Friday, May 30, 2014

Nineteenth Century Heroines: With Liberty and Justice for All

A few weeks ago I blogged about The Family Nurse, a wonderful look into family medical practices in early nineteenth century America.  I promised to tell you more about its author, Mrs. Lydia Maria Child, who to me epitomizes many of the traits of a true nineteenth century heroine.

Maria, as she liked to be called, was born in 1802 in Medford, Massachusetts, one of six children.  Like many a romance heroine, she lost her mother just as she was nearing adolescence and was sent to live with her older sister.  Though she attended school, it was her older brother who introduced her to such writers as Homer, Milton, and Sir Walter Scott.  With such a background, it shouldn’t be surprising that she decided to write a novel.

She was only twenty-two when her first book was published.  Heralded as the first New England historical novel, Hobomok scandalized the literary elite by portraying a girl who ran off with a Native American and had a child.  The public adored it.  She followed with a historical novel about the days leading up to the Boston Tea Party, which was another success.  Buoyed by the accolades, she started the first monthly magazine in the U.S. devoted to literature for children, serving as editor for eight years.

But Maria was deeply concerned about the injustices she saw around her.  She felt that women, Native Americans, and African Americans should be given equal rights with the white male establishment.  Her husband David Child, who she married in 1828 when she was 26, had no business sense and would prove to be a poor breadwinner, but he believed in her causes just as strongly.  The next few years of her life would be dedicated to writing books she felt where highly needed: 
  • The Frugal Housewife, Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy, sought to inform wives who could not afford servants how to run their households as if it were their profession 
  • The Mother’s Book encouraged women to educate their daughters so they could financially support themselves
  • An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans laid out the history of slavery and called for its immediate abolition.
That last book so offended some of her readers that subscriptions to her children’s magazine, which had been supporting her family, all but dried up.  That didn’t stop her from publishing The History of the Condition of Women, in Various Ages and Nations, which described the status of women all over the world from the days of the bible until Maria’s own time and made a subtle case for equality.

Over the next few decades, Maria continued to publish fiction and nonfiction books, short stories, and poems that challenged readers to see those minimalized by society as deserving a place.  At times, she was denounced for her opinions.  At others, she was praised and courted.  But she lived to see the slaves freed and major strides taken for women’s rights. 

Though many of her books trained her generation and inspired the next generation of rights activists, one of Maria’s poems is perhaps the best known, even though few realize who authored it.  Lydia Maria Child wrote “Over the River and Through the Woods,” the musical version of which is still often sung in the U.S. around Thanksgiving. 
With liberty and justice for all.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

In Flanders Fields

This past weekend my husband and I stopped in at the grocery store to pick up a few things, and made a donation to a veterans’ group soliciting funds outside the door. We were given a small red paper poppy as a token of thanks, and that got me wondering...and researching...and of course, telling you what I found.

The poppy as a symbol of remembrance of those hurt and fallen in war dates to the First World War, a conflict that claimed the lives of so many promising young men, many still in their teens. Great Britain lost so many men that two million women of marriageable age were considered “redundant” because there simply weren’t enough husbands for them (yes, an appalling way of putting it...but also an appalling statistic.)

Much of the actual fighting took place across a swathe of Europe including what is now Belgium and parts of northeastern France. This was primarily an agricultural area, with fields of grain interspersed by woods and small villages—a green, gentle place. But the trench warfare and heavy artillery of the war scarred the land, destroying the fields and the forests, leaving it a wasteland of dead trees and bare earth and mud...until spring arrived. And suddenly the barren, disturbed earth began to sprout...with poppies. You see, the red field (or corn) poppy is a common wildflower in these parts, happily lending a glow of color to the edges of the wheat and grain fields. It blooms between May and August, and its seeds scatter on the wind and lie dormant until the spring plowing disturbs the soil and gives them a chance to grow. Spring plowing didn’t always happen in 1915 and 1916 and 1917...but fighting left the ground torn and open...and the poppies began to sprout, growing in clusters on battlefields and cemeteries. Many noticed this, and a poem written in May 1915 by a Canadian field surgeon, Lt.-Colonel John McCrae, captured the image:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

In 1918, just days before the Armistice was declared that would end the fighting in the fields of Flanders, an indefatigable YMCA volunteer in New York named Moina Michael found a copy of the poem in Ladies’ Home Journal and was deeply moved by it. She made a personal pledge to always wear a poppy in remembrance of the dead of the war, and that pledge quickly became a campaign. It took a great deal of work on her part, but eventually the American Legion adopted the poppy as a symbol of remembrance in 1920, and other organizations world-wide eventually followed suit.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Four Things on a Friday

Sometimes so many things catch your eye in a week that you just have to share them all!  So, I give you four things on a Friday:

1.  Some of the foodstuffs mentioned in nineteenth century literature are certainly interesting!  Ever wonder what calf’s foot jelly looks like?  Check out this blog post by Regency author Susan Karsten.  The picture alone has me shivering!  

2.  Mark your calendars for October 26, when PBS stations will be begin broadcasting Death Comes to Pemberley, based on the book by P.D. James and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Reviews are mixed for both the book and the miniseries, but the acting, costuming, and sets should be amazing! 

3.  Can’t get enough of 19th century art?  Now you can see it (and use it) for free!  This week the Metropolitan Museum announced that it is releasing 400,000 images of itsworks, all free for noncommercial use.  Not all of them are paintings.  Check out these beautiful evening shoes dating from 1875. 

4.  Did you know that over the last hundred years, thousands of people have drowned in the River Thames?  Their grieving families have nowhere to go to remember them.  Now the former curator of the Thames Police Museum and a local artist are teaming to create a memorial to those lost.  You can learn more about it and perhaps donate here

For those of you in the states, may you have a lovely and thoughtful Memorial Day weekend!  Everyone else, carry on!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Happy 195th Birthday to You!

This coming Saturday marks the 195th birthday of one of my favorite historical persons: I refer, of course, to HM Queen Victoria.

Since I’ve—ahem!—written about her frequently enough here over the years, I thought it might be fun to give a little quiz to make sure you’ve all been paying attention. Answers can be found in past NineteenTeen posts...or you can wing it and see just how much of a QV enthusiast you are. Are you game? Here we go! Answers (with links) will be posted at the end, so no peeking!

1. True or False: Victoria’s father died before she was a year old, leaving her to be brought up by her mother, a German princess.

2. True or False: The Queen was briefly engaged to Prince William of Orange (The Netherlands) but changed her mind and called off the marriage because she did not wish to have to spend time away from England as queen.

3. True or False: Victoria designed her own wedding dress, which can still be viewed in the London Museum.

4. True or False: Her Majesty was briefly addicted to the chewing of betel-nuts, a temporary fad at court in 1838, and could out-spit her prime minister, Lord Melbourne.

5. True or False: The Queen was one of the first women to use chloroform to help get through childbirth, much to the dismay of certain conservative groups in the medical community of the time who felt that women should not be permitted any abatement of labor pain.

6. True or False: Victoria was passionately fond of parrots as pets, and had several throughout her lifetime who were said to amuse her very much with their comments about Mr. Gladstone.

7. True or False: In her old age, The Queen had several servants from India, of whom she was immensely fond and who taught her the rudiments of Hindi.


1. True. Victoria’s father, the Duke of Kent, died of pneumonia when she was only eight months old.

2. False. That was her cousin, Princess Charlotte, who died in 1817.

4. False. That was my tricksy April Fool’s Day post from 2008. :)

5. True. She used chloroform for her last two pregnancies, and was roundly abused by the medical journal The Lancet for doing so.

6. False. Actually, Victoria was a dog lover, and the first thing she did on arriving home after her coronation was to give her spaniel, Dash, a bath.

7. True. Unlike other members of her family and household, Victoria was remarkably color-blind for her time...and my goodness, I haven't written about her Indian servants yet, have I? Look for that in an upcoming post. :) how did you do?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Still Here, Part 2

NineteenTeen readers seemed to be amused by the first round of ads for products that are still with us after a hundred or more years that I culled from my research magazines, so here are a few more for your viewing pleasure:

Sunkist Oranges (Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1917):

Waterman’s Pens are now advertised as a luxury item, but in this ad in the June 1917 edition of St. Nicholas, the popular children’s magazine, they’re a tad less upscale:

Mm, mm, good! Campbell’s Soup (The Metropolitan Magazine, June, 1917):

Dental hygiene has come a long way since this post! Pepsodent (The Delineator, May 1917):

This one kind of surprised me. How about you?  Underwood Deviled Ham (Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1917):

For the record--it's pronounced "WUSS-ter-sher." Just in case. Lea and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce (The Delineator, May 1917):

It would appear that 'candy is dandy' has been true for quite a long time now! Whitman’s Chocolates (Harper’s Weekly, February 22, 1902):

And this ad takes this week's prize for inventiveness. I thought "Oh, chewing gum saved a pilot's life by helping him stay awake...but no, nothing so prosaic. You can click on the ad to enlarge it...or here's the text: "It Saved His Life!  A British Flyer was up in the air, over the enemy. A piece of shrapnel pierced his petrol tank. He was chewing WRIGLEY'S (Soldiers, sailors, and aviators are strong for it!)  Quick as a flash he plugged the hole with his gum...and got back alive to camp, thanks to it! We'll send you a copy of his letter on request. It just goes to show how, when you're "up in the air" under nervous tension, you'll find WRIGLEY'S a tonic-bracer--a refershing, lasting pick-me-up. It allays thirst, helps appetite and digestion and soothes mouth and throat."  Might this be the origin of the expression, "held together with chewing gum and baling wire!"  Wrigley’s Gum (The Red Cross Magazine, August 1917):

Which is your favorite ad?

Monday, May 12, 2014

What, Why, and How I Write

Surprise!  Regina here, and not even on a Tuesday!  Marissa and I swapped days this week, because awesome YA author Marilee Brothers invited me to be part of the Big Easy Writing Process Blog Tour.  Marilee writes fun fiction with a touch of magic. Her writing has been called “an amazing combination of intelligent and goofy.”  My kind of gal!

She tagged me, and I get to tag three other fabulous authors after answering four questions.

1.  What am I working on?

I am working on the second book in my upcoming Frontier Bachelors series about the East coast ladies who journeyed to Seattle after the Civil War to help civilize the area.  In A Bride for Their Brother, prim and proper nurse Catherine Stanway is kidnapped by the youngest male member of a family of brothers desperate for help to cure their ailing mother.  Catherine agrees to stay and help, and the brothers decide she’d be the perfect match for their leader, Drew Wallin.  Drew feels like he has enough on his hands with raising four brothers and a sister after his father’s death 10 years ago.  He has no interest in taking on a wife, particularly one raised in the city who has no idea how to get on in the wilderness.  But Catherine just might teach him a thing or two about life, and love.

2.  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

That’s like asking a mother why her children are better than anyone else’s!  In my mind, my stories are different because I tend to blend humor, history, romance, mystery, and adventure into one story.  Those are the stories I like read. Those are the stories I like to write.

3.  Why do I write what I do?

Because those stories call to me.  They wake me up in the middle of the night with scenes and characters begging for a full plot.  They pop into my head when I’m at museums or walking past historical houses.  They even introduce themselves at highly inappropriate times, like when I’m being paid to take notes at technical meetings on nuclear waste (that’s where the premise for Perfection arrived).  And they don’t let go until they are written, or rewritten in the case of La Petite Four, now Art and Artifice.

4.  How does my writing process work?

I start with an idea, spend a day or two asking “what if” to see how far I can take it.  I do enough research to make sure the basic idea is historically feasible.  Then I brainstorm the plot and lay out a very rough, high-level outline that ends in “crisis, resolution, denouement” (I kid you not).  Next I write the first draft long-hand in a blank journal, with lots of holes (“Describe hero here.”  “What did they use for lighting in 1866 Seattle?”).  I let the characters and plot go where they will.  When the first draft is done, I go back and research any holes I discovered along the way.  Then I transcribe the journal into the computer, broadening, deepening, filling as I go.  By that time, I have a pretty good idea of what is bothering me about the story, what’s keeping it from being as good as I want.  I print it out and hack it up, then revise it in the computer.  Then it goes to my wonderful critique partner, who tells me what she likes and hates about it, and I revise it once more to deal with any problem areas.  Finally it’s off to my editor for my Love Inspired titles or a copy-editor for my self-published titles.

Curious how other authors write?  So am I.  I’m tagging three other great authors, who will be answering these questions next Monday, May 19:

Cheryl Bolen is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling and award-winning author of more than 20 romance books, both historical and contemporary mystery.  Since she was named Notable New Author in 1999, her books have been translated into eight languages.  In 2006 she won the Holt Medallion (Honoring Outstanding Literary Talent) for Best Historical, and in 2012 she won Best Historical in the International Digital Awards for ebooks published the prior year.  Admitting to a fascination with dead Englishmen and women, she invites readers to her website or her blog or to connect with her on Facebook.

Aileen Fish, author of The Bridgethorpe Brides series and the Small Town Sweethearts series, is an avid quilter and auto racing fan who finds there aren't enough hours in a day/week/lifetime to stay up with her "to do" list. There is always another quilt or story begging to steal away attention from the others. When she has a spare moment she enjoys spending time with her two daughters and their families, and her fairy princess granddaughter.  You can find her online at her blog and website.

Mary Jane Hathaway is the pen name of an award-nominated writer who spends the majority of her literary energy on subjects unrelated to Jane Austen. A homeschooling mother of six young children who rarely wear shoes, she's madly in love with a man who has never read a single Jane Austen novel. She holds degrees in religious studies and theoretical linguistics, and has a Jane Austen quote on the back of her van. She can be reached on Facebook at Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits or at her blog. She also writes under Virginia Carmichael, which is another pen name, because she's just that cool.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Family Nurse

When you were young and had the sniffles, who did you first turn to for help?  Most likely it was a trusted family member and probably your mother.  That hasn’t changed a lot since the early nineteenth century, in England or America.  The heroine in my current work in progress is a nurse, still somewhat a rarity in 1866 New England, so I’ve been researching medical knowledge and how she might have treated various illnesses.  My wonderful critique partner recently took me to the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, where I found a very interesting book.

The Family Nurse by Mrs. Lydia Child is a compendium of advice for mothers who are tending to ill family members.  Originally published in Boston in 1837, it followed Mrs. Child’s very successful publication of The American Frugal Housewife, a tome devoted to helping middle and lower class women manage homes.  I was delighted to learn that Mrs. Child was an advocate for the rights of women and Native Americans, and she was a staunch abolitionist even though it made her a social outcast for a time.  She also wrote the first historical novel with a woman protagonist in New England.  In fact, Mrs. Child is so fascinating, I plan to devote another post soon on her.

Here is some of Mrs. Child’s advice from The Family Nurse:

“Never meddle with medications, unless some disorder of the system renders them really necessary.” 

“The first and most important duty of the nurse is to follow scrupulously and exactly the directions of the physician.”

“Do everything as quietly as possible. Step lightly and gently; avoid creaking shoes, rustling garments, and banging doors.”

The book has a lengthy section on dealing with childhood illnesses as well as a wonderful compendium of various herbs and food stuffs that can be used to soothe.  Some sound a trifle alarming, like Irish moss blanc-mange and calf’s foot jelly.  Others sound like a child’s dream come true, such as using black currant jelly to ease a sore throat or lemonade to comfort a fever.

I remember my mother let us drink 7-Up when we had upset stomachs; it contained bicarbonate of soda so it could actually help.  My husband swears by honey for a sore throat.  Any favorite healing treats in your family? 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Fashion Forecast: May 1917

So I got hold of a beautiful copy of the May 1917 edition of The Delineator, a magazine published by Butterick, now best known for their sewing patterns. Well, you know that their magazine would have to have gorgeous fashion pages—over twenty of them!--and you’re right. So I thought it was time to have some slightly more recent Fashion Forecasts, which will continue through the summer months. Enjoy!!

The fashion section begins with a look at the latest Paris fashions, with the headline, “Fleet-Footed are the Fashions that Defy the U-Boats”. Designers mentioned include Georgette, Marthe Wingrove, Magraine-Lacroix, Laferriere, and Parry.

One thing you’ll notice that differs from the 19th century prints that I post is that dresses are usually not labeled “Morning Dress” or “Walking Dress” or what have you. What started with this issue of The Delineator was individual breakdowns of the cost of making each pattern, including estimated cost of fabric, trim, findings and patterns, as a result of expected belt-tightening with the newly entered war. The dres at left has a total cost of $4.94, and the dress at right costs a mere $3.37:

Silhouettes are interesting in this year: though many of the dresses shown still have waists, the general lines are hinting at the coming “vertical”, straight look of the twenties. Busts are still low, an echo of the previous decade:

Parasols and creative millinery were definitely in:

Separates—blouses and skirts, or two piece suits—were also in vogue:

What I found especially interesting is that there was a separate section of clothes intended especially for teens, though that exact term is not used. Still, the pattern descriptions are for 16- and 17- and 18-year-olds--a definite change from 19th century fashion:

The biggest difference I can see between these teen clothes and the more grown-up patterns is that the hemlines seem to be a trifle shorter:

More "teen" fashions:

Children's clothing is also included, both for girls...:

And for boys:

What do you think of May 1917's fashions?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Carlyle House: An American's Dream

Did you notice I appear to be on a house kick recently?  It might be explained by the fact that my husband and I are in the process of downsizing and moving across the state to be near family.  Or it may just be that houses of historical value fascinate me.  When they are arranged as they were in their prime, they offer a window into the past.

I had the pleasure of touring Carlyle House in Alexandria, Virginia, recently.  Carlyle House was the dream of English merchant John Carlyle, who wanted a home in colonial Virginia that would proclaim his status.  Completed in 1753, it is the only stone house dating from that time period in Alexandria and looks very much like you might imagine a wealthy Englishman to build. 

Having studied the English Regency for so long, I found the American version of the same time period interesting.  Here’s some of the things I noted.

A number of the design elements were similar, from the Greek key pattern on the woodwork to the internal shutters rather than draperies on the windows.  Mr. Carlyle apparently wrote at times to his family in England and asked what was fashionable there.  Note, however, that while the chair may look like an original Chippendale, it was made in Boston.

Dresses also mimicked their English counterparts, whether the wide skirts of George Washington’s day or the Empire waists of the Regency.  This display showed how the fabric of one era could be recycled by the next generation. 

There is nothing, however, like American ingenuity.  See the frame above the bed’s hangings in the picture below?  I studied it for the longest time, trying to determine how they would have fit the fabric so precisely to the curve of the wood.  The answer?  It’s not fabric.  The wood has been hand-painted in a perfect match.  This may have been done in England, but I haven’t encountered it yet.

The museum did a good job of showing how Mr. Carlyle started out as a member of the British Empire and ended an American patriot.  I must admit, as much as I love the Regency period, seeing this house and Dumbarton House in Georgetown made me long to write an American Revolutionary War story. 

So, I’m adding it to the long list of books I hope to write someday.  Until then, like John Carlyle, I can dream.

*Top picture by Ser Amantio di Nicolao