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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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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The Venus on the Trapeze: Miss Fillis

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We’ve all heard that old song about “the daring young man on the flying trapeze” (which by the way, was published in 1867 and was about Jules Leotard, a popular trapeze artist at the time). Sadly, no songs were composed for the daring young women on the flying trapeze. Yes, there were such creatures. Book 5 of my Adele Gossling Mysteries series, in fact, features two such women.

Why is it so strange to find women trapeze artists during this time? Because we can’t forget that during these eras the separate spheres existed. Based on these ideals, women were fragile, sickly creatures who had no business taking on acrobatics like the flying trapeze which required strength and skill. One woman, in particular, defied this image of the fragile Victorian woman and did so almost from birth. Her name was Aimee Marcoud whose stage name later became “Miss Fillis”.

Marcoud was indoctrinated into circus life much like most performers. Her father, a gymnast whose specialty was the horizontal bars, taught her the ropes (metaphorically speaking). At the tender age of ten, she was already part of his act, wowing audiences with her handstand on the trapeze.

But circus life with her father was pretty grueling and she escaped his watchful eye to marry an equestrian named Fillis. Although the marriage didn’t last long, it did give her the name by which she was billed: Miss Fillis. Interestingly, women of that time, even divorced women, though known by their married names, were often referred to as “Mrs.” as if their identities still belonged to their husbands, but Marcoud chose to put “Miss” in front of her married name.

Marcoud then met another trapeze artist named Alfred Robles and married him in 1928. They, along with a third man, created an act where Marcoud was the catcher, not the flyer. This required a tremendous amount of strength and timing. However, Marcoud didn’t confine herself only to her husband’s act. She continued to perform under her own under the name of Miss Fillis as well.

Photo Credit: Miss Fillis (aka, Aimee Marcoud), 1930, Tristan Remy Collection: Djando/Circopedia/CC BY NC ND 3.0 US

Marcoud’s career and life did not go the way of tragedy as several women circus performers of her time (I talk about some of them here). She and her husband continued their trapeze act into World War II when her husband was drafted into the army. Marcoud’s career didn’t stop but went on during and after the war. She finally retired from the ring at the age of fifty-five.

You can read about the women trapeze artists in  Murder Under A Twilight Roof in a few weeks when Book 5 comes out. But you can get a copy right now at a special preorder price 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!

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Early 20th Century Circus Gals: Brave and Tough

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March is always a special month for me. For one, it’s my birthday month, and for another, it’s Women’s History Month. As a historical fiction writer whose passion is writing about strong women living in the past, I find that rather fateful.

Since Book 5 of the Adele Gossling Mysteries is coming out next month and the book focuses on murder at the circus, I thought it would be fun to take a look at women circus performers of the 19th and 20th centuries. What I discovered was a handful of women who had more guts than their male counterparts. They were brave and resilient and not ladies you’d want to mess with.

Probably one of the most well-known of these was Lillian Leitzel. She was an aerialist who worked with a rope or brass rings, very similar to what Gina Lollobrigida does in this scene in the 1956 film Trapeze. The aerial rope requires a lot of strength in both the legs and arms and Leitzel would wow the crowds by spinning around so hard she would dislocate her shoulder at nearly every performance. In spite of this, she kept on going, sometimes for a hundred rounds or more. Her act brought in millions and, like many circus stars who knew their worth, she commanded top dollar, including luxuries such as her own tent and her own private railroad car. Like many circus women, she believed in suffragism, advocating for women’s athletics at a time when women were thought to be “too delicate” for physical activity. She was also not a fan of corsets and believed women should have freedom of movement (not surprising, given her circus background). Sadly, Leitzel went the way of many daredevil circus stars. While doing a handstand on a brass ring during a performance in the 1930s, the brass ring broke and she fell on her head from twenty feet in the air, dying of a concussion the next day.

When we think of lions, tigers, and cougars in the circus, we think of the big, manly man as their tamer (there is actually a character like this in Murder Under a Twilight Roof). But there were a small handful of women who tamed cats as well. In 1911, Mabel Stark became the first woman tamer of big cats. One of the thrills of her act was wrestling with one of her lions. She was once asked how she did it and she advised that training cats required a subtle and soft tone of voice and, above all, never showing fear. It obviously worked, as her death was not caused by the mauling of one of her cats. However, it was tragic nonetheless. In the late 1930s, one of her cats escaped and was shot down. She was said to have been very devoted to them and the grief was too much for her so she took her own life.

Photo Credit: Lillian Leitzel (standing on the running board) and May Wirth (sitting behind the wheel), 1924, National Photo Company Collection, Library of Congress: Fae/Wikimedia Commons/PD US no notice

If we’re talking about bravery with animals, how about May Wirth? She was an equestrian who did somersaults and flips from one horse to another while circling the ring. She was one of the Ringling Brothers’ early stars and when she first auditioned by doing a somersault while riding a horse, she fell and landed on her back. But as all circus women, she was resilient and got up, went right back on the horse, and did it again, this time succeeding. Unlike many circus daredevils, Wirth’s life did not end in tragedy. She simply retired, still in one piece, and lived a quiet life until her death in 1937.

My book Murder Under a Twilight Roof features many daring women, including a trapeze flyer, a tightrope walker, and three sisters who handle three mighty big elephants. You can read about them and about murder at the circus in April when the book comes out, but copies are now available at a special preorder price 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!

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Women in History: Inspirational Quotes

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Happy International Women’s Day! How about a couple of inspirational quotes from some of the women who made history throughout the years? Enjoy!

“I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”

— Mary Wollstonecraft

“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up again.” 

— Sojourner Truth

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

— Audre Lorde

“Women have always been an equal part of the past. We just haven’t been a part of history.”

— Gloria Steinem

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!

Works Cited

Elle.com. “81 Gloria Steinem Quotes to Celebrate Her 81st Birthday.” Elle. 25 March 2015. Web. 26 February 2020.

Kelly, Erin. “33 Inspirational Quotes for Women That Can Make Anyone Feel Empowered.” ATI. 26 April 2018. Web. 26 February 2020.

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