The Winner of Marry in Haste

Kate H has won a copy of Marry in Haste by Susan Van Kirk. Congrats to Kate!

Thanks to Susan Van Kirk for showing us a comparison of the legal stance of battered wives in the 19th century and now. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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Domestic Violence in History: Fact and Fiction

Susan Van Kirk author photoRelevant History welcomes Susan Van Kirk, who grew up in Galesburg, Illinois, and received degrees from Knox College and the University of Illinois. She taught high school English for thirty-four years, then spent an additional ten years teaching at Monmouth College. Her first Endurance mystery novel, Three May Keep a Secret, was published in 2014 by Five Star Publishing/Cengage. In April, 2016, she published an Endurance ebook novella titled The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney. Her third Endurance novel, Death Takes No Bribes, will follow Marry in Haste. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site and blog, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

*****

The small town of Endurance, in the heart of the Midwest, is the setting of my mysteries. I wrote Marry in Haste, my second novel, to explore the changes in community attitudes and law enforcement regarding domestic violence/abuse. Although my book isn’t graphic about violence, I wanted to know more about this subject, especially its history and its psychological aspects. Creating two separate plots, I explored two marriages, one in 1893 and the other in the present day. Neither wife listened to Ben Franklin’s admonition to “Marry in haste, Repent at leisure.”

1893 Endurance
In 1893, seventeen-year-old Olivia Havelock travels from a farm community to her great aunt’s in Endurance, where she will learn the social graces and find a suitable husband. In that time, public sentiment favored short engagements because a long courtship might result in calling off the wedding. She quickly catches the eye of Judge Charles Lockwood, a forty-five-year-old widower, both powerful and wealthy. Four months later they are married, and then her nightmare begins. Lockwood is an abusive husband, and Oliva has little recourse from the laws, the police, and the courts.
Does history support this fictional idea? American law regarding domestic violence was founded on English law. In the time of British jurist, Sir William Blackstone [1723-1780], community attitudes and laws stated that a husband was responsible for correcting his wife’s behavior. Her words or actions, especially if they reflected poorly on her husband, could result in a beating or even murder. However, if she were to murder her abusive husband, her punishment could result in being quartered and burned alive.

By the time the Puritans arrived in the New World, they frowned on domestic abuse. However, their lack of enforcement rarely resulted in safety for their wives or children. By the late 1800s, a man was not punished for assaulting his wife. He could beat, choke, pull her hair or kick her repeatedly with impunity. Some states had a “curtain rule.” The law and courts “close” the window curtain of a home and allow spouses to solve their domestic problems. This attitude would be reflected a century later in the lax enforcement of marital abuse by police departments.

Young Olivia Lockwood has no legal help. The family doctor never asks her about her bruises; society notices, without question, her increasing absence from social events; and her servants look the other way.

2012 Endurance
In the present-day plot, Emily Folger is married to a powerful banker, Conrad, a known philanderer. When he is murdered, Emily is the chief suspect. As the story of their married life unfolds, the reader sees that they, too, are in an abusive relationship. In this era, I was more interested in exploring psychological abuse and how it often leads to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Emily’s sister-in-law, Jessalynn Folger, tells the story of her brother Conrad’s upbringing. When his father was abusive to Conrad’s mother, Jessalynn called the police. All they did was walk Conrad’s father around the block, speak with him, joke a bit, and return him home where he was free to terrorize his wife and children. No wonder his son, Conrad, learned from a master how to abuse his wife.

Does history support this scenario? Yes, it does. Despite the Woman’s Movement in the 1960s, police officers in the 1970s were reluctant to arrest batterers. Jessalynn Folger was born in 1968, and when she saw her father hit her mother, she was a preteen in the late 70s. The prevailing community attitude was that victims chose to stay in the relationship, eliciting little public sympathy. Often abuse victims made multiple calls to police, only to grow weary of their lack of response. Police rarely arrested abusers, convincing victims that pressing charges would cause the victims more trouble. Judges issued orders of protection, and when deaths occurred, blamed police for not enforcing the law. Police blamed the courts for issuing orders that couldn’t be enforced.

Much of this changed by the mid-1980s. Women pressed for more social services for abuse and rape victims. Some disturbing legal cases where women died because police failed to respond led to a change in public and municipal attitudes. (Million-dollar law suits helped too.) By 1994, the federal Violence Against Women Act, a law repeatedly reauthorized, declared domestic violence a crime, making it more likely to be prosecuted.

In 2013, Illinois (where I live) passed a law that makes domestic violence no longer a misdemeanor. Now, if the abuser has a previous conviction, the second conviction is a felony. Four or more convictions can be given a 14-year prison sentence. Illinois is also a state, like many others, where police can now press charges against abusers if the victim is reluctant to do so.

It’s not a perfect system, but, historically, it is better. Emily Folger might have received help, but by the time her husband had isolated her, torn down her self-confidence, and bullied her repeatedly, she was suffering from PTSD, unable to think straight. While laws today are better, sometimes victims are not able to use them.

Exploring domestic abuse through history for Marry in Haste has been an interesting research expedition into an area of human behavior that I now understand much better, and I hope readers will also learn more about the psychological components of this subject, now considered a legal crime.

*****

Marry In Haste book coverA big thanks to Susan Van Kirk. She’ll give away a hardcover copy of Marry in Haste to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available in the U.S. only.

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What Made the Wild West So Wild?

Kris Bock author photoRelevant History welcomes Kris Bock, who writes novels of suspense and romance with outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. In The Dead Man’s Treasure, estranged relatives compete to reach a buried treasure by following a series of complex clues. In The Skeleton Canyon Treasure, sparks fly when reader favorites Camie and Tiger help a mysterious man track down his missing uncle. Whispers in the Dark features archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site and sign up for her newsletter.

*****

Nonfiction books and documentaries about 19th-century gunslingers remind us that truth is often stranger than fiction. History is often equally dramatic as well. The Old West is full of true stories of bandits, shootouts, and lost treasures.

Many people attempt to divide historical figures into heroes and villains, lawmen and outlaws. In reality, most people are more complex than that, and few famous people from the Old West led blameless lives.

Wyatt Earp is often regarded as a heroic lawman. However, he spent only about six years in law enforcement. He also worked as a gambler, buffalo hunter, stagecoach guard, and Teamster, among other jobs. He was arrested for stealing a horse, but he escaped from jail.

Tombstone graveyardLike many famous Western figures, Wyatt Earp wound up in the famous town of Tombstone, Arizona. Wyatt Earp and Ike Clanton allied to find a group of cowboys who had robbed a stagecoach, but the alliance fell apart—possibly because the Clantons were involved in the robberies. This led to the famous shootout at the OK Corral and the deaths of Billy Clanton and the two McLaury brothers, known cattle rustlers. Soon after, Wyatt’s brother Virgil was seriously wounded in a shooting, and their brother Morgan was killed in a shootout. The attackers were unknown, but Wyatt and his gang killed several suspects. He fled town to avoid prosecution.

Many movies have been made featuring Wyatt Earp, most of them romanticizing his life. The truth is more complex.

A Deadly Killer
Curly Bill Brosius, on the other hand, was pure outlaw and a close friend of the Clantons. He was supposedly a crack shot who could hit running jackrabbits and shoot out candle flames without breaking the candles. His idea of a practical joke was to make a preacher dance during a sermon by shooting at his feet. He forced Mexicans at a community dance to take off their clothes and dance naked. He killed at least one man in a robbery, escaped from prison, and led a gang of rustlers in Arizona Territory.

Tombstone Marshal White memorialIn 1880, in Tombstone, Curly Bill killed popular Marshal Fred White. The Marshal was trying to take Bill’s gun and it went off, hitting White in the groin. Wyatt Earp then knocked Bill unconscious with his gun. White said he didn’t think Curly Bill was trying to kill him, but he died from his wound the next day. Curly Bill was also implicated in some revenge killings and at least one death during a bar fight. He was implicated in the murder of Morgan Earp, but without proof he wasn’t charged.

Violence in the Desert
Curly Bill also might have been involved in the Skeleton Canyon Massacre. Here history and legend get muddled. Some people claim that Mexican bandits looted Monterrey, Mexico, and escaped across the border with a treasure worth $75,000, or $2 million, or $8 million. Others claim there is no evidence of such a heist in Monterrey, and that it’s doubtful such a treasure ever existed to be stolen.

Regardless, violence came to Skeleton Canyon, a shallow canyon in southeastern Arizona, not far from the Mexico border. An American gang ambushed a group of Mexicans—possibly the bandits, or else merely vaqueros (cowboys). One story says Curly Bill’s gang shot the Mexicans out of their saddles, which caused their mules to stampede. The bandits then shot the mules to keep them from running away with the treasure, but then they had no way to transport the loot. Two men from the gang, Zwing Hunt and Billy Grounds, hid the treasure somewhere in the canyon. When they were killed, the location of the hidden treasure was lost.

Curly Bill had been wounded six weeks before the Skeleton Canyon Massacre and was supposedly still recovering. Was he involved or not? Was the violence over a treasure that would be worth millions today, or merely over some cattle? The debates continue, and some people still hunt for the treasure. The Skeleton Canyon Treasure, set today, was inspired by the legendary treasure.

What is most likely true, but is still challenged by some people, is that Wyatt Earp killed Curly Bill in a shootout in 1882. Bill was in his thirties, which, considering his lifestyle, was a surprisingly long life.

Unsolved Mysteries took a look at the Skeleton Canyon Treasure.

Tombstone is now a popular place for tourists to visit.

*****

The Mad Monk's Treasure book coverA big thanks to Kris Bock. Pick up your free copy of the first of her Southwest treasure hunting books, The Mad Monk’s Treasure, here.

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The Winner of Life in the Georgian Court

Margaret has won a copy of Life in the Georgian Court by Catherine Curzon. Congrats to Margaret!

Thanks to Catherine Curzon for a look into the miserable married life of Juliane of Saxe-Coburg.

Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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The Scandalous Lady of Coburg

Catherine Curzon author photoRelevant History welcomes Catherine Curzon, a royal historian who blogs on all matters 18th century. Her work has been featured by publications including BBC History Extra, All About History, History of Royals, Explore History and Jane Austen’s Regency World. She has performed at venues including the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, Lichfield Guildhall and Dr Johnson’s House. Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine, she lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill. Life in the Georgian Court is a privileged peek into the glamorous, tragic and iconic courts of the Georgian world. To learn more about her and her books, visit her blog, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram.

*****

There is nothing, for me, as thrilling as 18th century scandals. In the royal courts nothing was done by halves, from love to death to all the rich threads of drama that bind the legendary names of continental royalty together. Someone who knew all about drama was Princess Juliane of Saxe-Coburg, who was to become known as Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna, wife of Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich, a marriage that was destined to be anything but happy.

Juliane was born to Franz Frederick Anton, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and his wife, Countess Augusta Caroline Reuss of Ebersdorf. With illustrious family connections throughout Europe, Juliane’s parents were determined that their daughter would continue to increase their dynastic influence and began searching for a husband for the girl, known for her beauty and her musical acumen. As they cast their eye over the royal houses of Europe, Empress Catherine II of Russia was likewise looking for a match for her grandson, Grand Duke Constantine. She was searching for a very particular sort of girl and dispatched General Andrei Budberg to compile a shortlist, the matter of marrying the second in line to the Russian empire a very serious one indeed.

The road to marriage
Taken ill whilst passing through Coburg, Budberg immediately added Juliane and her sisters, Sophie and Antoinette, to the list of likely candidates, much to the delight of their parents. However, not everybody shared their enthusiasm. For some there was disappointment that their own daughters had not been chosen whilst for others, the concept of a German princess marrying a Russian Duke was unthinkable, the young women viewed almost as lambs to the imperial slaughter.

Princess Juliane Henriette Ulrike painted by Vigee-LebrunThe three girls traveled to Russia with Countess Augusta and found themselves welcomed by Catherine, whilst Constantine was somewhat cooler in his reception. Far from keen on the idea of marriage to anybody, he eventually took his grandmother’s advice and agreed to marry Juliane, the 14 year old girl taking the name Anna Feodorovna in preparation for her new life. Baptised in a Russian Orthodox ceremony, the young Princess married the Duke on 26th February 1796, securing the strength of the Saxe-Coburg dynasty.

Although the marriage may have been politically astute, it was utterly miserable. Bad-tempered and disinterested in his wife, Constantine grew resentful of the young lady’s popularity at court, and he exercised a tight control over his bride. She was confined to her rooms, denied friends other than Elizabeth Alexeievna, and rarely appeared at court. Desperately unhappy, when Juliane fell ill in 1799, she seized the chance for escape with both hands.

Juliana traveled to Coburg, ostensibly for medical care, and initially intended to remain there but she found her family utterly unsupportive. Horrified at the damage a marital breakdown might do to the reputation and influence of the family, they pressured the Grand Duchess to return to her unhappy life in Russia. Once again she was confined to her rooms, utterly in the control of her husband and almost immediately, her health declined again.

Escape
By 1801 it became apparent that Juliane was in desperate need of a change of air and her mother finally consented to a trip back to Coburg. This time Juliane flatly refused to leave her native land and began divorce proceedings against Constantine. With the divorce hampered by legal and constitutional considerations, Juliane found unexpected support from the royal houses of Europe, their sympathies gained by the conduct of Constantine and his intransigent family. Trapped in a web of legality, the unhappy Grand Duchess indulged in extra-marital affairs and in 1808 gave birth to a son, Eduard Edgar Schmidt-Löwe. Four years later she had a daughter, Louise Hilda Agnes d’Aubert with Rodolphe Abraham de Schiferli, a Swiss surgeon.

Princess Juliane Henriette Ulrike painted by WinterhalterThough Constantine’s family constantly pursued a reconciliation between the estranged couple, Juliane utterly refused to even countenance it, the memory of her unhappy years in Russia too keen. Instead she made a life and home of her own in Switzerland, her house on the Aare River becoming a beacon of art and music. She and Rodolphe maintained a lifelong friendship, though their daughter was adopted by a French family in order to protect Juliane’s already somewhat tarnished reputation.

Nearly two decades after she fled to Coburg, Emperor Alexander I finally dissolved the marriage of Juliane and Constantine, allowing the Grand Duke to remarry. This small victory was followed by years of unhappiness as Juliane’s life was beset by tragedy. One after the other she was plunged into mourning for her parents and siblings, her illegitimate daughter and Rodolphe, her devoted friend and former lover. Juliane never quite recovered from these losses and lived on in quiet solitude, throwing herself into charitable works. Loved and respected by those who knew her, the princess passed away peacefully at home at the age of seventy-nine. She lived a life beset by scandal and unhappiness yet one cannot underestimate the strength it took to leave the powerful Russian court and strike out alone, resisting all efforts to force her back to the life she hated.

*****

Life in the Georgian Court book coverA big thanks to Catherine Curzon. She’ll give away a copy of Life in the Georgian Court to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide, and the winner may choose hardcover or ebook for the format.

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An English Rose

S.K. Rizzolo author photoRelevant History welcomes historical mystery author S. K. Rizzolo, who earned an MA in literature before becoming a high school English teacher and author. Her Regency mystery series features a trio of crime-solving friends: a Bow Street Runner, an unconventional lady, and a melancholic barrister. On a Desert Shore is the fourth title in the series following The Rose in the Wheel, Blood for Blood, and Die I Will Not. Rizzolo lives in Los Angeles. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web page, and follow her on Facebook, Goodreads, and Google+.

*****

Readers of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels are familiar with her references to skin care products such as Denmark Lotion or Olympian Dew. A young lady’s fair and blooming complexion could be almost as critical to her success as her dowry and social position. Then, as now, those with unsightly spots sought to avoid embarrassment. But the ideal of complexion went much deeper than that. It was, in fact, tied to anxieties about Britain’s Empire, notions of proper Englishness, and the desire to maintain boundaries of class and race.

In my novel On a Desert Shore, Marina Garrod receives every advantage of the privileged young lady. Rumored to be the heiress to vast wealth, she debuts in Society with the hope of making an eligible alliance. But to bigoted eyes, there’s a problem. All her father’s money cannot make her into a genuine “English Rose” (pink cheeks and red lips with pale skin)—for Marina is the daughter of a Jamaican planter and his slave-housekeeper. My novel is about Marina’s plight in the England of 1813, a time when attitudes toward race were hardening, in part because of growing fears of cultural and racial contamination./p>

A Rose By Any Other Complexion…
Marina’s experience as a mixed-race heiress in Georgian England was not unique. In his dissertation Children of Uncertain Fortune: Mixed Race Migration from the West Indies to Britain, 1750-1820, Dan Livesay estimates that, by the end of the 18th century, as many as a quarter of rich Jamaicans with children of color sent them home to England to live in a free society. On the whole these children were the lucky ones who had escaped the astoundingly brutal and oppressive sugar island. Still, families sometimes challenged the inheritances of their mixed-race kin, and the position of these young people would have been equivocal at best. It’s difficult to imagine how they might have felt. While Britain had halted its participation in the slave trade in 1807, slavery itself endured for several more decades in the colonies. Apologists for the institution like Marina’s father failed to justify a practice that was increasingly seen, according to the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as “blotched all over with one leprosy of evil.” Here Coleridge refers to the arguments of West India merchants and slave owners, calling them “cosmetics” designed to conceal a horrible reality.

Deirdre Coleman asserts that the British public of the day had a “fascination with complexion.” And my research revealed that this was especially true of white Creole women (Creole is an ambiguous term that sometimes meant the Blacks of Jamaica and sometimes a person of any race who had spent a lot of time there). I encountered stories of the white Creole women’s attempts to preserve their complexions so that when they returned to England they could bloom into legitimate English roses. They wore elaborate sunshades and even flayed their skin with the caustic oil of the cashew nut! Often they created what even some contemporaries called an artificial and unhealthy pallor.

Why such rigid standards of beauty? This was a society in which all-powerful white men exploited black women at their own whim and will, a society in which wives were often confronted with the humiliating results of open infidelity—their husbands’ slave children. It was important to the Creole ladies, whose skin could become tanned or weathered in the tropical climate, to maintain strict boundaries through their complexions. In other words, “whiteness” as a marker of status and breeding. But, ironically in this racially mixed society, it might not be possible to determine someone’s precise background just by looking. There might have been little visible difference between a Creole lady and her husband’s mulatta or quadroon concubine.

Performing Gentility
When a woman named Janet Schaw traveled to North America and the West Indies between 1774–76, she wrote in her diary about putting on and off her delicacy “like any piece of dress.” To me, this points to the performative aspect of femininity. A woman can don a mask of beauty and gentility to further her ends or play her role in society. This is precisely what Marina cannot do to her tormenters’ satisfaction. And yet she is not afraid to express her fellow feeling with African slaves or her contempt for slavery. You will have to read the book to find out what happens after her failed London season. In essence, she is shipwrecked “on a desert shore” in an alien land, even though she is half English and has been mostly reared in England. She is no true English rose.

Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Lady Elizabeth MurrayHere’s the famous portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray. Belle was the daughter of an enslaved African woman and Sir John Lindsay, a British naval officer. After Lindsay brought his daughter to England, she lived with the Earl of Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice, at Kenwood House in Hampstead. Much speculation has arisen in regard to this portrait, whose artist is uncertain. Why does Belle point at her own cheek in a curiously awkward gesture? Perhaps she calls attention to her contrasting complexion in order to suggest that any difference is only “skin deep.”

There’s an unforgettable scene in another novel, an anonymous abolitionist work of 1808 called The Woman of Colour, which introduces Olivia Fairfield, the natural daughter of a West Indian planter and a slave. Like Marina Garrod, Olivia travels to England. In the scene a curious little boy at a tea party compares his hand to Olivia’s, interrogating her about her skin color. Her response: “The same God that made you made me…[as well as my servant Dido, a] poor black woman—the whole world—and every creature in it! A great part of this world is peopled by creatures with skins as black as Dido’s, and as yellow as mine…”

Which leaves us with one of my favorite Shakespearean sonnets, a satiric poem making the point that, after all, what we deem beauty has nothing to do with outward show. After criticizing his beloved for her varied imperfections, including the lack of “roses” in her cheeks, the speaker says: “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare.”

*****

On a Desert Shore book coverA big thanks to S. K. Rizzolo. She’ll give away a copy of On a Desert Shore to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide for an ebook and in the U.S., Canada, and Europe for a hardcover.

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The Winner of Fascinating Rhythm

Warren Bull has won a copy of Fascinating Rhythm by Anne Louise Bannon. Congrats to Warren Bull!

Thanks to Anne Louise Bannon for the discussion on what started the Great Depression for American farmers. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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Farming in Kansas in the 1920s

Anne Louise Bannon author photoRelevant History welcomes Anne Louise Bannon, an author and journalist who wrote her first novel at age fifteen. Her journalistic work has appeared in magazines and newspapers across the country. She was a TV critic for over ten years, and created the Odd Ball Grape wine education blog with her husband, Michael Holland. She also writes the romantic fiction serial White House Rhapsody. She is the co-author of Howdunit: Book of Poisons with Serita Stevens, as well as mysteries Fascinating Rhythm, Bring Into Bondage, and Tyger, Tyger. She and her husband live in Southern California with an assortment of critters. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest.

*****

It’s hard to tell the behind-the-scenes story of my latest novel Bring Into Bondage without mentioning the book that came before it, Fascinating Rhythm. The books are set in the 1920s and feature editor Kathy Briscow and her socialite author boyfriend Freddie Little. In Fascinating Rhythm, we find out that Kathy comes from Hays, Kansas, a small farming town pretty much dead center in the country, which in turn becomes the setting for Bring Into Bondage.

I purposely chose a rural town for Kathy’s original home. Right after World War I, the country started urbanizing, and as of the 1920 census, just over half the U.S. population lived in cities for the first time ever. Barely fifty years before, only five percent of the population had. One of the hot tunes from that post-Great War era was “How You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)” It was not only happening, it was on people’s minds. So it made sense that my feisty office worker came from a rural background.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a far richer background than I thought. Okay, I did know, in a vague, “they said so in history class” kind of way that what we know as The Great Depression actually started for American farmers shortly after the end of World War I. But what caused the farming depression, namely debt, became one of the underlying themes in Bring Into Bondage, which is set on the farm belonging to Kathy’s parents.

There were a lot of different causes, but basically, farmers were caught in a spiral of producing too much, which caused crop prices to fall, then having to produce more to make up for it, causing crop prices to fall still lower. Frederick Lewis Allen, in his short history of the decade, Only Yesterday, partially laid the blame on mechanization. But other sources have also pointed out that the farmers had seen a boom in crop prices during the Great War, when not only did they feed the U.S., they exported crops to war-torn Europe. Once the war was over, so was the need for imported food. Which meant an even larger supply in the U.S. In any case, what caused the larger part of farmers’ problems was that they took out mortgages to either buy more land or to buy the new mechanical equipment.

Farming has never been easy. But in the 1920s, there were no subsidies and no other social safety nets. You relied on your neighbors, as Kathy’s family does, even though the family farm is under attack by mysterious vandals. Freddie mentally refers to Kathy’s family as being dirt poor. There’s a sense of frugality in this family that we don’t recognize today in our abundant, throw-away culture. When Ma Briscow sends the five-word telegram to summon Kathy home, Kathy is upset because Ma uses two words she didn’t need. Telegrams cost five cents per word, and to carelessly spend ten cents when every penny counts means Ma is very upset indeed.

The title of the book comes from the biblical book Nehemiah (5:5), in which some of the Israelites are complaining that they can’t get justice for their children, who have been sold into bondage, because other men have their lands. In short, they have been mortgaged out to the hilt and are now in bondage, themselves. Kind of like farmers in Kansas were in the 1920s.

*****

Fascinating Rhythm book coverA big thanks to Anne Louise Bannon. She’ll give away a copy of Fascinating Rhythm to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide for an ebook and in the U.S. only for a trade paperback.

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The Winner of An Untimely Frost

Gigi Pandian has won a copy of An Untimely Frost by Penny Richards. Congrats to Gigi Pandian!

Thanks to Penny Richards for insight into Allan Pinkerton, founder of the famous detective agency. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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Crime, Women, and Allan Pinkerton

Penny Richards author photoRelevant History welcomes Penny Richards, published since 1983 with just over forty books to her credit. Mostly contemporary romance, her books have won several industry awards, including a Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award, Reader’s Choice award, and a RITA nomination. Several titles have made various bestseller lists. An Untimely Frost, first book of the Lilly Long mystery series for Kensington Publishing, debuted August 2016. Wolf Creek Wife, fifth title in the Wolf Creek series for Harlequin Love Inspired Historicals, is also an August 2016 release. The second Lilly Long mystery, Though This Be Madness, is scheduled for May 2017. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

*****

My new Lilly Long historical mystery series is about a headstrong, untraditional Shakespearean actress who becomes a Pinkerton operative. Since I’m an old(er) traditional, conventional woman, you can imagine my surprise when, during the course of my research, I found myself on a site about “women’s issues.” Until that moment, I hadn’t thought of Lilly’s driving ambition to help women who’d been victimized by unscrupulous men in those terms. To me, she was just a woman who’d been wronged by a slick, conniving man when her new husband stole her savings and left her high and dry, a woman who, at the age of eleven was hiding nearby when she heard her mother being killed by one of her many lovers.

After thinking on it a while, I realized that’s exactly what I was writing about, intentionally or not. I don’t consider myself a feminist, but I am all about balance and fairness, and anyone with at least a modicum of knowledge about the customs of the past knows that without the fearless females who led the way for a more open-minded treatment, we would not be where we are today.

Lilly is a woman who flaunts convention by seeking out a man’s job during a time when women were denied a voice in much of anything or “protected” by their husbands, (often chosen for them) who often considered them nothing more than second-class citizens or a means to get children.

Allan PinkertonAllan Pinkerton, the man who gives her a chance to make a difference, is the son of Isabella and William Pinkerton. Allan was born in a poor section of Glasgow, Scotland, called the Gorbels, an area known for its high crime and social injustices, so his decision to start his own detective agency makes a lot of sense.

Allan and his women
While researching the first book, I learned some interesting things about Allan’s attitude toward women, their capabilities, and his belief they possessed the intelligence and skill to be useful in his business, something he proved when he hired the first female detective, a young widow named Kate Warne. Kate pled her case by telling him she could “worm out” information in places his male detectives couldn’t. To Allan, whose motto was “the ends justify the means,” the idea was intriguing. He hired her the following day, and in the many years she worked for him, she never disappointed him.

There were others through the years that Allan used in exactly the way Kate had suggested, posing as wives to get close to another woman, infiltrating Baltimore society in hopes of gaining information, acting as spies during the war or just friends who aided and secured care for them.

Then, in late 1876, a somewhat funny debacle occurred within the agency. Allan’s son Robert, George Bangs, and Benjamin Franklin, once the police chief of Philadelphia, decided to band together and refuse to hire any more women, something Allan had ordered after Kate’s death. His reaction to their mutiny was to transfer Mrs. Angela Austin, a pretty actress who worked out of the Chicago office, to Philadelphia to prove that he was still in control and would be until his death. That ended that argument.

I’ve wondered if Allan’s willingness to work with women and to draw on the skills of various actresses was based, at least in part, because of his devotion to his hard-working mother, who, along with eight-year-old Allan, were the sole support of the family when his father died. Or perhaps it had something to do with how he met his entertainer wife, pretty Joan Carfrae, the soprano for the Unitarian Church choir whom he was immediately smitten with when he first saw her.

The Pinkerton code of ethics
Rates varied from $3.00 to $10.00 per day, and at the beginning of each assignment, the agent was given a small journal outlining the client’s problems and ideas about how to go about solving them. No client ever met the detective working his case, and undercover “stings” were often used, which is one of the times women operatives became invaluable. Allan’s feelings about women were further laid out in the agency rules he drafted, called General Principles. These unchanged, guiding principles are still the underpinnings of the agency today, though there have been some additions. Among the early regulations, which included things like not accepting rewards, gifts, investigating union meetings, or working for political parties was the promise to “…never investigate the morals of a woman unless in connection with another crime, nor…handle cases of divorce or of a scandalous nature.” These rules are still in place.

This standard, along with Pinkerton’s belief in a woman’s competence and usefulness, combined with Lilly’s personal experiences, are what motivated her and a other intrepid females to fight against the injustices, and limitations of the time and help them gain a more equitable position and louder voice in 1900’s society. It is this same sort of bold woman who is forging new paths for women today.

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An Untimely Frost book coverA big thanks to Penny Richards. She’ll give away a trade paperback copy of An Untimely Frost to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available in the U.S. only.

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