Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Wilhelmina von Stosch Nichols, 1871-1954
By Duaa Shamim, undergraduate, University of Maryland, College Park
Wilhelmina Victoria von Stosch was born in Washington, D.C., in 1871. She was the daughter of Count Ferdinand Gotthelf von Stosch. At 24, Wilhelmina married Henry Hobart Nichols on April 20, 1895. They had two daughters, Hildagard Nichols and Leonora Nichols. During her adult life, Wilhelmina Nichols was a painter, featured in local exhibits around the Washington area. Henry Hobart Nichols was also a painter and still remains a popular name in the realm of painting. One of Wilhelmina's paintings, The Book, (pictured below) was discussed in The Monthly Illustrator, by George Gibbs. Gibbs wrote, "Wilhelmina von Stosch's ‘The Book' is capital in color scheme, and the languid, dreamy, interest expressed in the pose is full of truth." Both Wilhelmina and Hobart Nichols were featured together in the Eleventh Annual Exhibition of Society of Washington Artists in March 1901. They also worked on a sculpture with other artists in November 1915, and the work was featured in local exhibitions.
Wilhelmina Nichols was prominent in the suffrage movement and represented Anne Arundel County in a Maryland state convention. She was a leader during the suffrage movement while continuing her career as an artist. Her signature was found on the bottom of a flyer from the Maryland Woman Suffrage Association calling local women to come to learn about their opportunities involved with voting. The flyer states, "This meeting will afford an opportunity for all women who desire to vote Constitutionally and intelligently in the November Election to learn a few things, in a non-partizan [sic] way, which will be of service." Nichols participated in collective local organizing during the suffrage movement. Her artwork is also featured in Doris Weatherford's Women in American Politics: History and Milestones (2012) as a "Prominent Women's Rights Pioneer" from Anne Arundel County.
Wilhelmina Nichols devoted most of her career to her art, and she was actively involved in the fight for women's suffrage. During an era where women were fighting to be seen as equal to men, Nichols had an established career and came from a prominent family, which gave her the ability to participate in the suffragist movement. She also married a well-known artist of her time. Her artwork represents how she spent her career. The suffrage work was focused locally, and she was an important figure for Anne Arundel county. She is mainly remembered for her artwork while her suffrage work is not as memorialized. In 1954, Nichols passed away at age 83.
Caption: From a painting by Wilhelmina von Stosch. The Book.
Credit: Gibbs, George. "In Washington." The Monthly Illustrator III, no. 9 (January, February, March 1895), p. 30.
"Flyer: Maryland Woman-Suffrage Association Announcement of Pre-Election Meeting for September 14, 1920." Digital reproduction. Special Collections Department, Woman Suffrage in Maryland Collection, Folder 3, Box 1. Enoch Pratt Free Library, State Library Resource Center. http://collections.digitalmaryland.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/scws/id/2/rec/1
Gibbs, George. "In Washington." The Monthly Illustrator III, no. 9 (January, February, March 1895), p. 30.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. "Maryland." Chapter XIX in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK].
"Marriage Licenses." Washington Times. April 20, 1895, p. 6. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87062244/1895-04-20/ed-1/seq-6/#date1=1789&index=8&rows=20&words=Nichols+Wilhelmina&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1924&proxtext=Wilhelmina+Nichols&y=7&x=16&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1.
"Pictures of Merit." Evening Star (Washington, D.C.) March 27, 1901, p. 8. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1901-03-27/ed-1/seq-8/#date1=1789&index=0&rows=20&words=Nichols+Wilhelmina&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1924&proxtext=Wilhelmina+Nichols&y=7&x=16&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1
United States Census 1910, s.v. "Wilhelmina Nichols, Washington, DC." Ancestry.com.
Weatherford, Doris. Women in American Politics: History and Milestones. Thousand Oaks, Calif: CQ Press, 2012, p.26. GoogleBooks.
Artist or Suffragist?
Wilhelmina Nichols Bio Reflection
By Duaa Shamim
When we were first assigned the task of recovering unknown women suffragists, the process seemed overwhelming and daunting. How could I even begin to write the entire life story of a stranger? The initial step I took when I received the name of my suffragist was to do a Google search. With today's modern technology I figured the majority of my questions could be answered this way. I quickly realized this project would require much more intensive research. I did not anticipate the many roadblocks I encountered. The more research I did the more invested I became and more obligated I felt to tell Wilhelmina's story correctly.
After the Google search lead to almost nothing, I was at a complete loss as to where to go next. During the guided research session with Liz Novara, I discovered information which opened doors and jump started my entire process. I began to dive into the databases she had listed for us. I learned little bits and pieces about Wilhelmina's life through articles she was featured in the Evening Star newspaper from the Chronicling America database. The first article I found described an art exhibit she was featured in with a man named Hobart Nichols. While I searched for more articles, I discovered an article announcing the marriage of a Wilhelmina von Stosch and Henry Hobart Nichols. Upon finding out her maiden name, I uncovered more of her artwork, which led me to believe she was an artist before marriage. From looking at Wilhelmina's art, I began to see her as a real woman rather than just a name on a paper.
Using techniques from Janine Solberg's article, "Googling the Archive: Digital Tools and the Practice of History," I began to realize the importance of keywords. By searching Wilhelmina's maiden name, I was able to find multiple art pieces which would have not have appeared had I searched Wilhelmina Nichols. Solberg discusses how keywords can lead to potential gold mines in research. My keyword which lead to a turning point in my research was Wilhelmina's maiden name as well as her husband's name. I learned the techniques I needed to use in order to produce the results I wanted. For example, I decided to search her husband's name because she was listed with him in multiple articles. When I searched his name, I found an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to him and his artwork. This was shocking to me because there was very little about Wilhelmina's art while her husband was easily accessible. After discovering this, I was more motivated to find out her story because I felt she deserved the same recognition as her husband. I knew Wilhelmina was involved in the suffrage movement and represented Anne Arundel County, but I wanted to find out more about the impact she made. I discovered her name was listed in the book Women in Politics: History and Milestones as a "Prominent Women's Rights Pioneer." She was a leader who represented Anne Arundel County at a Maryland state convention.
I also found her name on the bottom of a flyer inviting women to come out and learn more about the suffrage movement and why they should be involved. I found this flyer during a conference with Professor Enoch who guided me to finding this crucial artifact. We discovered the flyer was produced by the Maryland Woman- Suffrage Association. This collaborative process made me feel like a real historian. Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa E. Kirsch, describe feminist rhetorical practices in their essay, "Social Circulation." They use this term to discuss the collaborative nature involved with memorializing women's history. Ideas are able to circulate in the realm of public memory which produces a unique outcome. This applies especially to feminist public memory because these women were involved with suffrage movement and should not be forgotten.
After this discovery I was eager to continue piecing together Wilhelmina's life. A turning point in my research process was when I discovered census information about Wilhelmina. I found two records describing her family and learned she had two daughters, Hildagard and Leonora Nichols. Following a hunch, I searched the daughter's names in the hopes of finding a family photograph. When I searched Leonora Nichols, a hit popped up for a Leonora von Stosch. I followed this lead and discovered she was a famous author born in Washington, D.C., only a few years before Wilhelmina. I began to connect the dots and assumed she was a sister to Wilhelmina. As I searched more of their family history, I stumbled across the name Count Ferdinand Gotthelf, who was the father of Wilhelmina and Leonora von Stosch. This riveting discovery also led to a photograph of Wilhelmina because I learned her middle name was Victoria. Upon finding the photograph, I felt all the pieces of her life were finally coming together. I had spent days learning details about this woman's life and now I could see who she was. It was surreal.
As I began to compose my biography, I realized I was lacking information about her life prior to marriage. She was not as prominent under her maiden name, and the status of her husband as an affluent artist gave her more recognition. I was also disappointed that I could not find more information about her involvement with the suffragist movement. I was hoping to find what work she did at the conference or how she came to represent Anne Arundel County. Nonetheless, I thought her career as an artist was fascinating and her artwork may have overshadowed her activist work. Through uncovering Wilhelmina's story, I realized women involved in activism also had vibrant full careers. She did not dedicate her life to the cause of women's suffrage; instead, she participated when needed.
In conclusion, the entire research process has led me to understand the suffrage movement in a fundamentally different way. The daunting and overwhelming feeling I had when first assigned this project faded away when I began connecting with my suffragist. Wilhelmina was woman with career and family and still dedicated time to activism. She truly was a woman who could do it all.
Essay Works Cited
Royster, Jacqueline Jones & Kirsch, Gesa E. "Social Circulation." Chapter 7 in Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literary Studies. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012, 98-109.
Solberg, Janine. "Googling the Archive: Digital Tools and the Practice of History." Advances in the History of Rhetoric 15, no. 1 (2012): 53-76.
Weatherford, Doris. Women in American Politics: History and Milestones. Thousand Oaks, Calif: CQ Press, 2012.