Having suffered from chronic ill health and four
miscarriages as a young woman, Mary Gove Nichols became an early advocate of
women's healthcare, spreading her message through her writings, lectures, and
clinics. Married to Hiram Gove, an unsuccessful businessman who expected both
financial support and unquestioning obedience from his wife, she supported
him and their surviving child by selling needlework until they moved to
Secretly studying medical texts and reading the work of dietary reformer Sylvester Graham, Mary Gove began to lecture to all-female audiences on anatomy, physiology, and hygiene, her candor often provoking both admiration and scandal. Determined to relieve women of what she saw as the unnecessary physical and mental suffering caused by their lack of access to information about health, she recommended that women exercise daily, breathe fresh air, shower with cold water, avoid the fashionable tight-laced corsets of the day, and abstain from coffee and meat.
Once separated from her first husband, she founded a
"water-cure" clinic in
In 1846, Edgar Allan Poe described her in his “The Literati of New York City. No. III,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, v. 33, p. 16:
She is rather below the medium height, somewhat thin, with dark hair and keen, intelligent black eyes. She converses well and with enthusiasm. In many respects a very interesting woman.