Asenath Nicholson

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Asenath Hatch Nicholson
Asenath Nicholson (cropped).jpg
Asenath Hatch

February 24, 1792
DiedMay 15, 1855(1855-05-15) (aged 63)
Occupationteacher, boarding houses, writer
Known forwriting, philanthropy

Asenath Hatch Nicholson (February 24, 1792 – May 15, 1855) was an American vegan, social observer and philanthropist. She wrote at first hand about the Great Hunger in Ireland in the 1840s. She observed the famine as she distributed bibles, food, and clothing.


Nicholson was born in Chelsea in Vermont in 1792. Her family belonged to the Protestant Congregation Church and she was named after the biblical figure of the same name. She trained and became a successful teacher in her hometown before she married a man with three children and went to New York. She and her new husband, Mr. Nicholson, became interested in the diets recommended by Sylvester Graham. In the 1840s they opened boarding houses that offered the vegetarian diet prescribed by Graham.[1] Nicholson also advocated exercise and occasional fasting.[1] She published the first Graham recipes.[2]

In May 1844, she left New York for Ireland and when she arrived she walked around Ireland visiting every County but one. She noted that people lacked work and they relied almost entirely on their crops of potatoes. She left for Scotland in August having observed Ireland just before the outbreak of the Irish Famine.[3] Upon her return to America, she wrote "Ireland's Welcome to the Stranger, or, An Excursion through Ireland in 1844 & 1845, for the Purpose of Personally Investigating the Condition of the Poor" which was published in New York by Baker & Scribner in 1847.

She returned in 1846 during the second crop failure which together with high unemployment was creating a national disaster. Nicholson was concerned that she would just have to witness the suffering but she wrote to the New-York Tribune and The Emancipator in New York and assistance from their readers was organised.[3] In the following July five barrels of corn arrived from New York although it has been noted that on the same ship there were 50 barrels for the Central Relief Committee, but Nicholson preferred to go it alone.[3]

She wrote an eye-witness hand about the Great Hunger in Ireland in the 1840s in a book entitled "Annals of the Famine in Ireland, 1847, 1848 and 1849". She observed the famine as she distributed bibles, food, and clothing.[1]

Nicholson died in Jersey City in 1855.[4]


Nature's Own Book, 1846 edition

In 1835, Nicholson authored the first American vegetarian cookbook, Nature's Own Book.[5] Nicholson stated that "good bread, pure water, ripe fruit, and vegetables are my meat and drink exclusively." The book utilized some recipes with dairy, but Nicholson personally advocated against its use.[6]

Nicholson also authored, Kitchen Philosophy for Vegetarians.[7] The book was published by William Horsell in 1849. A review in the Vegetarian Advocate, noted that "butter and eggs are excluded" from the recipes.[8] The Vegan Society have cited the book as the first vegan cookbook.[9]

Selected publications[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Review: Compassionate Stranger: Asenath Nicholson and the Great Irish Famine, by Maureen O'Rourke Murphy". The Irish Times. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  2. ^ Smith, Andrew F. (2009). Eating History: Thirty Turning Points in the Making of American Cuisine. Columbia University Press. pp. 33-34. ISBN 978-0-231-14092-8
  3. ^ a b c "Protestant New Yorker who saved hundreds of Irish famine victims". 10 March 2017. Retrieved 18 November 2017.
  4. ^ Maureen O'Rourke Murphy, ‘Nicholson, Asenath Hatch (1792–1855)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 12 November 2017
  5. ^ Miller, Laura J. (2017). Building Nature's Market: The Business and Politics of Natural Foods. University of Chicago Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-226-50123-9 "Asenath Nicholson's 1835 volume Nature's Own Book was the first vegetarian cookbook published in the United States; it became a stand reference work for vegetarians before the American Civil War."
  6. ^ Smith, Andrew F. (2015). Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover's Companion to New York City. Oxford University Press. p. 617. ISBN 978-0-19-045465-4
  7. ^ Burns, Arthur; Innes, Joanna. (2003). Rethinking the Age of Reform: Britain 1780-1850. Cambridge University Press. p. 208
  8. ^ Anonymous. (1849). Kitchen Philosophy for Vegetarians. The Vegetarian Advocate 11 (1): 10.
  9. ^ "Key facts". The Vegan Society. Retrieved 14 July 2019.