The New Woman and Her New Education

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In the second book of my Adele Gossling Mysteries, the theme is education. Millie Gibb, the murder victim, is a teacher for an all-girls school in Arrojo (which readers of Book 1 will know well). She’s a good teacher but she has higher aspirations. She wants to be an etymologist (a word expert) and she even intends to study the subject under a prominent (fictional) professor in the field. Millie is, like many New Women of her time, college-educated. In fact, a fellow occupant at the boarding house where she lives remarks her college education makes her stand-offish to the rest of the boarders.

I’ve always been interested in women’s education but I was reminded of it recently when I found the 1988 mini-series The Murder of Mary Phagan (if you love historical mini-series, you can catch the entire thing, commercials included, on YouTube here) The mini-series is based on a true story of a 14-year-old factory girl in Atlanta who was found murdered in 1913 and the trial that took place. In the film, the prosecuting attorney discredits a character witness from Columbia University who attests the defendant (a young man) treated people with kindness and respect by pointing out that, since Columbia University was not co-ed, the man had no chance of observing how the defendant treated women (which is an important part of the case against him).

Photo Credit: Postcard of Columbia University campus 1903 (a good 80 years before the college became co-ed), New York Public Library: NYPL’s Public Domain Archive/CC0 1.0

It wasn’t only Columbia University that barred women from its ranks (it didn’t become co-ed until 1983) but many other universities in the country. While public schools had been co-ed for a while, colleges in America were much slower in embracing women amongst their ranks. A lot of this had to do with the idea of the separate spheres (remember, a woman’s destiny was home, family, and church – not higher education). It also had to do with the perception that women were “too delicate” for the rigors of college study. It was generally thought if a woman had too much knowledge, she would be less appealing to men in the marriage market. We can write these off as utter nonsense (or whatever colorful word you want to use) today, but back then, it was taken very seriously.

We have only to look at the statistics to see how true this is. In 1900, about 19% of students in colleges across the United States were women. And note that in the 19th century especially, many women might enter college but they weren’t allowed to graduate or earn a degree. They could take classes only. Thankfully, as the New Woman began to advocate for a more well-rounded vision of femininity (one that included education) and women fought for their rights, increased opportunities for education became part of the agenda and that number increased. By 1920, 39% of college students were women. And this year, a whopping 74% of enrollees were women! From 19% to 75% is pretty impressive.

See how women’s education plays out in A Wordless Death, which you can get 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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🥳Release Day Blitz for A Wordless Death!🥳

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Title: A Wordless Death

Series: Adele Gossling Mysteries: Book 2

Author: Tam May

Genres: Historical Cozy Mystery

Release Date: July 30, 2022

Adele Gossling is adjusting well to small-town life after the hustle and bustle of San Francisco. Despite her progressive ideas about women and her unladylike business acumen, even Arrojo’s most prominent citizens are beginning to accept her. Provided she sticks with the business of fountain pens and letter paper and stays out of crime investigation, that is…

But that’s just what she can’t do when Millie Gibb, the new teacher at the local girl’s school, is found dead and everybody in town assumes the homely, unmarried spinster committed suicide. After all, what enemies could a harmless, middle-aged woman have?

Adele and her clairvoyant friend Nin intend to find out. But can they prove Millie’s death was foul play based on a cigar stub, a letter fragment, and a cigarette lighter before the case is closed for good?

You’ll love this turn-of-the-century whodunit where a sassy and smart New Woman gives the police a run for their money!

“The characters are true to life, and the early methods used in criminal detection are fun to read.” – Amazon reviewer

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


Excerpt

After the men had left, both her brother and the sheriff rose, brushing coal dust from their clothes. 

“No glass, I take it,” said Adele.

“No, but something much more interest,” said her brother. “Something in your line of work, Del.”

He showed her what looked like a fragment of a written document. The edges were crisp and charred and written on it was a small dark print she could barely read.

“That explains why there was a fire burning last night even though it’s been rather mild these past few days except for the wind,” he remarked.

“A discouraging lover, you think?” Hatfield raised an eye.

“It wouldn’t be uncommon,” said Jackson. “Though perhaps a little surprising.”

Adele did not fail to catch his meaning. “Miss Gibb might not have been a beauty, Jack, but many men appreciate intelligence and education more than giggles and curls.”

She was rewarded by Hatfield’s deep chuckle of approval.

“Love doesn’t usually go with money, though, does it?” Jackson said. “Whatever this letter contained, it had to do with a lot of money.” He showed the sheriff what he meant.

Here, the croak sounded from Mrs. Taylor and they all looked at her.

“Begging your pardon, sir,” said the woman. “I don’t get into the business of my guests unless —”

“Unless?” Hatfield head went up.

“It’s necessary, of course,” was her resolute answer.

“You know something about this?” he asked.

“Well, no, sir, not that in particular,” said Mrs. Taylor. “But more than once Millie had to ask to delay her payment here. Had a cousin who was rather in a bad way financially.” She looked embarrassed. “I don’t like to go ‘round telling the private business of my guests but —”

“That’s all right, ma’am,” said Jackson. “We’re police, not gossips.”

“Well, now that I see everything is all right —” But she still hesitated and Adele understood the woman’s concern. Her sense of decorum had gotten a jolt at the idea a room she only rented to women boarders was now being trampled over my male footsteps.

“I’ll make sure everything is all right, Mrs. Taylor,” she said in a low voice.

The woman rewarded her with one of her gummy smiles and departed without ceremony.

“Could be this cousin was asking for money again,” Jackson said.

“Why throw the letter in the fire, then?” asked Hatfield. “I’ve had more than one of Ma’s uncles write us for a few gold coins and even when I refused, I never threw the letter out.”

“Perhaps she didn’t want other people in the house to know she had a mercenary cousin,” Adele said.

“A relative that keeps asking for money is not a favorite relative,” Jackson agreed.

“The question is, could he be a relative that kills?” Adele murmured.

About the Author

As soon as Tam May started her first novel at the age of fourteen, writing became her voice. She writes engaging, fun-to-solve historical cozy mysteries featuring sassy suffragist Adele Gossling. Tam is the author of the Adele Gossling Mysteries which take place in the early 20th century and feature amateur sleuth and epistolary expert Adele Gossling, a forward-thinking young woman whose talent for solving crimes doesn’t sit well with her town’s Victorian ideas about women’s place in society. Tam has also written historical women’s fiction. Her post-World War II short story collection, Lessons From My Mother’s Life, debuted at #1 in its category on Amazon, and the first book of her Gilded Age family saga, the Waxwood Series, The Specter, remains in the top 10 in its category. Although Tam left her heart in San Francisco, she lives in Texas because it’s cheaper. When she’s not writing, she’s devouring everything classic (books, films, art, music) and concocting vegetarian dishes in her kitchen.

Social Media Links

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tammayauthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tammayauthor/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/tammayauthor/ 

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

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

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Technology, Railroads, and Women: Sacramento During the Progressive Era

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If you’ve been reading my books, you know my fiction is set in San Francisco and the Bay Area. I mention a little about my story with San Francisco in my author biography (which you can find by clicking on the About Pages on the menu bar above). San Francisco was the place of both my psychological and literary maturity back in the 1990s.

So why is this blog post about Sacramento? First, parts of Book 2 of the Adele Gossling Mysteries take place in Sacramento. And second, I became interested in Sacramento’s history unexpectedly.

Back when I was writing my Gilded Age family saga, the Waxwood Series, I had a chance to visit Benicia, California, a small coastal town not far from San Francisco. I was so fascinated by the lovely surroundings and the way Benicians took their history seriously that it became an inspiration for the town of Waxwood. I wrote about that here

What does Benicia have to do with Sacramento? In my research, I found out Benicia was, for a very short time, the state capital before legislators settled on Sacramento. In fact, Sacramento had to fight five cities for the honor of state capital, including Monterey, San Jose, and Benicia. 

Photo Credit: Sacramento State Capital building, 1910, postcard, Goeggel & Weidner, Publishers, San Francisco: greghenderson2006/Wikimedia Commons/PD US expired

What Sacramento had to offer might not seem like competition with the charm of coastal towns like Monterey and Benicia. And, in fact, the choice of Sacramento as the state capital was almost incidental and certainly very practical. After moving the capital around five cities within five years, legislators accepted Sacramento’s offer to use their home ground as a state capital — and it stayed there. Not a very exciting story but history is filled with stories that aren’t all that exciting.

What Sacramento had going for it at the turn of the 20th century, however, was something else. It took the Progressive Era ball and ran with it. For example, people were slow to embrace the automobile since its inception in the late 19th century, but in 1900, the first car appeared in Sacramento (for comparison, people started buying cars only when the 1908 Ford Model T made them more affordable.) The first automobile race took place during the California state fair in Sacramento in 1903 (the year the Adele Gossling Mysteries begins). People who have read Book 1 are familiar with the opening of Adele roaring down the main street in her Beaton Roundabout (a fictional car manufacturer) and causing a shock among the town’s Victorian-minded residents. You can bet if it had been Sacramento instead of Arrojo, people wouldn’t have turned a hair!

Another area of progress Sacramento embraced was worker’s rights and free commerce. Tired of the Southern Pacific Railroad domination (a company run by San Francisco giants like Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker), Sacramento politicians allowed the Western Pacific Railroad to build tracks in the city, giving many workers jobs and helping to put a halt to the SPR’s cartel over railroad transportation in the West.

And let’s not forget the women! We know women’s suffrage was a big issue for the progressives and women fought to gain the vote, which they did in 1920. But in Sacramento, as in all of California, women already had the right to vote in 1911. In the years following before the ratification of the 19th Amendment, women in California were already making strides with their vote, such as encouraging Chinese-American women to go to the polls (with the first going in 1912) and putting Native American suffragism on the political agenda. 

Sacramento may not be as famous as San Francisco, but if you want to read a bit about life in that city, take a look at A Wordless Death coming out at the end of this month. You can pick up a copy at a special price for preorder here. And how about Book 1? That’s on sale too! Get all the information 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 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 it’s an integral part of the American philosophy 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 into the world stage for the first time. Things were pretty good.

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

But Americans carried their enthusiasm a little too far. 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 an impactful show of country spirit and dedication.

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 into the street 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, there were canons, firecrackers, and other explosives set off that 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 now available for purchase. Book 2 will be out at the end of this month but you can get it now on preorder at a special price.

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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The Value of Words

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Words are important to me. I don’t think any writer hates words, even though we sometimes feel like a puppy tripping all over ourselves trying to get them right. 

When I was in high school back in the 1980s, my sister bought the Missing Persons album Spring Session M. The song I loved most was, not surprisingly, “Words” (if you’re into a bit of nostalgia or have no clue what I’m talking about, here’s the song). I find the lyrics “When no on listens/There’s no use talking at all” ironic now because, let’s face it, in the 21st century, we’re not doing as much talking as we did forty years ago. We’re texting and emailing instead.

Photo Credit: monkeybusiness/Depositphotos.com 

Since I’m fascinated by words, it makes sense some of my characters in my Adele Gossling Mysteries would be too. Book 2 of the series focuses on a murder victim who is a word freak. Millie Gibb, the English teacher at the local girls’ school, is rather lofty in the position she takes on words:

“May I ask what your book is about?” Adele asked. 

“The history to words,” said the woman. “They don’t appear out of the sky. Someone had to make them up. And in the case of the English language, many people put their hand in.” Her eyes still on the invisible shine, she advanced a little, the red returning to her face with the waxy shine. “One word can go through tens of thousands of evolutions.”

Millie’s point is well taken. When I was getting my bachelor’s degree in English in Israel, we had an influx of immigrants from Russia and Ukraine in our class. These students had the double challenge of not only learning Hebrew but English as well. One day, I chatted with one of them and asked her what language she found harder to learn, Hebrew or English (for those who might not know it, Hebrew is a challenge to learn because it uses an entirely different alphabet.) She said without hesitation that English was much harder. When I asked her why, she explained Hebrew has pretty consistent grammar rules (for example, there are certain letters in the alphabet that, if they come first in a word, are always pronounced differently than if they come in the middle or end of the word.) English, on the other hand, is all over the place, and one has to learn the exceptions to the rule because you never know when one will suddenly come up without any logical explanation. I found this view to be consistent with the EFL (English as a Foreign Language) business people I tutored later on in my life.

Adele understands the value of words too because she’s an epistolary expert. Keep in mind letter writing was still the main means of communication in the early 20th century, as telephones were still few and far between. Adele takes letters and writing very seriously, which you know if you’ve read Book 1 of the series. One of the reasons why she decided to open a stationery store was because she values words and their meanings.

You’ll be able to read all about Millie Gibb and her word obsession (and whether her fascination with words leads to her death) on July 30. However, you can snag your copy of A Wordless Death now 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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