Mary Sargeant Gove Nichols 1810 – 1884 was influenced by Sylvester Graham, Hydrotherapy and vegetarianism, and she shared common goals of health reform with Clemence Lozier and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Nichols was a strong supporter of homeopathy and she found her cure from tuberculosis in homeopathic treatment. Her husband Thomas Low Nichols (1815-1901) was an orthodox doctor who converted to homeopathic philosophy. Her first husband Hiram Gove eventually became a homeopath.
In 1877, Georgiana Tollemache Mount Temple and William Francis Cowper Temple were regularly attending meetings and séances at the home of the Leaf family, where they met Mary Sargeant Gove Nichols and her homeopath husband Thomas Low Nichols. I assume that James John Garth Wilkinson and his brother William Martin Wilkinson were present as these meetings were reported in The Spiritualist magazine (James Gregory, Reformers, Patrons and Philanthropists, (Taurus Academic Studies, 2010). Page 137. James Gregory has recorded this man erroneously as James Farquhar, and tells us he is a friend of Mary and William Howitt).
The free love movement, while never as cohesive or organized as the women’s suffrage or temperance movements, included many women actively writing and speaking publicly about the “taboo” topic of sex…
Central to their ideology was the idea of women as sexual beings, a counterargument to some of the dominant ideas about women’s sexuality at the time….
They disseminated their ideas in periodicals such as Nichols’ Journal of Health, Water-Cure, and Human Progress (1853-54) and Nichols’ Monthly (1855-57), both edited by Mary Gove and Thomas Nichols…
While some advocates, such as Mary Gove Nichols, argued for chaste relationships, as they did so, they did not deny the sexuality and sexual feelings of women. Free love theory, then, opened the doors to discussing details about sexual unions on both personal and political levels, a tenet that second-wave feminists later embraced…
Mary Gove became interested in the alternative medical movement known as the “water cure.” This homeopathic medical movement emphasized natural remedies and preventative practices over surgical treatments and drugs…. homeopathic physicians also tended to “naturalize” women’s bodies and functions in contrast to the images of women as “diseased” and “defective.”….
homeopaths, (believed) in the power of physicians as teachers of the public and disseminators of physiological information…. Gove then presents herself as one who can give them the knowledge they lack in order to improve both their children’s health and their own health. She says:
“The end at which physiologists aim is prevention. We should live in such a manner as not to need medicine of any kind”
Before her marriage with Dr. Nichols, which took place in 1848, she conducted with great success a Water Cure establishment in that city, and was widely known as Mrs. Gove — her name by a former marriage — the physician for her own sex.
Few, among living women, deserve more respect than Mrs. Gove-Nichols; she has, in her own example, illustrated the beneficial results of knowledge to her sex, the possibility of success under the greatest difficulties, and above all, the importance that women, as well as men, should have an aim in life, — the high and holy aim of doing good.
Mrs. Gove-Nichols, whose maiden name was Neal, was born in 1810; her native place was Goffstown, State of New Hampshire, where her early years were passed. The advantages of education for girls were at that time very limited, and Mary Neal was not in a favoured position to secure even these.
But she had an ardent desire to acquire knowledge, and become useful; and Providence, as she believes, aided her fervent wish. When a young girl, chance threw in her way a copy of Bell’s Anatomy; she studied it in secret, and received that bias toward medical science which decided her destiny. Every medical book she could obtain she read, and when these were taken from her, she turned her attention to ?French and Latin, — good preliminary studies for her profession, though she did not then know it.
When about eighteen years of age, she commenced writing for newspapers; these poems, stories, and essays, are only of importance as showing the activity of her genius, which then, undeveloped and without an aim, was incessantly striving upward.
Soon after her marriage with Mr. Gove, a work fell her way which gave the true impulse to her ardent temperament. We will give the account in Mrs. Gove’s own words, premising that, at about the same time she read the works of Dr. John Mason Good, and her attention was particularly arrested by his remarks on the use of water; and from his writings, and the Book of Health, which she read during the year 1832, she became convinced of the efficacy of cold water in curing disease.
“My warrant for this practice,” she says, “was obtained wholly from these books. It was not till years afterward, that I heard of Preissnitz and Water Cure, as I now practice it.
“From this time I was possessed with a passion for anatomical, physiological, and pathological study. I could never explain the reason of this intense feeling to myself or others; all I know is, that it took possession of men, and mastered me wholly; it supported me through efforts that would otherwise have been to me inconceivable and insupportable.
“I am naturally timid and bashful; few would be likely to believe this who only see my doings without being acquainted with me. But timid as I was, I sought assistance from scientific and professional men. I went through museums of morbid specimens that, but for my passion for knowledge, would have filled me with horror.
“I looked on dissections till I could see a woman or child dissected with far more firmness than I could now look upon the killing of an animal for food. My industry and earnestness were commensurate, notwithstanding my health was far from being firm. I had innumerable difficulties to contend against.
“When I am dead, these may be told for the encouragement of others — not till then. When I retired to rest at night, I took my books with me the last minute I could keep awake was devoted to study, and the first light that was sufficient, was improved in learning the mysteries of our wonderful mechanism.
“My intense desire to learn seemed to make every one willing to help me who had knowledge to impart. Kindness from the medical profession, and the manifestation of a helpful disposition towards my undertakings, were every where the rule.
“After my marriage I resided for several years in New Hampshire, and then moved to Lynn, Mass., near Boston. Here I engaged in teaching, and had many more facilities for pursuing my studies than ever before.
“In 1837, I commenced lecturing in my school on anatomy and physiology. I had before this given one or two lectures before a Female Lyceum, formed by my pupils and some of their friends. At first I gave these health lectures, as they were termed, to the young ladies of my school, and their particular friends whom they were allowed to invite, once in tow weeks; subsequently, once a week.
“In the autumn of 1838, I was invited by a society of ladies in Boston to give a course of lectures before them on anatomy and physiology. I gave this course of lectures to a large class of ladies, and repeated it afterward to a much larger number.
“I lectured pretty constantly for several years after this beginning in Boston,. I lectured in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Ohio, and also on the island of Nantucket. Physicians were uniformly obliging and friendly to me.
“I do not now recollect but one exception, and this was a ‘doctor,’ who I believe honestly thought that knowledge was, or would be injurious to women, and therefore he opposed me in my efforts to teach. I have forgotten his name, and I presume the world will do the same.
“But I have not forgotten, and never can forget, the many who have held out the hand of help to me, and through me to others, for i have never learned selfishly; what I have gained for myself I have gained for others.
“The passion that has possessed me from my first reading on pathology, I consider providential. I believe fully, that I have been set apart from my birth for a peculiar work. I may be called enthusiastic and superstitious for this conviction, but it is mine as much as my life.
“My ill health, from earliest infancy, the poverty and struggles through which I have passed, and the indomitable desire which I have had to obtain knowledge, all seem to me so many providences.
“During the time that I studies alone, my enthusiasm never for one moment failed. Day and night, in sickness and in health, the unquenchable desire for knowledge and use burned with undiminished flame. I studied day and night, though all the time I had to labour for bread, — first with my needle, and later with a school.
“It may be said that I wan an enthusiast, and that my enthusiasm sustained me. I grant this; but will those who make this assertion define the word enthusiasm? To me it means, as it meant through those many long years, an unfaltering trust in God, and an all-pervading desire to be useful to my fellow-beings. If these constitute religious enthusiasm, them I am an enthusiast.”
We can add little to this graphic sketch of Mrs. Gove Nichols, except to give a selection or tow from her latest works, which will show here persevering efforts in the profession she has chosen, rather than her literary merits. Of her remarkable talents, there can be no doubt, nor of her sincerity. Whether she is or is not right, time must determine.
Besides these engrossing medical persuits, Mrs. Gove found time to continue her literary studies. In 1844, she commenced writing for the Democratic Review; she wrote the “Medical Elective Papers,” in the American Review, and was a contributor to Godey’s Lady’s Book. She prepared her “Lectures to Ladies on Anatomy and Physiology,” which work was published by the Harpers in 1844.
They also published, about the same time, Mrs. Gove’s little novel, “Uncle John, or is it too much trouble,” under the nomme de plume of Mary Orne, which she assumed when writing fictitious tales.
In this way she sent forth “Agnes Norris, or the Heroines of Domestic Life,” and “The Two Loves, or Eros and Anteros;” both written in the hurry of overburdened life, and, as might be expected, evincing that the spirit was prompting to every means of active exertion, while the natural strength was not sufficient for all these pursuits.
Mary Gove Nichols emigrated to England in 1861 to show her opposition to the Civil War.
Nichols wrote A Woman’s Work in Water Cure and Sanitary Educationand many other books, using pseudonyms Mary Lyndon and many others.