Medicinal Purposes: The History of the Hot Toddy


For centuries, alcohol was used as an alternative to medicine. In the mid-1800s, hard liquor like whiskey, rum, and gin were given to babies (I kid you not) to help with teething and doctors would even recommend a hot toddy to an infant who was having trouble sleeping. If that shocks you, bear in mind the consensus is that the hard liquors in the 19th and early 20th centuries were weaker than they are today (which is one reason why they drank so much more then than we do today).

In Book 2 of my Adele Gossling Mysteries, the hot toddy plays a vital role in the murder (spoiler alert: It’s not the murder weapon). Hot toddies bring visions of a cold night in Dickensonian London with the wind whistling outside, the snow falling, and people cozying up by the fire with the warm drink to warm themselves up and soothe their nerves before bed.

Photo Credit: A hot toddy made from Armagnac, honey, cinnamon, and lemon juice steeped in hot water. Uploaded 22 December 2013 by Seth Anderson: swanksalot/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY NC SA 2.0

The main ingredients of a hot toddy, as we know it today, are, as one of my characters in Book 2 describes it: hot water or hot cider “if Mr. Poland brings it around”, sugar, lemon juice, whiskey, and “the trimmings” which include a slice of lemon and a cinnamon stick.

Ironically, the hot toddy wasn’t hot when it first appeared. And its ingredients weren’t much like the hot toddy we know today. British soldiers serving in India in the 19th century were sent expensive beer, among other provisions, and to make it stretch, they would water it down with water and fermented palm sap. 

Later in the century, the drink started to take the form we know it today with add-ons like lemon, cinnamon, and sometimes honey and became popular in Britain. As mentioned above, it was used for medicinal purposes, such as to ward off colds and coughs before we had the kind of medicines we have today.

When exactly the hot toddy moved from a cold cocktail to a hot drink is questionable. Some speculate it was the Scotch who made it hot to accommodate the cold and damp weather of their country. Others say that, since the toddy was used as medicine, people started to heat it up as it made those medicinal properties that much more potent.

The hot toddy is, of course, associated with Britain, but it made its way to America in the 1880s. Americans preferred to call it a “hot scotch” and, while the British hot toddy could use a variety of hard liquors, the Americans mostly stuck to scotch as the alcohol of choice in the beverage. If you’re into cocktails and never tried a hot toddy, you can check out this site for some interesting recipes.

And if you’ve never read A Wordless Death, the second book of the Adele Gossling Mysteries, I invite you to check it out, as it’s at a great discount for this entire month! You can get the details here. And don’t forget that Book 1, The Carnation Murder, is always free! Check that one out here

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!


A Safe and Sane 4th of July


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 it’s an integral part of the American way of life. The Gilded Age and Progressive Era were no exception. America was coming into its own during the late 19th/early 20th centuries in commerce, politics, and society. The Spanish-American War of 1898 brought America onto the world stage for the first time. Things were pretty good.

But Americans carried their enthusiasm a little too far. We know the staples of 21st-century 4th of July celebrations. 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 at Crissy Field. It was an impactful 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 in the Progressive Era, some politicians were pushing for a “quiet” 4th of July, encouraging Americans to stay home instead of going out and celebrating with fireworks. But they had good reason. The enthusiasm for the 4th had by that time gotten out of hand. 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, when people set off canons, firecrackers, and other explosives, they caused many injuries 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. 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 the 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 Fourth (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 available for free. Book 2 is on sale now!

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!


Release Day Blitz for Waxwood Series Complete Box Set!


Title: The Complete Waxwood Series Box Set: Books 1-4

Series: Waxwood Series

Author: Tam May

Genres: Historical Fiction/Women’s Fiction

Release Date: June 29, 2024

One woman’s journey to self-discovery in the Gilded Age could destroy everything she’s ever known.

“May’s historical fiction picks apart the delicate facade of American gentility in upper-class, well-heeled families on the wild West Coast at the end of the nineteenth century.” – Lisa Lickel, author and blogger, Living our Faith Out Loud

In this 4-book box set:

Book 1: The Specter: Vivian Alderdice is not your typical Gilded Age debutante. In the midst of her glamorous life of parties and balls, her grandmother dies. A woman shows up at the funeral claiming the woman she knew was not Penelope Alderdice, Nob Hill socialite and wife of the city’s biggest shipping tycoon but Grace Carlyle, an artist in search of adventure in a small coastal town named Waxwood.  Is the intruder a crank or, as Vivian’s mother claims, “confused”? Or is she telling the truth? Vivian’s determination to find out takes her into the life of the woman she thought she knew, uncovering family lies kept hidden for over forty years.

Book 2: False Fathers: At nineteen, Vivian’s brother Jake has a huge burden on his shoulders. His mother expects him to take his place as the new head of the family, but Jake hardly has the qualities of a patriarch. When the family goes to Waxwood for the summer, Jake befriends an older, illusive man prepared to teach him all he needs to know about Gilded Age manhood. But is his mentor all he claims to be? Or is he a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Will Jake discover the true meaning of Gilded Age masculinity or will he redefine it?

Book 3: Pathfinding Women: Vivian Alderdice is now twenty-six, unmarried, and has no prospective suitors. Her brother’s tragic plight the year before left the family on shaky ground in Nob Hill society. Their social position depends on Vivian capturing the heart of a wealthy Canadian bachelor determined to become a member of their exclusive society. But to win him, she and her mother must spend the summer in Waxwood. When a young man she meets on the train brings skeletons of the past out of the closet, Vivian finds herself torn between fulfilling her social obligations or embarking on a journey to uncover more family lies. Will Vivian’s summer unravel truths that might destroy the Alderdices forever? Or will she unearth a more authentic version of herself as the new century approaches?

Book 4: Dandelions: For Vivian Alderdice, the twentieth century begins with a new start. Now a working woman and progressive reformer, she’s forsaken the elegance of Nob Hill for the more modest Waxwood. She’s laid Penelope Alderdice’s specter to rest at last. But Vivian’s peaceful existence is thrown into turmoil when the man who ruined her brother’s life appears like another specter she must exorcise. At first, Vivian hates him with a passion. But when she sees how his own undiscovered past has destroyed him, leaving him helpless in the hands of a cousin who hates him worse than she does, she finds herself wanting to help. Is it his journey Vivian will discover in the dark forest of guilt and betrayal or her own?

About the Author

Writing has been Tam May’s voice since the age of fourteen. She writes stories set in the past that feature sassy and sensitive women characters. Tam is the author of the Adele Gossling Mysteries which takes place in the early 20th century and features suffragist and epistolary expert Adele Gossling whose talent for solving crimes doesn’t sit well with her town’s conventional ideas about women’s place. Tam is also working on a new series, the Grave Sisters Mysteries about three sisters who own a funeral home and help the county D.A. solve crimes in a 1920s small California town, set to release in 2025. She has also written historical fiction about women breaking loose from the social and psychological expectations 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 plant-based dishes, and exploring her new riverside town.

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Dangerous Lengths: A 19th Century Review of Henry James’ The Bostonians


June kicks off LGBTQ+ pride month. The LGBT community has made great strides in the 20th and 21st centuries and faced so many battles to have the LGBT identity recognized and respected. I remember as a teenager watching MTV Europe in 1984 and seeing the powerful music video depicting the stark reality of being gay in the 1980s in Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy”. Thankfully, the gay community has come a long way in these last 40 years.

LGBT identities existed in the 19th century, though of course, they were much more covert. I mentioned in my blog post about Boston Marriages and the New Woman “marriages” between women who chose to remain independent and live with other women in a shared household, whether this included intimate relationships or not. One such relationship was depicted in Henry James’ 1886 novel, The Bostonians. The novel was made into a film in 1984 and does not shy away from the lesbian subcontext and won several awards and nominations, especially for Vanessa Redgrave, who plays Olive in the film.

Photo Credit: photo of Henry James, before 1904, H. Walter Barnett, The English illustrated magazine: JB Hoang Tam/Wikimedia Commons/PD Old 70 Expired

However, when James’ novel came out, it did not receive a warm reception. Its contemporary themes of the New Woman in the Gilded Age and her fight for women’s suffrage were on the minds of many people and James’ novel gets right into the thick of it. The novel depicts the lives of three characters: Olive, an upper-middle class Bostonian suffragist whose shyness keeps her from being a spokeswoman for the movement; Verina, a young and vibrant spiritualist of a lower class whom Olives gets involved in the movement; and Basil, Olive’s cousin, a conservative Southerner who develops a romantic interest in Verina and becomes hell-bent on “saving” her. The novel is a triangle love story of sorts but in the shadow of the fight for women’s rights at that time.

One contemporary review from The Atlantic in 1886 is interesting in how it shows the attitude of many people toward the suffragist movement and Boston Marriages. The reviewer, Horace Elisha Scudder (a Victorian name if I ever saw one!) isn’t exactly kind toward James or his characters. He seems to take the biggest issue with Olive, describing her in very “masculine” (for the time, based on the separate spheres) terms. He sees her as arrogant and aggressive in the way that would have been expected and welcomed of the Gilded Age man. Verina is equally stereotyped as the “feminine” in their Boston Marriage, a young, twittery sort of person whose spiritualism Scudder considers to be on par with the fake mesmerizers of the time.

Scudder isn’t shy about depicting his disdain for the relationship between Olive and Verina, which makes up the main storyline. He never uses the word “lesbian” but his description of their romantic partnership shows he was well aware of what is going on between them and he doesn’t approve. He uses words like “vulgar” and “repellent” to describe their relationship. He also expresses his distaste for the way that Olive, who offers Verina shelter in her house to develop her skills as a suffragist spokeswoman, is part of the “dangerous lengths” she will go to for the sake of the movement. In his eyes, their relationship can’t be “natural” or “reasonable”. 

What is telling is that Scudder is interpreting the plot of the novel as a love triangle, the fight between Olive and Basil for Verina’s heart. However, he fails to see the real intent of James’ novel. It was not so much the battle of the sexes with Verina as the prize, but the experience of love in Olive’s lonely and isolated life which leads her to at last come forward as a spokeswoman for the suffragist movement. It’s no surprise that a critic with his eye on the separate spheres would fail to see the relationship between Olive and Verina as helping to bring out Olive’s identity. 

The suffragist movement is very much a part of my Waxwood Series as are friendships between women fighting for women’s rights. The box set of this 4-book series is now on preorder here. If you want to get a taste of the series first, you can download Book 1, The Specter, for free at any online bookstore. The links and information are here

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!


America’s Mini War: The Spanish-American War of 1898


Today, on Memorial Day, we honor those who fought for our country and the sacrifices they made. We think of war as a big, complex thing — that is, they go on for years and cost many lives. World War I lasted 4 years (though America didn’t get involved until the last year of the war) and World War II lasted six (though, again, America didn’t enter the war until three years after it started). The Vietnam War was even longer and more complex. It began in 1955 and ended in 1975, though American involvement lasted from 1965 to 1973. 

So it’s no wonder many do not remember the war that happened in between the Civil War (1861-1865) and World War I (1914-1918). But its implications and impact resonated for years to come and even today.

Photo Credit: Headline in the New York Journal of Congress declaring war which began the Spanish-American War, 25 April 1898, New York Public Library: Picryl/Creative Commons CC0 1.0

The Spanish-American War stands out in the annals of American history for several reasons. First, it was a very short war. War was officially declared on April 21, 1898, and the fighting ended on August 13, 1898 (though the war itself officially ended four months later). America was involved in this war for financial and humanitarian reasons. The consequences of the war for the United States helped to push the nation toward one of the greatest changes that occurred during the Gilded Age — it hurled the country onto the world stage.

The war involved fighting in Cuba, a colony of Spain at the time. Spanish rule was oppressive to Cuban insurgents, and they had been fighting three years prior. The brutal treatment of the Cubans by the Spanish gained a lot of sympathy in the United States, thanks to the yellow journalism popular at the time. It was very much on the minds of Americans. In Senator North, a novel by Gertrude Atherton published in 1900 but set a bit earlier, shows Washington society discussing the war constantly at their dinner parties and picnics, and outlines some of the great debates going on in the Senate about whether America should or should not enter the war. The thing that pushed America to declare war on Spain was the sinking of the battleship USS Maine, which newspapers played up as having been caused by either mines or torpedoes fired by the Spanish army (though it was never established whether this was really true, or whether it was some kind of technical error having nothing to do with the Spanish). 

A major player in the war was Teddy Roosevelt, who left his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to join in the fighting with a group of soldiers known as the Rough Riders. This short war made Roosevelt a hero and cemented his emerging political career at the turn of the 20th century. The nation ensured independence for Cuba (which helped with political and financial trade) and gained control over the Pacific, including the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. The war also allowed the United States to declare Hawaii its territory (though Hawaii wouldn’t become a state until 1959).

There were relatively few casualties in this war (about two thousand, as compared to 116,000 during World War I, 700,000 in World War II, and 58,000 in the Vietnam War). But those who fought made this little war an important part of American foreign politics and trade.

False Fathers, the second book of my historical coming-of-age series, the Waxwood Series, takes place during the summer of 1898, so the war is very much on the minds of Waxwood’s resort guests. In one scene, Jake and Stevens, a father figure who guides Jake throughout the book on his journey to manhood, are watching Stevens’ cousin Roger and his friends play billiards, and the subject of the Spanish-American War comes up:

The sky grew black, and the sea calmed. The young men played and drank into the night, and Stevens showed no signs of retiring. Jake wanted to leave, but his feet felt cemented int hat room. He listened as their talk moved from college professors and sports to the war in Cuba. 
“We ought to pull out while we can,” said Mr. Harrington. “It’s not worth the lives we’ve already given for it.”
“We’re not there for fancy, boy.” Mr. Trent shot two balls in the left side pocket. “Let Spain and every other country see we’re a force to be reckoned with.”
Mr. McDonaugh cocked his head. “The frontier’s all taken, so what have we left?”
“Virile man conquer virgin territory,” Roger agreed, his words sounding thick.
“We’ve almost won anyway,” said Ivan Morvell. “Not two weeks ago, the Rough Riders—”
“Those braggarts!” Roger snarled. “Posing for the papers like gladiators. And that goose with his mustache and spectacles!”
Stevens jumped up. In the shadow left by two lamp, his indignation was unavoidable. “I suggest you speak about Mr. Roosevelt with respect.”

For these young men who are coming of age in the last years of the 19th century, the war symbolizes the potential for bigger and better things, not only on a national level but on a psychological level for them as young men going out into the world. The idea of power expands both in the public and private spheres. 

The complete Waxwood Series will be out in one box set next month, but feel free to get a head start by grabbing Book 1, The Specter, now. The book is free on all book vendor sites and you can get all the details and links here

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!