Though her birthplace was Greenwich, New Jersey, Rebecca S. Nichols achieved renown in her lifetime as a western writer. Her family moved from New Jersey to Kentucky during her childhood, and she remained on what was in her day the western frontier for most of her life. In 1838 she married William Nichols, and together they relocated from Louisville to St. Louis, Missouri, where he published and she edited a daily newspaper.
After moving again to Cincinnati in 1841, then the literary capital of the West, Rebecca Nichols began to publish her own writing with greater frequency. Her earliest poems appeared under the name "Ellen" in Louisville periodicals, and in 1846 she ran her own literary journal in Cincinnati called The Guest, in which she published many of her poems. A series which she penned for Gamaliel Bailey's Cincinnati Herald using the pseudonym "Kate Cleaveland" brought her a wider readership and a greater degree of popularity.
Under the patronage of Cincinnati horticulturalist and millionaire Nicholas Longworth, she put out a collection of her work in 1851, Songs of the Heart and from the Hearth-Stone. Owing to the success of this volume, she earned a generous commission from the Cincinnati Commercial in exchange for an output of one poem per week, many of which appeared in a later collection. Of her seven children, only two survived infancy.
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