Portraits of American Women Writers That Appeared in Print Before 1861 - Header and Menu

MARIA BROOKS (1794 or 1795 – 1845)

Sarah J. Hale, ed. Woman’s Record (1853), p. 757; also 1855 ed.

MARY GOVE NICHOLS (1810 – 1884)

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 Lynn , Massachusetts , where she ran a girls' school and began her career in health reform.

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 New York City and published stories and a novel as well as other health-related literature. In 1848 she married Thomas Low Nichols, a writer with an interest in health reform and progressive views of women's rights. Together they opened water-cure facilities, co-ed schools, and alternately advocated free love and celibacy among their students. As an old woman, Mary Gove Nichols converted to Catholicism and believed that she possessed mystical healing powers. She died in London , where she had emigrated due to her opposition to the Civil War.

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.




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