Goffstown New Hampshire Author, Educator, Social Reformer, and Women’s Rights Champion: Mary Sargeant (Neal) Gove Nichols (1810-1884)

Mary Sargeant Neal was born 10 August 1810 in Goffstown NH, the second daughter and third child of William A. & Rebecca R. Neal/Neil.

Reportedly she was a descendant of Scottish and Welsh immigrants.

Mary was a social reformer (especially of marriage), author, vegetarian, campaigner for women’s rights, and proponent of the “Water-Cure” (hydropathy). Hydropathy was a practice that used water as a healing substance.  The water could be taken internally or externally, and it could be recommended hot or cold.

She was involved in the many reform movements of the 1840’s to 1850’s concerning diet, dress, health, woman’s rights, and relationships between men and women. She is sometimes called “The first female advocate of free love in the United States.” Beginning about 1837 she presented a series of health lectures on human anatomy and physiology, to large classes of ladies and women’s social clubs in New England. In 1844 she began writing for the “Democratic Review,” and contributed articles to the “American Review,” “Harpers,” and “Godey’s Lady’s Book.”

Her book, Mary Lyndon, was an autobiographical novel speaking out against many social institutions in the United States. The New York Times review said: “If we did not believe it to be a book of very bad tendencies, we should not pay it the compliment of giving it this prominent and unusual notice.”—New York Daily Times, August 17, 1855.

Using the nom de plume, Mary Orne, she also wrote “Uncle John, or it is too much trouble,” “Agnes Norris, or the heroine of Domestic Life,” and “The Two Loves, or Eros and Anteros.”  She was a friend of Edgar Allen Poe, and provided a description of his cottage (in Fordham NY) in an article she wrote titled: “Reminiscences of Edgar Allan Poe,” and published in the Six Penny Magazine in February 1863.

In 1857 they converted to the Catholic faith.  They emigrated to England in protest of the American Civil War.

Thursday, April 23, 1857, St. Alban’s Messenger (St. Albans, Vermont) Page 2.  –Dr. T.L. Nichols and Mary Gove Nichols, of “free love” notoriety, were baptised on last Sunday afternoon, in St. Xavier church, Sycamore street, Cincinnati, by Rev. Father Oakley, Record of the College, having been duly converted to the Catholic faith. With them were also baptised a daughter of Mrs. Nichols by a former husband, and a Miss Hopkins, of the free love Yellow Springs institution.

She married twice, first to Hiram Gove, and second to Dr. Thomas Low Nichols. She died 30 May 1884 in London, England. See her partial family tree below.


**Additional Reading**

Women in History: Mary Gove Nichols

Shameless: The Visionary Life of Mary Gove Nichols

Women and Hygiene: Mary Gove Nichols


The Neal/Neil family may have originated from the McNeil family of Londonderry NH, or possibly from the Neil family of Portsmouth NH. One source states that this family was of Scottish and Welsh ancestry.

William A. Neal/Neil; m. Rebecca R. –. He died before 1850 possibly in Craftsbury, Orleans Co VT. Rebecca was born about 1787 in NH. In 1850 census Rebecca is living with her daughter Mary in New York City. On list of 1810 and 1820 taxpayers in Goffstown, Hillsborough County, NH.
1810 U.S. Census > New Hampshire > Hillsborough Co. > Goffstown
Household of William A. Neal
1 – – 1 – // 1 1 – 1 – –
1 male under 10
1 male age 26-44
1 female under 10
1 female age 10-15
1 female age 26-44
1820 U.S. Census > New Hampshire > Hillsborough Co. > Goffstown
Household of William A. Neil
– 1 – –  – 1 – 1 – 1 – – – 1
1 male of 10 < 16
1 male 45 and up
1 female of 10 < 16
1 female age 26 to 45
[1 person engaged in manufactures]
[Note: in this same year William A. Neal was taxed]
1830 United States Federal Census > Vermont > Orleans > Craftsbury
Household of William A. Neal
– 1 – – – – – – 1 – – – – // – – – – 1 – 1 – – – – etc.
Children of William A. & Rebecca R. (?) Neal/Neil:
1. Emma Neal, d. abt 1822
2. William Neal, b. abt 1792 in Goffstown; possibly married Lois Clark on 23 May 1824 in Weare NH; The Maine Compiled Military Records reports on William Neal, age 21 (so b. abt 1792) birth place Goffstown NH; who enlisted 4 May 1813 in the 33rd U.S. Infantry.  Eye color Blue, Hair color brown, complexion light.
3. +Mary Sargeant Neal, b. 10 Aug 1810 Goffstown NH

Mary Sargeant Neal, was born 10 August 1810 in Goffstown NH, the second daughter and third child of William A. & Rebecca R. Neal [of Scottish and Welsh ancestry].  About 1822 after the death of her favored older sister, the family removed to Craftsbury Vermont, where they lived until after Mary’s marriage; She died 30 May 1884 possibly in New York City. She married 1st) in 1831 to Hiram Gove, son of David & Hannah (Dow) Gove (reportedly an unhappy marriage). He carried on the business of a hatter near Baker’s Mills, afterwards studied medicine and graduated at a medical college in Baltimore MD, practicing in Rochester NH, Salem and E. Boston MA; They divorced, and he remarried 1848 to Mary Thurber, and died 13 Feb 1875. Mary married 2nd) 29 July 1848 (7 months after they met) in a Swedenborgian ceremony to Thomas Low Nichols, a NH native, probably son of Rev. Noah & Mrs. Nichols, a Baptist Clergyman. Thomas was a medical writer and social reformer who obtained the degree of M.D. in 1850, and opened the American Hydropathic Instituate in New York in 1851.
U.S. Census > 1850 United States Federal Census > New York > New York > New York Ward 16 District 2
Thomas L. Nichols 36 M Physician NH
Mary S.G. 40 F NH
Eleanor N. Gove 18 F NH
Rebecca R. Neal 63 F 2000 NH
Catharine Mills 20 F Ireland
Elizabeth Murphy 22 F Ireland
U.S. Census > 1860 United States Federal Census > New York > Richmond > Middletown
Thos L. Nickols 45 M 400 NH [b abt 1815]
Mary A. Nickols 50 F NH
Mary W. Nickols 10 F NY [b abt 1850]
Noah Nickols 71 M Baptist Clerg. Mass [b abt 1789][in 1850 he and wife living in Rutland, Rutland Co VT] [probably minister in town of Rumney NH on July 1, 1829 when he was ordained as pastor, and left in 1837.][possibly NICHOLS, Noah, s. of David and Molly, bp. June 27, 1790 in Coahsset MA, OR Noah Brooks, s. Noah Jr. & Bethia, b. 25 Jan 1801].
Mary H. Nickols 71 F Mass [b abt 1789]
Lovina Cram 63 F NH
Elma M.  Gove 28 F NH
Cath. Curn 26 F Gent H W. Ireland
U.S. Census > 1880 United States Federal Census > New York > Chenango > Mcdonough > District 99
Arnold, William M W 50 blacksmith NY NY NY
Arnold Malissa B W F 46 wife keeping house NY VT NH
Arnold, Lula V W F 12 dau at school NY NY NY
Arnold, Junie A W F 10 at school NY NY NY
Nichols, Mary S. W F 69 boarder NH NH NH
Child of Hiram & Mary S. (Neal) Gove:
1. Elma Penn “Eleanor” Gove, b. 3 Jan 1832 [1 March 1832 per her passport] in Weare NH, and died 1921 in Chertsey, Surrey, England; According to the “History of Weare NH” Elma married “a Litchfield” but I can find no evidence of this.  Elma Gove applied for a NY passport on 28 May 1864, and was single at that time.  In 1871 she married at Upton in Severn, Worcestershire, England to Thomas Letchworth.  He b. 1829 in Reading, Berkshire, England and d. 1914.  Children: Mabel Elma M. Letchworth, b. 1872 in Lambeth, London England, and d. 6 May 1958 in Surrey, England; and Thomas Wilfred Letchworth b 1874.  In 1881 Thomas & Elma Letchworth and family were living at Poole Road, Westmoore, Holdenhurst, Hampshire, England. Their occupations: “Dividends” and they had a French governess and four servants living with them.
Child of Thomas L. & Mary S. (Neal) Nichols:
2. Mary W. Nichols, b. abt 1850 in NY; in 1880 single boarding with the Arnold family in McDonough, Chenango Co. NY.

Updated March 2013

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