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Clara Jane Dow


Clara Jane Dow (Rice Goding)
(Mill Girl & Committee Member of the Lowell LDS Benenvolent Sewing Society)

Clara was born 1829 in Concord, Merrimack, New Hampshire,[1] the only child of Ira Dow and Susan Scranton.  Unhappily Ira Dow, the grandson of a colonial founder of Concord, Ebenezer Dow, died in 1836 at the age of 33, probably in either Lowell or Concord, leaving Clara fatherless at six or seven.[2]   That same year, her widowed mother worked as cotton mill operative in Lowell, Massachusetts and is listed in the 1836 “Female Supplement” of the Lowell city directory (the only year that the town’s directories included all the names of the thousands of women mill workers).  To support herself and her daughter, “Susan Dow” was then working for the Appleton Corporation, while boarding (with Clara) at Boarding House 14.[3]

Clara’s mother then met Loyal C. Nichols, a machinist working in the mills since at least 1835.[4]   The recently widowed Susan Scranton Dow and Loyal Nichols were married on January 1, 1837 in Lowell.  Loyal was born about 1809 in Vergennes, Vermont.  Later that year, Susan gave birth to Clara’s only sibling, her half-sister Susan A. Nichols. 

When Clara was nine, to demonstrate her sewing and embroidery skills like many other New England girls, she created a large (about 30 by 30 inch) sampler.  In fact she made a mourning sampler in honor of the death of her beloved father, Ira Dow, two years prior.  Below four rows of the alphabet repeated in differing “fonts” and sizes, and a clump of delicate red and white flowers (sweet peas?), she embroidered the following poem:

Here sleePs my Father in the silent dirt
            By all my sorrow all my love unmoved
SleePs til the solemn summer of the Just
            Bids him awake to meet the God he loves

I saw him Fainting in his bed of Pain
            I saw him like the leavs [sic] of autumn be
I saw him strive to smile but strive in vain
            And then I – no, I saw him Faint and die

Wrought by Clara Jane Dow. Aged. 9 Years. Lowll [sic] Mass. 1838

Directly below the poem is Clara’s rendition of a two-story red brick building, with six white-shuttered windows per story and a large arched Georgian doorway.  Perhaps this was the corporation-owned boarding house where the family lived in Lowell in 1836, when Ira died.  The entire right side is blank, probably meant to record genealogical data on her family, but left unfinished.

Clara Dow Sampler

Clara Jane Dow's 1838 Sampler

Three years later, for some reason, the Nichols family was living in Fishkill, Dutchess, New York.[5]   If they had joined the LDS Church by this time, it is quite possible Loyal Nichols was in New York with his family as a missionary.  They were certainly Mormons by the end of 1841, for by August 1842, Loyal C. Nichols had a good reputation among the visiting LDS apostles.  Erastus Snow, writing from Boston, recommended various LDS people for Apostle Willard Richards to lodge with on his way to Salem from Berkshire County, Massachusetts.  After reporting that the Lowell Branch had about 25 members of the church in good standing, Snow told Richards, when “At Lowell, call on Loyal C. Nichols.”[6]   That same year, the Lowell City Directory lists Loyal C. Nichols as a watchman for the Lowell Carpet Company and his family was living on William Street, a block-long street in downtown Lowell, near the South Common.

Lyman D. Platt, in his groundbreaking work on the early branches of the church, documented that on September 6, 1843, “L. C. Nichols” was president of the Lowell Branch and Daniel Sawyer was the Clerk of the Branch.[7] (This precludes that Loyal Nichols previously had been ordained an Elder.)  Nichols must have just been called to preside over the Lowell Branch because Ezra T. Benson had served in that position throughout the summer of 1843. 

15-year old Clara served as a Committee Member of the Lowell Latter Day Saint Benevolent Sewing Society when it was organized on July 17, 1844.  She was the youngest of the eight women in the Society; her step-father’s position as their branch president no doubt gave the young girl cachet in the group.

Just four weeks before the implosion of the local branches and the Benevolent Sewing Society in the wake of the Sarah Wallace scandal and the trial of Elder John Hardy in Boston, 35 year-old Elder Loyal C. Nichols died in Lowell from “consumption” (tuberculosis).  His death records states he was back to being a machinist again, and still had his residence on William Street.

Clara’s friend and associate from the Benevolent Sewing Society, Sarah E. Wallace, then fell gravely ill from the scandal of her seduction by Elder Samuel Brannan and plural marriage performed without authorization by Apostle William Smith.  But Sarah moved to Nauvoo, Illinois with her brother Elder George B. Wallace that spring where she died, so Clara never saw Sarah again.  The Wallace-Brannan scandal struck close to home as well.  Sarah Wallace’s friend, Elder Willard Messer, was excommunicated for publicizing Brannan’s extra-marital seduction of young Sarah.  Weeks after his excommunication, Messer wrote a letter to Brigham Young, asking to be repaid (without interest) for a loan of $30 he had given to the visiting Young.  Messer begged Young to send the money to him via Clara’s mother (Susan Scranton Dow) if Young refused to send the money directly to Messer.  (See the Sarah E. Wallace biography for details on this.)

Clara Jane Dow and her mother likely disapproved of polygamy and the errant behavior of the Mormon apostles and missionaries in Lowell, which had led to the death of Sarah E. Wallace and the excommunication of Susan’s friend Willard Messer, and both women left the Mormon Church around early 1845.

Later that year, Clara married in Lowell to Benjamin P. R. Rice on August 26, 1845.  He was a 24 year-old cabinetmaker from Chesterfield, New Hampshire, born on July 21, 1821 to Charles and Hannah Rice.  Benjamin P. R. Rice had a sister, Mary Ann Rice, born February 6, 1828 and she, like Clara, was a mill operative.  Perhaps Clara met Benjamin through his sister.  While they began their married life together, Clara’s mother lived for two years in a boardinghouse on Green Street and in 1847 moved to Elm Street.  On May 4, 1847, Susan Scranton Dow Nichols married Joseph Lewis Pratt in Lowell, who was a widower six years Susan’s junior, with two daughters of his own.

Clara’s sister-in-law, Mary Ann Rice, died in Lowell on May 30, 1849 at the young age of 21.  On top of that tragedy, Clara and Benjamin Rice were not happy in their marriage and they divorced around the time of Mary Ann’s untimely death.  With no further ties keeping him Lowell, Benjamin P. R. Rice moved to Dunstable, Massachusetts (just due west of Lowell) where he married Jerusha H. _____ about 1851; they later moved to Derry, New Hampshire and raised seven children there.

The blended Pratt family, including the divorced Clara (who reverted to using her maiden name of Dow), her half-sister Susan, and Joseph Pratt’s own 78 year-old mother, left Lowell by 1850 and moved to Lynn, Massachusetts (just northeast of Boston).[8] In 1851, the family was living at 25 Waterhill Street.[9]

At the age of 23 Clara Jane Dow then married her second husband, David Nutter Goding, on May 21, 1852 in Lynn, Massachusetts.  Their children were:

  1. Albert Monroe Goding - born July 23, 1853; married Georgiana E. Brown on January 1, 1878
  2. David Arthur Goding (b. December 29, 1853; died in Indiana after 1880)
  3. Clara Arvilla Goding (b. October 8, 1856; died November 4, 1856)
  4. James Alfred Goding (b. April 23, 1859 in Brighton Mass.; married Clara Tuttle)

Clara Jane Dow Rice Goding then died October 8, 1859 in Brighton, Massachusetts at the age of 30.  Her widowed husband David then married Elizabeth Ludgate (b. 1837 in Ireland) on March 11, 1861 in Charlestown, Massachusetts and they had four more children. Clara’s mother, Susan Scranton Dow Nichols Pratt died in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1884 around the age of 75.[10]



1. Concord is about 50 miles due north of Lowell.

2. Nathaniel Bouton, The History of Concord: From Its First Grant in 1725, to the Organization of the City Government in 1853 (Concord: Benning W. Sanborn, 1856), p. 644.

3. 1836 Female Supplement City Directory, Section D-E, p. 59, online http://library.uml.edu/clh/all/1836-list.htm (accessed November 18, 2007).

4. See Loyal C. Nichols, 1835, Lowell Institute for Savings records, 1829-1835, http://library.uml.edu/clh/LIS/LIS29-35.htm (accessed September 15, 2007)

5. 1840 Federal Census of Fishkill, Dutchess, New York, p. 35.

6. Erastus Snow to Willard Richards, August 29, 1842, LDS Archives, copy of typescript and handwritten marginalia in my possession.

7. Lyman D. Platt, “Early Branches of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Nauvoo Journal, Vol. 3 (1991), p. 25; available as a PDF at http://mormonhistoricsitesfoundation.org/publications/nj_1991/1991.htm (accessed September 15, 2007)

8. 1850 Federal Census of Lynn, Essex, Massachusetts, p. 111.

9. Alonzo Lewis, 1851 Directory of the City of Lynn, Herbert & Butterfield (Lynn, 1851), online http://www.rootsweb.com/~maclynn/Directories/1851/1851pg11.html (accessed September 15, 2007).

10. 1884 Index to Lynn Deaths, http://www.rootsweb.com/~maclynn/LynnDeaths1850-1910/1884VRDths.html (accessed September 15, 2007).

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