Mary Gove Nichols

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Mary Gove Nichols
Mary Gove Nichols (page 804 crop).jpg
Born10 August 1810 Edit this on Wikidata
Goffstown Edit this on Wikidata
Died30 May 1884 Edit this on Wikidata (aged 73)
London Edit this on Wikidata
Spouse(s)Thomas Low Nichols Edit this on Wikidata

Mary Gove Nichols, née Mary Sargeant Neal (August 10, 1810 – 1884) was a woman's rights and health reform advocate, hydrotherapist, vegetarian and an American writer.[1][2]


She was born in Goffstown, New Hampshire. At a young age, Nichols suffered from four miscarriages and a chronic illness. She became a woman's health care advocate and spread her message through lectures, clinics, and her writings. Mary Gove Nichols raised children, treated patients, published writings, and sought to live what she believed.[3]

Nichols first marriage was to Hiram Gove, an unsuccessful businessman. Gove married Nichols expecting financial support and obedience from his wife. Nichols moved to Lynn, Massachusetts with her husband and child. In Massachusetts, Nichols ran a girls' school, and this was where she began her health reform career.[4]

In 1841 she took her daughter and moved back with her parents leaving her husband behind; he eventually agreed to the divorce. After being abused, both sexually and emotionally, she made it her life's work to inform women of their bodies and their opportunities. In 1848, she remarried to Thomas Low Nichols, a writer with an interest in health reform and progressive views on women's rights. Together they planned to open a School of Health, School of Progress and School of Life in a three-story building they leased.[5] They moved to England at the outset of the Civil War.

Nichols wrote novels and stories under the pseudonym Mary Orme.[6] She wrote short stories for Godey's Lady's Book.[6] Edgar Allan Poe praised her fiction.[7]

Nichols died on May 30, 1884 from cancer.[6] Her surviving daughter by her first husband, Elma Gove, became a painter.[8]

Natural hygiene[edit]

Nichols studied the writings of Sylvester Graham and became a vegetarian around 1837.[2] She was an influential proponent in the natural hygiene movement. She lectured to all-female audiences on anatomy, physiology, and hygiene to relieve women of what she saw as unnecessary physical and mental suffering. 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.[4]

Nichols lectured for the Ladies Physiological Society, an off-shoot of the American Physiological Society.[2] She has been described as the "first woman in America to lecture on topics of anatomy and physiology and she included lessons on vegetarianism, and prevention and cure of sickness."[2] Nichols believed that cancer could be cured by a vegetarian diet.[2]

In 1851, Nichols and her husband Thomas founded a "water-cure" clinic, the American Hydropathic Institute in New York City.[1][4][9] It offered a fee of $50, for people to become qualified "water cure" doctors. The institute is cited as a historical example of quackery.[10] Nichols and her husband were advocates of bathing in cold water, fasting and occasional wet-sheet packing.[11]

Nichols contributed to the Water-Cure Journal and published with her husband Nichols’ Journal of Health, Water-Cure, and Human Progress (1853-1858).[1][12] Nichols and her husband advocated free-love and the belief that marriage was evil.[6] These beliefs alienated them from others in the hydropathic community.[13] In 1855, they moved to Cincinnati and opened the Memnonia Institute, a "school of life" at Yellow Springs, Ohio in 1856.[6][13] The name of the institute referred to the goddess of water, reflecting their interest in hydropathy but also promoted asceticism, fasting, and spiritual penance.[13][14] It had few members, lasting only one year.[15] They both attended seances, believing to be in communication with spirits and converted to Catholicism.[13]

Herbert M. Shelton's book The Science and Fine Art of Natural Hygiene is dedicated to Gove and other natural hygienists.[16]

Selected publications[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Mary Gove Nichols". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e Iacobbo, Karen; Iacobbo, Michael. (2004). Vegetarian America: A History. Praeger Publishing. pp. 37-38. ISBN 978-0275975197
  3. ^ "Shameless." Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
  4. ^ a b c "Portraits of American Women Writers". Library Company. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  5. ^ MacLean, Maggie. "Mary Gove Nichols". History of American Women.
  6. ^ a b c d e Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey; Harvey, Joy Dorothy. (2000). The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: L-Z, Volume 2. Routledge. p. 941. ISBN 0-415-92040-X
  7. ^ Myerson, Joel. (1986). Mary Gove Nichols' Mary Lyndon: A Forgotten Reform Novel. American Literature 58 (4): 523-539.
  8. ^ David Bernard Dearinger; National Academy of Design (U.S.) (2004). Paintings and Sculpture in the Collection of the National Academy of Design: 1826–1925. Hudson Hills. pp. 20–. ISBN 978-1-55595-029-3.
  9. ^ Weiss, Harry Bischoff; Kemble, Howard R. (1967). The Great American Water-Cure Craze: A History of Hydropathy in the United States. The Past Times Press. p. 33, p. 75.
  10. ^ University of Toledo Libraries. Barbara Floyd, University Archivist, University of Toledo. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  11. ^ Silver-Isenstadt, Jean L. (2002). Shameless: The Visionary Life of Mary Gove Nichols. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 133. ISBN 0-8018-6848-3
  12. ^ Weiss, Harry Bischoff; Kemble, Howard R. (1967). The Great American Water-Cure Craze: A History of Hydropathy in the United States. The Past Times Press. p. 35
  13. ^ a b c d Morris, James Matthew; Kross, Andrea L. (2004). Historical Dictionary of Utopianism. The Scarecrow Press. p. 200. ISBN 0-8108-4912-7
  14. ^ Rokicky, Catherine M. (2002). Creating a Perfect world: Religious and Secular Utopias in Nineteenth-Century Ohio. Ohio University Press. p. 136. ISBN 978-0821414392
  15. ^ Trahair, R. C. S. (1999). Utopias and Utopians: An Historical Dictionary Greenwood Press. p. 257. ISBN 0-313-29465-8
  16. ^ Shelton, Herbert M. (1994 edition, first published 1934). The Science and Fine Art of Natural Hygiene. The Hygienic System: Volume I. American Natural Hygiene Society. ISBN 0-914532-36-7

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]