starting over, adventure and promise.  Closing a door can represent endings, finality, a loss of hope, or even death.  If you write horror or paranormal, you can use doors in the opposite way.  The open door might lead to danger while the closed door shuts it out.  Try experimenting with the comings and goings in your own work to see what those entrances and exits can do for you. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Poetry Friday--The Fate of Fishermen

I don't eat fish with scales and fins except for the occasional tunafish sandwich. I've never liked fish, and now, it's too late to change my mind. Still, I appreciate those who risk their lives on the water to harvest the sea's bounty. So, today I'd like to share a poem by Mary Oliver and another by Shirley Graves Cochrane. (Cochrane's poem I posted at my library blog back in March, but it is a poem that sticks with me and begs to be repeated.) Despite being very different, both end nearly the same.
The Waves
by Mary Oliver

The sea
    isn't a place
        but a fact, and
            a mystery

under its green and black
    cobbled coat that never
        stops moving.
            When death

happens on land, on some
    hairpin piece of road,
        we crawl past,

over and over that moment
    of disaster. After the storm
        the other boats didn't
            hesitate--they spun out

from the rickety pier, the men
    bent to the nets or turning
        the weedy winches.
            Surely the sea

is the most beautiful fact
    in our universe, but
        you won't find a fisherman
            who will say so;

what they say is,
    See you later.
        Gulls white as angels scream
            as they float in the sun

just off the sterns;
    everything is here
        that you could ever imagine.
            And the bones

of the drowned fisherman
    are returned, half a year later,
        in the glittering,
            laden nets.

Irish Sweaters
by Shirley Graves Cochrane

"Ladies and gentlemen--
the sweaters of old Ireland!"
and down the runway come
Maeve and Erin and the other Dublin models
hips switching, eyes scorning
and Maurice, sheepish in his cowl.
"Each household has its special pattern--
you could tell a family sweater anywhere."

Aye--even at the bottom of the sea:
for grannies knit the shrouds of grandson
fishermen who never learned to swim
(to keep the agony of drowning short).
And long after the eyes were gone
and fish explored the geography of skull
the sweaters held and told us who they were--
Cormac and Tom and even Donovan.

See how the stitches knit the bones together.

Now, to counteract the depressing mood I've probably left you in, go visit Jama Rattigan at Jama's Alphabet Soup for the Round-Up. You can never visit Jama and not come away feeling lightened, refreshed, and completely nourished!

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Women of Wednesday: Clarina Irene Howard Nichols

The current political climate has put both women voters at the center of the daily news, and has me reflecting on the many, many Notable Women who were involved in the efforts to gain the franchise for American women. That, in turn, brings to mind one of my favorite Notable Women, a woman who is unjustly overlooked in the history books: Clarina I. H. Nichols. (My profile of Clarina is in the Vermont volume of the America’s Notable Women series, coming soon from Apprentice Shop Books.)

I generally try to put Clarina in context, for those who’ve never heard of her, by pointing out that she turned down the job of organizing the woman’s suffrage efforts in New York State (because she couldn’t afford to take time away from her lecture tours) but recommended a young woman she knew for the job: Susan B. Anthony. Anthony (who met Clarina at a women’s rights convention in 1852) was not the only better-known crusader to consider Clarina a mentor – Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone also looked to Clarina as inspiration and model.

Like so many of the women’s suffrage movement, Clarina was deeply involved in many campaigns for what would later come to be known as Civil Rights. She learned the skills of organizing in the Temperance movement, a natural affinity for a Baptist girl from Vermont. When she and her husband moved to Brockport, New York in 1830, they quickly joined the nascent Temperance movement there. Soon, however, Justin’s inability to support his family and increasing neglect and abuse forced Clarina into a problem she had observed from the outside as a girl, when her father as overseer of the poor in Townsend struggled to assist women who had no legal rights when their husbands abused or neglected them. After laboring for a decade to support and defend her three children as her marriage became more and more untenable, Clarina left her children with relatives and took a job teaching in a girls’ school in Connecticut. While she was away her husband claimed the children and disappeared. Although she had no legal right of custody, Clarina was able, with the help of many friends and family, to find her children and returned with them to the her parents’ home in Vermont. This dreadful period in her own life became fuel for the fiery passion that would drive her for the rest of her days.

Clarina began to write for local newspapers. Her columns spoke of “women’s issues” – the sorts of domestic items newspapers ran in those days: household skills, notes on gardening and parenting advice. Through her writing she came to know, and eventually to love, the publisher of the paper in the next town over, George Nichols. She feared meeting him, believing that he would find her old and plain, but in fact the two connected in person as well as on paper. J’s family supported Clarina in her divorce petition, and George and Clarina were married in 1843.

George was a man of liberal social beliefs, and his bride was quickly involved in every aspect of his business. A good thing, too, as George’s health began to fail shortly after the birth of their son the next year. Soon Clarina was running the newspaper as well as writing her columns, although they left George’s name on the masthead until 1850, knowing that prejudice against women in business would hurt sales of the paper.

George and Clarina used their newspaper to promote the causes of temperance, vegetarianism, abolition and women’s rights. Clarina was asked to speak to the Vermont State Legislature about a bill she supported, which would have allowed married women to own property in their own names and control their own wages. A representative opposed to the bill brought a pair of trousers to the dais, intending to humiliate Clarina by suggesting that she wanted women to “wear the pants” in their households – a ploy Clarina sabotaged by observing in her address that the problem wasn’t that she wanted to wear men’s trousers, it was that men insisted on owning their wives’ skirts.

The clever riposte won cheers from the assembled legislators, although the bill failed. It also began Clarina’s long career as a speaker, in which she often used humor to disarm her opponents and rally her supporters. Two years later Clarina addressed a packed hall at the first Women’s National Rights Convention in Worcester; the local newspapers reported that she was a “sensation.”

Clarina’s campaign for women’s rights was not just carried out in speeches and newspaper columns. She was not afraid to put her beliefs into direct action. Once on the train to Worcester she watched two men take a child forcefully from her mother and board the train, leaving the sobbing woman on the platform. Clarina rallied her fellow-passengers to prevent the men getting off the train again until it crossed the state line into Massachusetts, where more enlightened laws would consider their action kidnapping.

The plight of the powerless also drove the Nichols’ commitment to abolitionism, In 1854, Clarina shut down the Windham County Democrat. She and her sons moved to Kansas as part of the Free State movement. George was too sick to travel, but he and her daughter Birsha joined the family the following spring. Five months later, George was dead. Clarina found herself a single mother of four, living in the wilderness at the (literally) bleeding edge of the conflict over slavery. Over the next decade she would travel hundreds and thousands of miles, by canal boat, stagecoach, train and donkey cart, speaking in support of rights for women, Blacks and Native Americans. She carried a pair of shackles cut off the ankles of an escaped slave so her listeners could feel their cruel weight. Back home in Quindaro, she hid slaves in her cistern, often their first stop in Free territory on their way north to Freedom. Her sons fought with John Brown in Kansas. She was on a speaking tour in the slave state of Missouri when Brown’s insurgents attacked Harper’s Ferry. Clarina had to be smuggled across the state line to safety.

When the war finally broke out, Clarina and her daughter went to Washington, along with thousands of other Union women who filled the jobs of men who had gone to fight. After the war she remained, running a home for Black widows and orphans until her own mother’s death called her back to Vermont. Finally she returned to Kansas, where worked tirelessly to have woman’s and negro/native suffrage added to the new state constitution.

In 1872 Clarina moved to Poma, California with her son George and his family. When George’s wife died, she stepped in to raise her grandchildren. She continued to write for newspapers all over the country, contributed a chapter to the History of Woman Suffrage in 1880, and supported her sisters in suffrage through her letters, including one written four days before she died in 1885. A few months later Susan B. Anthony read the letter to the National Women’s Suffrage Association convention in Washington.

Clarina Howard Nichols was truly a woman of her age, an age that shaped the future of the United States. She deserves to be remembered.