Trailblazers: Lady Lawyers in the 19th Century

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmail

Book 3 of my historical cozy mystery series the Adele Gossling Mysteries, introduces a new character into the small town of Arrojo. Rebecca Gold is a lawyer who has come to town to open her own practice after having been treated like a clerk rather than a lawyer in the big city law firms where she worked. 

How common were women lawyers in the 19th and early 20th centuries? As you might imagine, not that common. The separate spheres made it difficult for women to venture outside the private sphere of home, family, and church. The law, being one of the most public spheres out there (right alongside politics and business) was, therefore, largely off-limits. 

But there were a few who did brave the social and sometimes legal limits to study law. The first of these was Arabella Mansfield. In 1869, she became the first woman lawyer in America. Although her home state of Iowa forbade women to take the bar exam, Mansfield defied this practice and took it anyway. Her very high marks swayed Iowa legislation to relax these laws and allow women to take the bar exam. Mansfield became an apprentice at her brother’s law firm early on during her studies. However, once she passed the bar exam, she decided to forgo law for activism and education, including suffragism.

Alongside her was Ada Kepley who, in 1870, earned her law degree from Northwestern University. However, her home state of Illinois also didn’t allow women to take the bar exam and, unlike Iowa, Illinois legislation wasn’t budging on this. So Kepley was unable to actually make use of her law degree. Kepley did eventually take the bar exam in 1881 and passed but, like Arabella Mansfield, chose to use her experience and knowledge for activism, particularly temperance and — you guessed it — women’s suffrage.

Photo Credit: Drawing of Charlotte E. Ray, before 1911, unknown author: Gobonobo/Wikimedia Commons/PD US

And let us not forget Charlotte E. Ray who was the first African American woman to practice law. She received her law degree in 1872 and was admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia Supreme Court. Unlike Mansfield and Kepley, however, Ray did eventually open her own office, specializing in corporate law. Sadly, she only kept her doors open for a few years, as racial prejudice made gaining a steady clientele difficult. She took her knowledge and experience and became a teacher, focusing on education and later, women’s suffragism.

You’ll notice a pattern here: these three women either never put their law degree to use or they only practiced for a very short time. Why? I’m sure mistrust of women in so lucrative a field had something to do with it (and we know in Charlotte E. Ray’s case, there was added racial prejudice). Maybe it was also that the time and dedication needed to practice law made it difficult for these women to juggle both the public and the private spheres (since we might assume they also had the duties of the home on their shoulders whereas a male lawyer was largely exempt from that). Or maybe it was just the ideologies of the separate spheres die hard, even for progressive women. 

In my book, however, Rebecca Gold is a practicing lawyer and her first case gets her in plenty of hot water. Find out how in Death At Will, the third book of the Adele Gosslnig Mysteries. And how about Books 1 and 2? Well, you can pick up all three books in a lovely box set at a great 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!

instagram
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmail

Resort Life in the 19th Century

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmail

When doing some research recently, I discovered that today is the day summer officially ends and fall begins.

This summer hasn’t been easy for many of us. I recently moved from Texas to Ohio and it looks like I might have chosen a good time to leave, as many of my Texas friends experienced higher-than-usual temperatures this summer (I’m taking 105 and 106-degree type weather). Even in the Midwest, people told me it was an unusually hot and humid summer for our town. One of my neighbors posted the following sign on her lawn, maybe in an effort to encourage the colder weather to come:

A few weeks later she took it down. I guess she got discouraged by the continuing high temperatures!

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, when there were no A/C units, no cooling systems, and fans that were inadequate, summer was the time for people to get away. Remember my blog post about Grace Brown and Chester Gillette (which you can find here)? Gillette lured his victim to the Adirondacks with the promise of a honeymoon vacation. The Adirondacks was a popular resort town in the East in the early 20th century.

Both Brown and Gilette were working-class people, and at the turn of the century, resorts such as the Adirondacks were just becoming accessible to them. But for the very wealthy, such resorts had been at their disposal since the 19th century. There were even those who made hopping from resort to resort a way of life.

Photo Credit: The Beach and The Sea, Blankenberghe, Belgium, from “Views of Architecture and Other Sites in Belgium” catalog, 1905, Detroit Publishing Company: Fae/Wikimedia Commons/PD Art (PD old 100)    

Resort life for the wealthy, as Charles Dudley Warner depicts in his book Their Pilgrimage (1884), was relaxing, exciting, and, oftentimes, boring. Some traveled for their health to places such as Palm Springs in California. Others traveled in the winter to get away from the harsh weather in their hometown. And many did it because it was “the thing to do” among the wealthy. 

The idea of seeing and being seen was prevalent throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and resort life offered just the place for this. What people did or what they saw in terms of the local attractions was less important than who they met and mingled with. At the same time, the anonymity of resort life gave the tightly-laced blue bloods of this time freedom to be themselves, a luxury they couldn’t afford at home. Away from the resorts, the wealthy had to watch what they said and did so as not to be shunned by their neighbors or get their names in the papers. But at a hotel, no one knew them, and they could loosen their grip a little bit.

Resort life was predominantly for women, though there were men and children as well. The hard-working, aggressively competitive Gilded Age and Progressive Era man couldn’t take time off for vacations. Ironically, women found a level of release and independence in the resort hotels that they couldn’t have at home, with the rigid boundaries of the separate spheres

Those who have read my Waxwood Series know the way of life of resort towns well. The Alderdice family aren’t exactly the kind of Gilded Age travelers that Warner’s novel depicts, as their lives are firmly rooted in San Francisco society. But, like their blue blood companions, they take full advantage of the extravagances offered once they do arrive and, in more ways than one, they become different people immersed in resort life for even just that short a time.

You can read about the Alderdices’ experience of resort life in Book 2 of my series, False Fathers. Book 3, Pathfinding Women, coming out this summer, also gives you a sense of resort life in the last year of the 19th century. If you want to find out more about the Waxwood Series, you can check out this page.               

The Adele Gossling Mysteries is grounded more in the grim realities of murder and crime, but I’m not quite done with resort life yet in my books. I already have on my agenda to write a book for this series set in a resort town which will include all of its fascinating psychological aspects amid a backdrop of crime and mayhem.

In the meantime, you can pick up The Carnation Murder, the first book of the series, for free from all book vendors. All the information and links are here. And if you’re interested in a more dramatic look at resort life, you’ll find my Waxwood Series right up your alley. You can start with Book 1, The Specter, which is free on all vendors, 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!

instagram
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmail

A Survey of Women’s Issues: Revisited

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmail

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!

instagram
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmail

Go West, Young Man, Go West

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmail

Today, July 13, is one of those funky holiday days. It’s Go West Day. 

This term actually came from an editorial piece written by Horace Greenly. Greenly was a well-known figure in the mid-19th century, as he was the editor and publisher of the New York Tribune and even ran for presidential candidate against Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. So Greenly was considered a voice of authority at that time. On this day in 1865, faced with a recently ended Civil War which left many soldiers destitute, he advised them to leave their hometowns for brighter horizons in the Midwest and West which had, a few years earlier, opened up with the Homestead Act. 

It’s no wonder Greenly’s words “Go West, young man, go West” resonated with so many Americans in the post-Civil War era. The West was seen not only as virgin territory to settle and explore (which would appeal to many young Civil War veterans looking for adventure) but also as a place to start a new life. The Homestead Act gave the option of acquiring acres of land for a small fee, though once the settlers reached that land, they were on their own in terms of paying for the necessary tools and equipment it took to work that land. Still, for a young man just starting out in life with no money and no assets, it wasn’t a bad deal.

Photo Credit: Painting of a small town where the train and wagons are heading West, print, 1868, Currier & Ives: Library of Congress website/Public domain

There’s no doubt that “Go West, young man” also appealed to others for darker reasons. If a man or woman wanted to escape dire circumstances, they could do no better than to “go West”. Criminals who committed a crime in one state might go West to escape punishment, as even though the constitution demanded states extradite a fugitive to the state in which the fugitive committed the crime, whether this was done was up to the governor’s discretion. 

Similarly, someone seeking to escape a non-criminal but uncomfortable situation was attracted to the idea of “going West”. In the 1949 film version of Henry James’ novella Washington Square (1880), when Morris (Montgomery Clift) discovers Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) is disinheriting herself in order to run away and elope with him, he promises to return to take her away, then goes home, packs his bags, and hops on a boat to California. In other words, to avoid marrying a woman he only intended to marry for the inheritance she would get, he flees West. 

Although the protagonist for my Adele Gossling Mysteries has, in a sense, already “gone West” (she was born and raised in San Francisco), she nonetheless follows the “go West” call when she decides to leave the big city for the small town of Arrojo, California in order to find peace and small pleasures. Considering her constant involvement in crime-solving, peace and small pleasures aren’t exactly what she gets!

Book 6 of the Adele Gossling Mysteries is coming soon! You can already pick up a copy of it at a special preorder price here. And don’t forget that Book 1 of the series is always free!

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!

instagram
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmail

Rigged: The Fugitive Slave Act

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmail

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!

 

instagram
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmail