A Safe and Sane 4th of July

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Today is Independence Day in America, also known as the 4th of July. Americans have always been enthusiastic about their freedom, especially when you consider that it’s an integral part of the American philosophy of life. The Gilded Age and Progressive Era were no exceptions. America was coming into its own during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in commerce, politics, and society. 

But Americans may have carried their enthusiasm a little too far when it comes to Independence Day celebrations. We know the staples of 21st century 4th of July celebrations (before COVID, that is). It’s a social holiday with family BBQs and fireworks to boot. The latter is especially synonymous with Independence Day for most Americans. I’ll never forget the first fireworks display I saw when I was living in San Francisco in 1995. My brother took me to Crissy Field to see the fireworks over the bay. It was a marvelous show of country spirit and dedication.

Photo Credit: Drawing of a skeleton dressed up for the 4th of July celebrations, 1899, lithograph, created by L. Crusius, Welcome Collection: Look and Learn/CC BY 4.0

It’s hard to believe some politicians were pushing for a “quiet” 4th of July in the Progressive Era, encouraging Americans to stay home instead of going out into the streets and celebrating. But they had good reason. Children were going around shooting off toy guns to join in the fun and sometimes their aim wasn’t so careful. Fireworks, as you might imagine, weren’t exactly sophisticated in those days so safety wasn’t a priority. In addition, there were canons, firecrackers, and other explosives people set off that caused injury and even death. And we’re talking serious statics here. In 1903 (the year my Adele Gossling Mysteries opens), more than 400 people died and 4,000 were injured during the nation’s 4th of July celebrations around the country. Many of these came from tetanus as a result of shrapnel wounds from dangerous explosives or careless toy guns.

These well-wishers of what was dubbed the Safe and Sane movement weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms. We know many Americans made fun of reform movements taking place in the early 20th century and they resented these politicians who wanted to take away their fun on Independence Day. Many cities began to implement ordinances to try and curtail these dangerous celebrations. In San Francisco (where part of my series takes place) women’s clubs worked to get toy guns out of the hands of kids younger than seventeen.

This movement encouraged other cities to implement more community-related events around the 4th (like the yearly firework display at Crissy Field in San Francisco that I saw in the 1990s). Other events besides fireworks were sports, games, and picnics. These events gave Americans a chance to celebrate the holiday in a social environment that was, well, safe and sane!

Want to see more Progressive Era politics in action? Read the Adele Gossling Mysteries!  Book 1 is now available for free on all vendors. Book 6 will be out in August but you can get it now on preorder at a special price.

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy my novella The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to my newsletter subscribers and you can get it here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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Rigged: The Fugitive Slave Act

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Juneteenth is when we celebrate the emancipation of slaves and the abolishment of slavery in the United States. The Fugitive Slave Act went hand-in-hand with slavery in America in the 18th and 19th centuries and was part of what kept slavery alive.

There’s a scene near the beginning of the Lucile Ball/Desi Arnez film The Long, Long Trailer that I think sums up The Fugitive Slave Act. Arnez is waiting for his wife to come back to their trailer in a trailer park with a friendly elderly man. The man is chatting away about getting a trailer and asks Arnez what kind of trailer he has. Arnez barks, “Rigged. You call it rigged!” Similarly, when we look at the Fugitive Slave Law, we can see how the law and its consequences were rigged.

Why was the Fugitive Slave Act rigged? Because it was designed to make fugitives of people who weren’t fugitives. African American slaves who escaped to the North weren’t committing what we would consider a crime today (like murder, theft, or arson). Rather than destroying something or someone, as criminals do, they sought to build something: to create a life for themselves and free their families from slavery. Many, like Frederick Douglass, went on to advocate for the freedom of all slaves. These women and men were courageous fighters and survivors, not fugitives.

This wood engraving shows a group of twenty-eight slaves who banded together to flee plantations located in Maryland, armed and ready for battle. This occurred in 1857, showing the Fugitive Slave Act was definitely not doing what it set out to do (encourage slaves to stay in bondage).

Photo Credit: Mass slave escape from Cambridge, MD, 1857, wood engraving: Washington Area Spark/Flickr/CC BY NC 2.0

It also made fugitives of people who tried to help escaped slaves. Many states issued very stiff penalties for those caught aiding African-Americans escaping from slavery, such as six months imprisonment and a five hundred dollar fine (in today’s money, worth about $18,500). People were warned against even talking to potential escaped slaves, thus provoking fear and hate even in the African American community in the Northern states. The law made brave and courageous people who were only trying to do what was right to be betrayers.

And what about government officials? Escaped slaves who were caught were technically subject to a trial, but it was far from a fair one. The Fugitive Slave Law stipulated they could not testify on their own behalf nor could they have a trial by jury. They were tried by special commissioners who were, as many government officials were in the 19th century, as corrupt as they came. The law gave these officials $10 (roughly, $370 today) if they ruled in favor of the slaveholder but only half that amount if they ruled in favor of the slave. So it’s no surprise that the majority of commissioners ruled in favor of the slave going back into bondage, no matter what the evidence showed. The Fugitive Slave Act made the very body we are supposed to rely on for law and order corrupt. 

And what about government officials? Escaped slaves who were caught were technically subject to a trial, but it was far from a fair one. The Fugitive Slave Law stipulated they could not testify on their own behalf nor could they have a trial by jury. They were tried by special commissioners who were, as many government officials were at the time, corrupt. The law gave these officials $10 (roughly, $370 in today’s money) if they ruled in favor of the slaveholder but only half that amount if they ruled in favor of the slave. So it’s no surprise that most commissioners ruled in favor of the slave going back into bondage no matter what the evidence showed. The Fugitive Slave Act made the very body we rely on for law and order faulty. 

And the greatest irony? The goal of the Fugitive Slave Act was to “keep slaves in their place,” or, encourage slaves not to run away. Not only did it not do this (it’s estimated that in 1850, the year the act went into effect, more than 100,000 slaves escaped) but it enforced the idea that slavery was a gross violation of human rights and encouraged more African-Americans and their supporters to fight for the end of slavery which eventually led to the Civil War. 

Want to read about some real fugitives and criminals? Try out my Adele Gossling Mysteries series! The Carnation Murder is free in all online bookstores! And don’t forget Book 6, The Case of the Dead Domestic, is coming later this summer. You can check out the details and preorder a copy (at a special price) here

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy my novella The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to my newsletter subscribers and you can get it here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

 

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The Vague Origins of Father’s Day

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Today is Father’s Day in the United States. If Father’s Day sometimes seems like an afterthought, it sort of was, though not because fathers aren’t worthy of honor. I trace this back to the residue of the 19th century separate spheres where home and family brought up images of mothers more than fathers. So we can understand in this light why Mother’s Day gets a lot of attention.

Unlike Mother’s Day, which has definite origins, the history of Father’s Day is a little uncertain. There were, in fact, two local celebrations going on during the Progressive Era that is thought to be the official kick-off of Father’s Day, both celebrated for personal reasons. In 1910, Sonora Smart Dodd campaigned in her home state of Washington for an official Father’s Day celebration in June, mainly wanting to commemorate her own father. Dodd’s father had been a Civil War veteran and raised her and her five brothers and sisters alone on a farm when his wife died in childbirth. She succeeded, as Washington began celebrating a state-wide Father’s Day that year. The other celebration happened two years earlier, in West Virginia when a local Methodist church in Fairmont celebrated the day in honor of 361 fathers who had been killed in a local mining explosion.

But official lobbying and support were slow in coming. National political figures such as William Jennings Bryan and Calvin Coolidge supported a national Father’s Day, but it didn’t get much traction. Lobbying for a Father’s Day continued, and in 1972, Richard Nixon declared Father’s Day a national holiday on the third Sunday of June in the United States.

Why was Father’s Day almost an afterthought? As they say, follow the money. Mother’s Day was a commercially viable holiday from very early on. It was, in fact, its commercial appeal that helped get Woodrow Wilson to sign a proclamation declaring it a national holiday in the United States in 1914. But many felt fathers just didn’t have the same monetary appeal. As I discuss here, the role of the father in the 19th and early 20th centuries was more of a disciplinarian. The sentimentality given to mothers seemed to undermine the idea of the “manly man”, emphasizing the masculinity crisis of the Gilded Age. 

Talk about famous fathers! This photo is of none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and his three kids. He doesn’t look much like a disciplinarian dad here, does he?

Photo Credit: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his three children, 1900, Bain News Service, publisher, Library of Congress: Picryl/No known restrictions

Fathers are just as complex as mothers (something I discuss in my blog post about Mother’s Day) and Adele’s father is no exception. Although deceased when the series opens, Otis Gossling still profoundly influences his daughter and his son, Adele’s brother, Jackson, but in very different ways. As a highly-revered San Francisco criminal lawyer, it was his position that gave them their well-to-do standing. But Adele sees him very differently than her brother Jackson. Who is right and who is wrong? You’ll have to read the Adele Gosslng Mysteries to find out! 

And you can start right here with Book 1, The Carnation Murder, which is free on all bookstore platforms. Book 6 is coming out later this summer, so check that out here

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy my novella The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to my newsletter subscribers and you can get it here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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A History of Mother’s Day in the United States

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Today is Mother’s Day in the United States so many of us are honoring our mothers with flowers, brunch, and blessings to what humorist Erma Bombeck called “the second oldest profession” (we won’t talk about what the first oldest profession is…)

Where did this holiday come from? It began in 1908 when Anna Jarvis, Progressive Era activist, decided to pay tribute to her mother. She also, incidentally, started the tradition of giving flowers on this day by sending five hundred white carnations to the church in her hometown in Pennsylvania as part of the tribute.

Photo Credit: Anna Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day in America. Probably taken around the turn of the century, judging by the hairstyle and clothes, but no additional information about the image. Uploaded 4 May 2017 by Jonas Duyvejonck: jonasduyvejonck/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Although Jarvis is credited as the godmother of Mother’s Day in the United States, she was not the first to come up with the idea. That honor goes to Jarvis’ own mother Ann Maria Jarvis. From all accounts, Ann Maria was the prototype Victorian woman, devoted to children and church. At the same time, she was also an activist but, unlike the suffragists, she kept to her side of the separate spheres. Her work was confined to areas acceptable to women at that time (home and church). Her activism was nonetheless important, as she formed Mothers’ Day club events where the goal was to educate mothers on proper hygiene to prevent massive infant death rates prevalent in the nineteenth century. 

It’s interesting to note Ann Maria conceived of Mother’s Day quite differently than her daughter. To Ann Maria, maternal responsibility was very much linked to community service, and her idea was to celebrate the role of motherhood in society and family. Her daughter, on the other hand, wanted to make this day about honoring one’s own mother. So while the mother saw Mother’s Day as a collective tribute to mothers, the daughter personalized it. Hence, we call it Mother’s Day and not Mothers’ Day

The fight to get Mother’s Day declared a national holiday came during the first decade of the twentieth century when many women were advocating taking their lives outside the private sphere and fighting in social and political arenas for their rights and identities as individuals. 

It might seem a little odd that Jarvis would, at this time in history, lead a movement honoring women’s most traditional role inside the home, especially considering that Jarvis was one of these New Women https://tammayauthor.com/uncategorized/the-progressive-eras-new-woman who held a career as an advertising editor and earned a college degree. But suffragism was also about making women visible and respected for their own merits and contributions to society. Mothers fit right into this category (since you have to be a woman to be a mother, right?)

In May of 1914, only a few months before the outbreak of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation to make Mother’s Day a national holiday. By the 1920s, Mother’s Day, like most American holidays, had become a target for consumerism, specifically florists and candy makers. Jarvis was disillusioned by this toward the end of her life and spent much of her later years trying to gain the recognition she deserved. One of the beautiful things about history is that, while innovators may not be appreciated during their own lifetime, we can look back and give them the kudos they deserve decades, even centuries, later. 

Mothers play a huge role in my historical fiction series set during the Gilded Age. The Waxwood Series is about Vivian, a Nob Hill society debutante who unravels the secrets and lies of her family’s past to find her own journey of maturity and her place in the world. Much of this involves her relationship with her mother Larissa. Larissa is a complex character as a mother and a woman and the series also takes Vivian and Larissa through the evolution of their relationship over the last decade of the 19th century.

You can find out more about this series and all the books on this page https://tammayauthor.com/other-works. Book 1 of the series, The Specter for free on all book vendors and for a very limited time, Book 3 of the series, Pathfinding Women, is available at a discount price.

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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Getting Their Priorities Straight: Easter in the Early 20th Century

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It’s Easter Sunday today (in the United States, that is). The cartoon below got me thinking about my blog post last year which talks about Easter in the Gilded Age and what Easter was like in the Progressive Era, just a quarter of a century later. I think you’ll agree with me that it was light night and day.

The Gilded Age is roughly the last quarter of the 19th century while the Progressive Era is generally thought of as the first few decades of the early 20th century up until World War 1. These aren’t hard-and-fast boundaries, but generally, that’s what we’re talking about.

It seems like a subtle difference, but change was very rapid during this period in America, unlike the 21st century where things seem to be evolving at turtle-speed (until COVID came along, that is). What changed the nation’s attitudes toward Easter?

Photo Credit: She won’t bow to the hat, C. J. Taylor, 1896, Library of Congress, Chromolithographs: Picryl/No known restrictions 

The cartoon above gives us a good idea. It pits a Gilded Age woman against a New Woman of the early 20th century. The Victorian woman, all feted for Easter, points at a lavish hat sitting on top of the Maypole as if to say, “and where’s your Easter bonnet, my dear?” The New Woman, dressed in more sensible garb, looks at her with some amusement as if to answer, “Ma’am, I have bigger fish to fry. Off to the suffragist parade!”

In my blog post last year, I wrote about how the holiday turned into another reason for Gilded Agers to show off their excesses and wealth by way of the Easter bonnet, Easter parade, and other holiday traditions. Progressives, however, had a totally different agenda. By the turn of the century, America the prosperous had become America the problematic. Many thought the nation needed fixing after what the last century had done to it and many took up the task of doing so. This is why reforms such as workers’ rights, women’s rights, and environmental issues became such a big part of the political and social agenda of the time.

Progressives took themselves seriously and their attitude toward Easter changed because of this. They saw it as a time for political and social renewal. In the framework of Progressive Era priorities, this makes sense. Change is about renewal and change was the word of the day in the early 20th century. Renewing the nation, so to speak, was the passion of the progressives, so the symbolism inherent in Easter and its spring season represents fit right into that.

My protagonist in The Adele Gossling Mysteries is all about renewal and change. She’s unabashedly a New Woman and stands up for women’s rights, sometimes a little too passionately in the eyes of her more conservative brother and the Arrojo townspeople. Her fight for women to be heard and recognized extends not only to the living but to the dead. It’s her motivation for getting involved with crime. She wants justice for every woman, even those that can no longer be heard.

But Adele is also about change and progress on a more practical level. In Book 6 (coming this summer) she takes her stationery store to new levels, including hiring some extra help and building a new wing for her shop.

For right now, though, you can enjoy reading about Adele tackling murder and mayhem when the circus comes to town in Murder Under a Twilight Roof, Book 5 of the series. It’s set to come out later this month but it’s at a special preorder price right now, so you can grab a copy here

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, sign up for my newsletter to receive a free book, plus news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history and mystery, and more freebies! You can sign up here

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