A Survey of Women’s Issues: Revisited

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Women’s Equality Day is this month (on August 26). Women’s equality is central to so many of my books, including the Waxwood Series and the Adele Gossling Mysteries. A friend of mine recently posted a quote on her Facebook page from a well-known author who claimed that every book is a political act. I don’t necessarily agree with this, but for myself, while I don’t see each book of mine as a political act, I do incorporate in my books the things I’m most passionate about. And if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, subscribe to my newsletter, and/or read my books, you know I am passionate about women’s equality and women’s rights. 

Why? There are several reasons. I was born in 1970 just as the second-wave feminist movement was beginning to pick up steam. I came of age in the 1980s when third-wave feminism was picking up. 

But even more so, I sadly did not grow up in a household that valued women’s equality. My parents were born in the mid-20th century and my mom grew up with June Cleaver values (though she was not raised in America). Our house was very patriarchal. My father went to work and earned and took care of the money. My mom, though she had several careers in her lifetime, took care of my dad, my siblings, and me above all else, sometimes to the detriment of her own identity. Even the careers she had were of a more “traditional” vein (nurse, electrologist). I don’t begrudge this, though, as it was what led me to want more as a woman and to discover feminism in college.

In light of my recent blog post about disassociative feminism, there is perhaps no better time to ask the question: Do we still need feminism?

It seems some of the younger generation would answer a firm “no” to this question. A while back, photos began appearing in my Facebook feed of young women holding up signs reading “I don’t need feminism.” These young women claimed admitting we still need feminism creates a victim mentality and demonizes all men, encouraging man-hating among women. As someone from an older generation who writes about women’s oppression, this was deeply disturbing, to say the least!

Women have had a lot to fight for: in the 19th century and 20th and (dare I say it?) even the 21st. It’s not the fight that has changed but the nature of the issues.

In the 19th century, organized suffragism was born of a group of brave women whose names are branded in history like Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. During this time, suffragists focused first on getting society to recognize women were equals to men (with limitations dictated by the separate spheres, of course — no use rocking the boat too much). But later, their focus shifted to one solitary goal: to win women the right to vote. Why was this so important? Suffragists were smart enough to realize that without the right to vote, they would never be able to implement changes into public policy that would carry through to future generations. 

When progressive movements took center stage at the turn of the 20th century, suffragism continued with women such as Jane Addams, Alice Paul, and Ida B. Wells. Women achieved success when the 19th Amendment was ratified in the United States in 1920. The Progressive Era made many women more aware that equality wasn’t just about the right to vote. It was also about psychological freedom and throwing off the shackles of 19th-century femininity that limited what women could and could not do and be. In that light, the New Woman was born: active, athletic, and freer in body and spirit than her mother and grandmother.

After the fight for suffragism and breaking the stereotype of the Victorian “angel in the house”, the post-World War” II generation brought back a more modern version of the angel. Betty Friedan labeled her “the feminine mystique”. Magazines, advertisements, and doctors advocated for a woman’s place in the home, and her identity became tied to her relationships with others rather than her identity in and of itself. Friedan found these women in American suburbs living a life that fulfilled this destiny, but they were not happy because they suffered from The Problem That Has No Name. These women felt discontented and frustrated, as if something was missing from their lives but they couldn’t define what it was.

Friedan’s book inspired others to speak out about their frustration and disillusionment, eventually leading to second-wave feminism in the late 1960s and 1970s with activists such as Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Bell Hooks, among others. These women, whose slogan was “the personal is political” went further into the political sphere than their 19th and early 20th-century sisters. They zoomed in on social and personal oppressions, including issues such as domestic violence, rape, and reproductive rights. 

This meme is from a Tumblr site called “Confused Cats Against Feminism” and is meant as a tongue-in-cheek attack against the anti-feminist movement of the 21st century. You can read more about it here

Photo Credit: Meme from the Confused Cats Against Feminism, taken 27 July 2014 by Jym Dyer: Jym Dyer/Flickr/CC BY NC 2.0

But the question still remains: Do we need feminism in the 21st century? My answer would be as firm as the “I don’t need feminism” movement: YES!

Why? Because we’re still fighting many of the issues 20th-century feminists were fighting. To give one example, 20th-century women fought for women’s reproductive rights, including a woman’s right to choose whether to have children or not. In 2022, the supreme court overturned the law (Roe vs. Wade) that legalized abortion. Whether you’re on the side for or against it, there is a deeper issue here of taking away women’s right to choose what they do with their bodies. That freedom is one women have been fighting for for years and will continue to fight as a basic human right.

If you want to read about women fighting for equality, go to my Adele Gossling Mysteries! Book 1, The Carnation Murder, is free on all bookstore sites. And Book 6 is coming out soon, so pick up a copy at a special preorder 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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Why My Waxwood Series is Also a Mystery

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One of the beautiful things about being an author is touching the lives of readers with your stories. I cherish readers who respond to my emails with enthusiasm for the next book (one lovely reader already emailed me asking if I still need Advanced Review Copy reviewers for Book 6 of my Adele Gossling Mysteries when the book won’t be out until August and I haven’t even put out a call for ARC readers!) I also love it when readers discover elements in my stories that never occurred to me when I was writing them.

This is exactly what happened with the Waxwood Series. When I wrote the books, I was thinking of a series arc involving historical coming-of-age, specifically one woman’s journey into the past and her maturing into adulthood in one of the most turbulent and chaotic times in American history. 

But one reviewer surprised me by calling the Waxwood Series “a mystery saga of the Gilded Age.” At the time I wrote the series, I wasn’t writing mystery fiction or even contemplating publishing a mystery series. I had written Book 1 of the Adele Gossling Mysteries as more of an experiment during National Novel Writing Month back in 2013 but put it aside to concentrate on historical fiction. So the idea that the Waxwood Series was also a mystery saga came as a complete surprise to me.

But now some years have passed since the last book of that series was published. I can now look back and see the gold nugget my reader discovered is absolutely true.

Now, it’s not a mystery in the traditional sense. It has no detective, no amateur sleuth, no whodunit, and no red herrings. The mystery is largely personal and psychological. In Book 1, Vivian is confronted by a woman who knew her grandmother, Penelope Alderdice, in her youth and the woman she knew was not the woman Vivian grew up with. As a debutante coming into adulthood, Vivian considers it vital to know the truth about her family’s past. So her search takes her through several “clues” (such as Penelope’s summer in Waxwood, the name Grace, and letters Penelope wrote home about that summer) which tell her more about who Penelope was and what she sacrificed to become a shipping tycoon’s wife and Nob Hill socialite in the mid-19th century. The clues also point toward some astonishing truths about Vivian’s family that she never knew. Like a detective, she confronts her mother about these truths (the evidence) and gets some answers — but not all of them.

Book 3 continues Vivian’s sleuthing when a man who was acquainted with Penelope through stories from his aunt drops clues about Penelope that lead Vivian to realize there are still some skeletons in the closet she needs to air out. In spite of her promise to her mother to focus on winning the heart of a wealthy Canadian who can bring them back into the good graces of Nob Hill society, Vivian can’t resist pursuing these clues to unravel the mystery behind her family’s past. Her search takes her to a deserted artist’s colony in the hills and the bowels of San Francisco’s poorest neighborhood to find out about her roots. The results are life-changing for her. 

Book 2 focuses on Jake, Vivian’s brother, whose journey is more about his coming-of-age as a man in the Gilded Age. Book 4 presents an even greater mystery for Vivian — the man responsible for her family’s fall from grace comes back into her life unable to speak or communicate. In spite of her loathing for him, she gets involved with unraveling the clues behind his silence and faces the last of her family demons. 

Not all mysteries are about finding an external killer. There are crimes of the past that sometimes need to be put to rest before people can move on with their lives, just as finding justice for the murder victim and his or her family allows those involved to move on.

I would love for you to start reading the Waxwood Series right now and you can do that for free with Book 1, The Specter. Vivian’s story continues in Book 3, which is now on sale so you can find out about that here

*The Waxwood Series is a stand-alone series. That means you do not have to have read all the books in order to enjoy or understand each book.

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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The Marriage Age in the 19th Century

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In the 19th, and even the early 20th centuries, age was an important factor for both men and women when it came to marriage. This is especially true of women. Pretty much any woman who didn’t get married early was sneered at behind closed doors as being well on her way to spinsterhood (which, today, isn’t stigmatized like it was then). 

In the 21st century, many choose to marry at a later age. I can see several reasons for this. Both women and men are generally established in their careers later in life, so they choose to marry and have a family once they feel they’ve “gotten it together”. Many women prefer to start their careers before they take on marriage and motherhood. There is also a level of emotional maturity and intelligence that comes with age that (we hope) makes relationships and child-rearing more fulfilling. And there is no denying the pandemic and economic downturn in the last three years has something to do with people waiting a little longer to get married.

marriage, 19th century, gilded age, Waxwood Series, women, men

Young married couples in the 19th century knew marriage wasn’t all hearts and flowers. They were practical as well. I’m guessing this is probably an advertisement for Domestic sewing machines.

Photo Credit: Bride & Groom: Karen Arnold/PublicDomainPictures/CC0 1.0

This is in stark contrast to the marriage age in the 19th century. The average age for women to marry was, roughly, 20, while for men, it was 26. Why were women marrying at such a young age? We want to remember women were not as autonomous as they are today. Due to the separate spheres, many women were dependent on others for their livelihood, and marriage was the primary way they could survive when they came of age. There was also the “cult of True Womanhood” mentality where women’s destinies were to be wives and mothers, so marriage was seen as their goal in life. This is even true in the early 20th century when the New Woman. Keep in mind that, as independent and career-oriented as the New Woman was, she was still positioned as offering no threat to the “cult of True Womanhood” in her ultimate purpose in life (marriage and children).

Surprisingly, upper class women took the marriage age more seriously than middle and lower class women. You would think women with social and economic privileges would be more independent than their less privileged sisters, but, in reality, family and social expectations lay heavily upon them (a theme that comes back again and again in my Waxwood Series). Women who expected to marry into high society and/or maintain their position among the blue bloods had to marry young. In her book What Would Mrs. Astor Do? author Cecelia Tichi describes actress and model Evelyn Nesbitt, whose decision to marry the rich but abusive Harry Kendall Thaw came largely from the fact that she was “now over twenty years old, a perilous age for a Gilded Age starlet harboring hopes of matrimony” (location 3210). How much over twenty years? According to Tichi’s book, when Nesbit married Thaw, she was 21 years old.

In Pathfinding Women, the social standing of both Vivian and her mother Larissa hinges on Vivian marrying again. Vivian and her mother and, in fact, the Washington Street blue bloods that make up their social set are hyper-aware of this fact:

Vivian thought with irony of the past few days. “Yes, it would certainly be peaceful for us both if I were to become Mrs. Monte Leblanc.”

“And just what you need at this particular time in your life.”

A pain shot through Vivian. “What do you mean, Mother?”

“You always accuse me of ignoring the truth,” said Larissa. “But you don’t like it when someone else shows you the truth you’ve been ignoring.”

Vivian turned up the gas lamp on the night table and observed her mother’s face illuminated by a yellow halo. “You’ve always been shrewd, haven’t you, Mother?”

“I’m trying to make you see!”

“See what? That I’m not getting any younger?” Vivian’s eyebrows arched. “That’s what you meant, isn’t it? You think I ought to grab the first man that asks me like Cousin Emma did.”

“I wouldn’t go so far as that.” Her mother’s voice was reasonable. “But twenty-six is an age where a woman can begin to expect little out of life if she’s not married.”

You make twenty-six sound like ninety-six,” said Vivian, realizing she was starting to sulk.

Vivian is considered, by the standards of the 19th century, to be well above the marriage age, though she is still young, and this puts her in an awkward position matrimonially, and one that her love interest, Monte, who is considerably older than she is, doesn’t fail to grasp and use to his advantage.

Pathfinding Women, the third book of the Waxwood Series, is at a very special price right now. Find out about the book here. And don’t forget that Book 1, The Specter, is free 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!

Works Cited:

Tichi, Cecelia. What Would Mrs. Astor Do? The Essential Guide to the Manners and Mores of the Gilded Age. Washington Mews Books, New York University Press, 2018. Kindle digital file.

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Historical Coming-of-Age: Is That Even A Thing?

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I’ve always loved coming-of-age stories (and especially adult coming-of-age, which is a topic for another blog post). There is just something about a young woman or young man standing at the edge of the precipice and trying to figure it all out that appeals to me. After all, even those of us in our thirties, forties, and older are trying to figure out this thing called life, right? The difference is, we take from our past experiences while an 18, 19, or even 20-year-old is just starting their journey of discovery.

So it’s perhaps not a big surprise that recently I dug deeper into my Waxwood Series and made a startling discovery — the series I’ve been toting as a family saga since the first book was published in 2019 isn’t a family saga at all!

Why? Because the story arc of this series (which basically means the transformation the main character, Vivian Alderdice, experiences throughout the entire series) is about her journey to maturity. She begins at the age of eighteen in Book 1 to know exactly what she is about and what’s expected of her. Then a startling revelation sends her searching back into her family’s past which unearths some disturbing truths about who she is (or rather, who she thought she was). As the series progresses, she teeters between wanting to follow the expectations set for a Gilded Age heiress (because it’s a no-brainer and because she doesn’t want to disappoint her family) and her own feelings of discomfort that something just isn’t right. Another search for family truth (in Book 3) sends her in a totally different direction and becomes a book about letting go of a lot of things. Book 4 is the ultimate post-maturation moment where she realizes it’s not just about her but about those with whom she interacts — even those she thought she hated. 

Interstingly, Voltaire’s book was banned in its day for being blasphemous, politically hostile, and immoral. 

Photo Credit: Title page of  Candide by Voltaire, London: Nonsuch Press, 1939: UMD Special Collections and University Archives/Flickr/CC BY NC ND 2.0

The coming-of-age novel is really not a new thing, though we’ve been hearing a lot more about it since the 21st century (probably because social media and the internet have provided a platform for young adults to share their experiences of what it’s like trying to navigate an increasingly complex and disturbing world). It actually began with the folk tales of children seeking their fortunes away from home. In its more well-known format of the young adult trying to figure it all out, English majors know well the term Bildungsroman. I remember in my undergraduate work having a course just on this set of novels where we studied Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones (1749), Candide by Voltaire (1759), and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Lawrence Sterne (1759). These novels are more about the antics and questionable ethics of the main characters before they find their way. 

Luckily, coming-of-age stories don’t have to be about the young adult getting into all kinds of trouble in order to navigate his or her place in the world. The 19th century was complex enough on its own. Vivian is not only trying to find out who she is as a person apart from the Alderdice fortune, she’s also trying to deal with a world that was rapidly changing. The Waxwood Series takes place during the Gilded Age, a time that was confusing enough for adults, let alone young people.

If you’re interested in checking out my historical coming-of-age series, you can start by picking up a copy of Book 1, The Specter, here. The book is free on all bookstore sites. Also, Book 3 of the series, Pathfinding Women, is discounted for a limited time, so grab it here

*Although this is a series, the books can be read on their own. You do not have to have read Book 2 or even Book 1 to enjoy Book 3.

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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Release Day Blitz for Murder Under a Twilight Roof

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Title: Murder Under a Twilight Roof

Series: Adele Gossling Mysteries: Book 5

Author: Tam May

Genres: Historical Cozy Mystery

Release Date: April 29, 2023

In 1905, the Barry Circus makes its way to Arrojo, an event filled with chills, thrills, and enchantment. The whole town is buzzing with excitement to see Julius Rowe, the “daring young man on the flying trapeze”. To the crowds, he’s the handsome and dashing star of the show. To his fellow performers, he’s arrogant, demanding, and a little too ruthless. But who cares, as long as the crowds can’t get enough of him?

Then on opening night, the unthinkable happens — Julius misses that third somersault and falls into the net, instantly killed.

The police are baffled. Was it an accident? Was it murder? And if it was murder, who did it? 

Was it the husband of Julius’ latest conquest or the lady herself, proving that a woman scorned can be a dangerous thing? Or was it one of the other performers for reasons of his or her own? It’s up to Adele Gossling and her friend Nin Branch to help when the circus closes ranks against the police.

What reviewers are saying about this book:

“Well written, as always with an intriguing mystery to solve.”

“I enjoyed [the story] immensely!”

You can get your copy of the book at a special promotional price at the following online retailers.


Excerpt

Jackson looked annoyed, tapping his pipe on the arm of his chair. “I told Hatfield we should have run him out of town.”

“I’m glad you didn’t,” she said. “He has some very illuminating insights into his co-performers.”

“He’s no performer,” Jackson grunted. “He’s a charlatan.”

“But a very useful and observant one,” she said.

He eyed her. “I’m assuming you got information out of him that might help our investigation.”

“Mr. Sipes had some interesting observations about opening night.”

“Oh?”

“Julius visited Calvin’s wagon,” Adele said. 

Jackson filled his pipe with tobacco. “I’m certain many performers visit the man on opening night. He does take care of their salary, after all.”

“I highly doubt Julius would slip into Calvin’s wagon for an hour just to get his pay,” Adele said dryly.

Jackson heaved a sigh and put his paper down. “All right. And why, according to the amenable Mr. Sipes, did he spend an hour in Calvin’s wagon?”

“He couldn’t tell me that.” Adele jumped as she pricked herself with the lacing needle, “But he did say the man emerged with a big grin on his face.”

“Perhaps they were talking about salary after all,” Jackson said. “If Calvin agreed to a substantial raise, that would cause Julius to come out grinning.”

“Julius just renewed his contract a few weeks before,” Adele pointed out. “One would think they would have discussed salary then.”

“All right, Del, what are you really getting at?” Jackson chewed on the edge of his pipe.

“‘A smile well above him,’ according to Mr. Sipes,” Adele added.

Jackson’s eyes narrowed. “It would seem Mr. Sipes is well versed on the idea of thinking well above oneself.”

“Calvin has been hiding something,” Adele insisted, “something he knew about Julius that night.” She rose, going over to the desk in the corner. “I found these behind the curtain.” She handed him the two halves of the broken pencil.

“You think they belong to Calvin?”

“I know they do,” she insisted. “It’s his brand. And Cora told us he broke a pencil that night, remember?”

“What would this smug smile on Julius’ face have to do with a broken pencil? It makes no sense, Del.”

“I think you ought to talk to Calvin again,” Adele said. “You remember his words when he saw the body, Jack? ‘That wasn’t supposed to happen.’ Find out from him what was.”


About the Author

Tam May writes stories about powerful women set in the past. Her fiction gives readers a sense of justice for women, both the living and the dead. Tam’s stories are set mostly around the Bay Area because she adores sourdough bread, Ghirardelli chocolate, and San Francisco history. Tam is the author of the Adele Gossling Mysteries which take place in the early 20th century and feature sassy suffragist and epistolary expert Adele Gossling. Tam has also written historical fiction about women breaking loose from the confinements of their era. Although Tam left her heart in San Francisco, she lives in the Midwest because it’s cheaper. When she’s not writing, she’s devouring everything classic (books, films, art, music) and concocting yummy vegan dishes.


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Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Tam-May/e/B01N7BQZ9Y/ 

BookBub Author Page: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/tam-may

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16111197.Tam_May

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