Tag Archives: Women’s History Month

SWHM Guest: Beverly Jenkins on Apache Warrior and Prophet Lozen

Hi friends! I’m beyond excited to welcome super star author Beverly Jenkins to ALBTALBS with a guest post for Smithsonian Women’s History Month (SWHM).

Lozen is my right hand … strong as a man, braver than most, and cunning in strategy. Lozen is a shield to her people.”

This quote, attributed to the great Apache War Leader Vicotorio describes his sister, Lozen, remembered by the Apache as a kick ass warrior and one of the most powerful medicine people in tribal history. She was born in the late 1840s into the Warm Springs band of the Chiricahua Apache who made their home in the mountains of what is now New Mexico. Some historians believe Lozen means, “Little Sister”, while others say Lozen is a war title given to a person who steals horses during a raid. Regardless of what her name means she is a legend. At a young age, she eschewed the traditional female lessons of basket making and child care to ride horses and learn to fight. She also vowed never to marry. As she grew older, she was as good with a knife as she was with a rifle. She was also a formidable horsewoman. During her coming of age spirit quest, Useen, the Apache Creator God gifted her with not only the power to heal wounds, but the ability to sense the enemy; a sixth sense that would prove invaluable in the Apache fight to remain a free people.

In 1861, Victorio led his people away from the San Carlos reservation and its horrible living and the Apache Wars began. The Chiricahua were among the last Native Americans to take up arms against the US government, and Victorio, with his sister Lozen at his side, eluded capture for years. At one point, the band reached the Rio Grande but the horses refused to enter the fast-moving waters. so Lozen plunged her horse in first, forced it to swim and the other mounts followed. She stole horses from the camps of Mexican soldiers, single-handedly led a group of women and children across the desert, and during the wars her abilities as both healer and shaman were called upon constantly.

During the summer of 1880, their band was fleeing an ambush by the US Army when a Mescalero woman went into labor. Lozen stayed behind to help with the birth while her brother and the others rode on. Vicotorio and seventy- eight braves were eventually captured and killed. The Apache believe had Lozen been with him to do her ritual sensing of the whereabouts of the soldiers he would have gone undetected. In the ritual, she would face the sky, raise her arms above her head, cup her hands and pray. She’d then move in a circle until she felt tingling in her hands and her palms turned purple. The strength of the tingling indicated both the direction and distance of the enemy. Many are convinced that had it not been for her successful predictions the US Army would have conquered the Apache years earlier.

After her brother’s death, Lozen rode with her uncle, the 90 – year old Chief Nana, and eventually the formidable and ghost like Geronimo. While with Geronimo, she added messenger and negotiator to her duties, and was often sent to broker peace and to barter for supplies with army representatives. When Geronimo finally surrendered on September 4, 1886, his band had been reduced to fifteen men, fourteen women, and six children – one of the women was Lozen. She and the others were shipped in cattle cars to Florida where they joined previously captured and removed Chiricahua, but conditions were so terrible and the public so outraged by them, the Apache were moved to Mount Vernon Barracks, Alabama. This warrior woman, who’d fearlessly spent her life fighting to preserve her people’s freedom died there of pneumonia, and was buried in an unmarked grave.

History may have forgotten Lozen, but the Apache, especially its women, have not.

Lozen is referenced in Ms. Jenkins’ novel Breathless. (Sorry, I couldn’t find an image of her that’s in the public domain.) 

BreathlessA strong-willed beauty finds herself in the arms of the handsome drifter from her past, in this second book in the sizzling series set in the Old West, from USA Today Bestselling Author Beverly Jenkins

As manager of one of the finest hotels in Arizona Territory, Portia Carmichael has respect and stability—qualities sorely missing from her harsh childhood. She refuses to jeopardize that by hitching herself to the wrong man. Suitors are plentiful, but none of them has ever looked quite as tempting as the family friend who just rode into town…and none has looked at her with such intensity and heat.

Duchess. That’s the nickname Kent Randolph gave Portia when she was a young girl. Now she’s a stunning, intelligent woman—and Kent has learned his share of hard lessons. After drifting through the West, he’s learned the value of a place to settle down, and in Portia’s arms he’s found that and more. But convincing her to trust him with her heart, not just her passion, will be the greatest challenge he’s known—and one he intends to win…

Have you read Breathless? Did you know about Lozen? Do you have a favorite female historical figure? We’d love to hear your thoughts! <3 [And remember to say “hi” to Beverly Jenkins!!! Eeee!!!] 

SWHM Guest: Cecilia London

My friends, March is almost over, and I’ve let Smithsonian Women’s History Month pass quietly. There will likely be some changes at ALBTALBS (and ideally a more usual schedule – that’d be a change of pace for sure…) – and some “retroactive” posts… but as you see, we have the fantastic Cecilia London guesting with us, and she’s got a double relevant post – discussing Women’s History Month as well as her books – one of which is currently free. Whee!

My earliest political memory is of drawing a mustache on Walter Mondale while my best friend drew a beard on Ronald Reagan. We had just been handed a special election copy of Weekly Reader. Don’t judge me, or her…we were seven and in parochial school. I hadn’t yet realized that my parents were moderate to liberal independents with rebellious voting tendencies that have only gotten more radical with age. I was convinced I was a Republican.

Flash forward a few years to eighth grade, when I took a highly questionable test on a school computer that declared me a liberal. Liberal? From everything I’d been told, that was a very dirty word. I wasn’t sure I wanted any part of it. But I embraced the results and zoomed head-on into high school.

By the time the 1992 elections came around, I knew the score. I’d watched the Hill-Thomas hearings. I’d gotten sick of seeing all those arrogant men acting like they owned the damn country. And I was ready to dedicate my life to public service. I wanted to be like my idols – Pat Schroeder, Geraldine Ferraro, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan – all the women I’d read about in the paper or seen on TV. I wanted to be a member of Congress.

I love political memorabilia.

Easier said than done, of course. I supported Jerry Brown up until the convention, when I finally admitted that Clinton was going to be the nominee. I had hope in Bill along with Senator-elect Carol Moseley Braun, who had scored a huge upset victory against Alan Dixon in the Democratic primary. I was a fresh faced, idealistic fifteen year old convinced that this so-called Year of the Woman and Clinton’s election could get us going…somewhere. It had to…right?

Hey, an old copy of the Chicago Tribune! I keep EVERYTHING. If I ever drop off the social media map without warning, please send someone to check on me. I’m likely buried in a pile of old newspapers and copies of Entertainment Weekly.

My parents and I visited Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1993. I was so excited. A friend of mine gave me a copy of Pat Schroeder’s first book (Champion of the Great American Family) as a joke since she’d gotten it at a book sale for fifty cents (it was not exactly a commercial success). Pat Schroeder was my idol. The idealist. The feminist. The woman who along with six others marched up the steps to the United States Senate demanding an inquiry into the accusations Anita Hill had made against Clarence Thomas. And I was determined to meet her.

Remember this? That’s then-Congresswoman Barbara Boxer leading the way.

(You can click on the photo for more information.)

Yes, I wanted to meet Pat Schroeder. And Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, and Barbara Mikulski, and Patty Murray, and any other female member of Congress I could find. These women were my superstars, my celebrities, my inspiration. Sadly, Representative Schroeder was not in her office when I visited. Her staffers let me sit at her desk and my parents snapped a photo. They offered to have her call me at my hotel but (being the shy kid I was) I stupidly said that wasn’t necessary. To this day I wish I would have said yes. Who knows what that conversation might have been like?

Pat Schroeder declined to run for re-election in 1996. I was devastated. But I understood. She’d spent 24 years in the House. Progress had been made, but not much. She was one of the trailblazers, making it easier for other female candidates to run and win. But had anything in the promise of the Year of the Woman actually been achieved? Perhaps. But we have miles to go before we sleep.

So what’s the point of this piece? To drop some names, share some personal anecdotes, (eventually) plug my books? Whenever February and March roll around, I always wonder why some folks get up in arms about Black History Month and Women’s History Month. I don’t mean those of us who celebrate it. I mean those who feel such celebrations aren’t necessary.

Hopefully those of you reading this guest post have recognized all the names I’ve mentioned so far. But if you haven’t? That’s why we need Women’s History Month. It’s not just about female politicians and social activists (though they have driven a lot of this country’s political evolution) but inventors, writers, lawyers, architects, astronauts…and not just the ones that show up in mainstream history books. This is about more than Jeannette Rankin and Geraldine Ferraro and Shirley Chisholm…more than Fannie Lou Hamer and Toni Morrison and Sally Ride… it’s about all of those accomplishments that have been buried because the gatekeepers have deemed them to be insignificant.

I took women’s studies and African American history classes in college but never learned all the details of Chisholm’s historic 1972 presidential run until I was well out of law school. I had to seek the story out myself (in a wonderful documentary entitled Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed, which I highly recommend). And she is (IMHO) a relatively high profile figure in women’s history. This is the kind of information that should be taught in every high school American history class. And it is not.

Anyway…back to my story (and my books!). As I grew older, my political drive lessened but I remained interested in public policy. I went to law school, dedicated to serving the public in some capacity. But I began to realize that the gamesmanship required to gain elected office wasn’t something I was willing to do. I decided to work in the public sector in a non-political capacity. But my creativity was sapped…until October 2013.

I was still a dreamer in law school but those three years force you to process your thoughts in a different way. I stopped writing poetry and short stories to focus on briefs and motions but had a very active imagination. And I created these two vibrant characters in my head – a male and female member of Congress on opposite sides of the aisle. But I had no vehicle for them. They languished in my daydreams for almost ten years until I had a food poisoning-induced dream in which I pictured them as valiant patriots fighting a fascist regime.

The overall plotline of my series has evolved but thanks to that questionable barbecue, The Bellator Saga was born. And despite current events, I assure you I am not writing metafiction (so far as I can tell).

In a way, Caroline Gerard (my heroine) is an idealized version of the public figure I’d hoped to become back in high school. Moderately liberal, fiercely passionate about human and civil rights, genuinely kind and decent. Her romantic lead may at first appear to be a caricature – millionaire, playboy, Republican, silver fox (if you dig the older dudes like I do) – but…

Gratuitous teaser included in guest post at no extra charge!

I wanted to humanize my characters. Make them real. Because we all have foibles. We all have flaws. It doesn’t matter if we’re high profile or not. We’re all just people. Granted, Caroline and Jack are larger than life in any number of ways, but I hope that they’re relatable.

I wanted to explore a few deeper issues in The Bellator Saga – which is best described as It Can’t Happen Here blended with, uh, a lot of sex. What would happen if a fascist were allowed to take office? How easily could it happen? How would Americans react? And more importantly, how would those with money, power, and influence (like Caroline and Jack) respond when dissent is batted down viciously (though clandestinely)?

It would be easy for a person of privilege to flee instead of fighting, but Caroline chooses to throw down the gauntlet. As I developed the plotline it was vitally important that she not only be a badass (in the intellectual, politically active sense) but a compassionate, loyal person who would defend her ideals and her country until the very end. It was also important that she and Jack have an egalitarian relationship grounded in a deep emotional connection and an undying passion for one another.

The series is different; I will grant you that. The first two books, Dissident and Conscience, are told in a non-linear fashion, with parallel present/past timelines converging at the end of book two. The journey continues in Sojourn, as Caroline continues to wrestle with her memories of a beautiful past while struggling in an uncertain present.

The last three books in the series will be released in 2016, and a box set of the first three books was released on February 29. The Bellator Saga has a bit of everything but is at its heart an epic romance. It’s got a meaty plot and parts of it can be difficult to read (I don’t sugarcoat anything – totalitarian regimes don’t play nice), so you’ll likely either love it or hate it.

I hope that if nothing else, Caroline has lived up to the women I admired as a child. Because of them I continue my activist spirit in a different way – through the written word (and sometimes as a lawyer, I suppose!).

Thanks to Lime for having me, and here’s more Shameless Author Stuff!
Website, Facebook, Twitter: @authorclondon

Currently Free is Dissident
Dissident“I will always be with you…”

Rising Democratic star Caroline Gerard hasn’t had an easy year. After losing her husband, she is raising two small children alone while trying to navigate the tricky and sometimes shallow halls on Capitol Hill. A string of nasty speeches has her scrambling to apologize to any number of candidates, including newly elected Republican Jack McIntyre. Falling in love again is the last thing on her mind.

Jack McIntyre might have a reputation as a playboy, but he has his sights set solely on his new colleague. Can he break through Caroline’s grief and capture her heart?

Told mostly in flashback and set against a chilling fascist backdrop, Dissident is a rollercoaster ride of political intrigue, passionate contemporary romance, and undying love.

For readers 18+. Ends on a cliffhanger.

And for The Bellator Saga which includes the first three books…
The Bellator SagaTwo souls intertwined. One epic love story.

Get swept away in the passionate romance between political opposites Caroline Gerard and Jack McIntyre in the first half of The Bellator Saga.

This set contains the first three books in the series, Dissident, Conscience, and Sojourn.

Dissident
Rising Democratic star Caroline Gerard is reluctant to fall in love again after losing her husband. Can Republican playboy Jack McIntyre break through her grief and capture her heart? Told mostly in flashback and set against a chilling fascist backdrop, Dissident is a rollercoaster ride of political intrigue, passionate romance, and undying love.

Conscience
Caroline faces the biggest challenge of her life when confronted with the cruelty and sadism of her captors at The Fed. Hope fades quickly, even as she holds onto her one last bit of sanity and her unshakable belief that her husband will rescue her. But is that faith just a mirage?

Sojourn
Reeling from her experiences at The Fed, Caroline tries to forge ahead and create a new identity. But that’s hard to do with the ghosts of the past constantly whispering in her ear. She is determined to find the rebellion and move on with her life, but what will she find when she arrives there?

Includes bonus material featuring a deleted scene from Sojourn, a sneak peek at Phoenix, and a never before released love scene told in Jack’s first person point of view!

SWHM Encore: Guest Ki on Ada Lovelace

Hi friends! You’re like “whoa, what the heck, Lime, I thought we had a month off from Smithsonian Heritage Months?” And I had been all “yeah this is the close!” … But I ~changed my mind. I totally missed a message from Ki last month. (I didn’t even know she’d sent a file through Facebook – since when has that been a thing?!) So – I definitely wanted to include it, because Ada Lovelace was a badass. So everyone let’s get settled in to learn about Ada Lovelace, and thank you Ki for this lovely post! <3

Ada Lovelace

Ada

Hi y’all! I’m super grateful to be a part of this fabulous month for Women’s History.

As an amateur history buff and amateur research wonder (if that even makes sense) I like to research history and anything that relates to the Regency and Victorian era. Hopefully this doesn’t turn out to be a long research essay but brave through it with me and I hope you’ll learn something new.

As there are many famous ladies known during the Regency and Victorians (courtesans and gentlewomen of birth), there’s one that out beats them all for me, Ada Lovelace!

Of course Ada Lovelace isn’t her real name but a name given to her for her title. She would have been only a small part of history for her notorious father’s reputation but with her connections and knowledge she has made history! Despite men in the world trying to discredit both her and her work for years.

She was born Augustus Ada Gordon Byron in 1815, and then later, Lady Ada King, Countess Lovelace, (a magnificent title isn’t it!) when she married William King-Noel, the 1st Earl of Lovelace. But she’s most famously known as Ada Lovelace, or for me, Lord Byron’s daughter.

Although she’s the only legitimate child of the erratic poet George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, and mathematician mother Annabella Milbanke, she never met her father. Lord Byron left the country 4 months after Ada’s birth for Italy to never return. Her mother quickly requested for a legal separation from Bryon (which was unheard of and scandalous during the time) and got it approved.

Because her father was a volatile poet and a man whore shall I say in England, her mother raised Ada under a “strict regimen of science, logic, and mathematics.” But of course Ada was born to love numbers and even hoped to be an “analyst and metaphysician,” asking of her mother, “if you can’t give me poetry, can’t you give me ‘poetical science’?”

But what made her huge and well known was when she met Charles Babbage, the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of London, and father of the computer in 1833, at the age of 17 by introduction from Mary Sommerville, a Scottish scientist and polymathemtician herself, during a dinner party. Ada and Babbage became lifelong friends and talked about all topics of math and logic.

She became fascinated with Babbage’s Analytical Engine, and later help translate an article from Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea who supported the device and wrote an article on it by adding and extending her own research of the Engine with a better understanding of articulating Babbage’s ideas than himself.

She saw the Engine as more than a sophisticated calculator so during her research Ada wrote extensive side notes of her work “detailing how the Engine could be fed step-by-step instructions to do complicated math, and trained to work not only with numbers but also words and symbols “to [even] compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.” These notes are considered to be the first descriptions of what we now call algorithms and computer programming as she even suggested for the Engine to be able to calculate Bernoulli numbers.

So she basically helped invent the mechanical calculator at the same time as creating the first computer program!

Sadly she only lived a short life and died at the age of 36 to cancer. She was buried next to her father in Italy even though she had never met him. *aww~ tears tears*

Ada’s programmes remained nothing but visions and Babbage never did see his invention come to light. In fact there were no manifestations of their machine until the mid-20th century where Alan Turing is reported to have used it as inspiration for his modern computer work.

So if it wasn’t for her work and research we would have nothing here right now on ALBTALBS.

Women power you know, we’re smart and can’t let all those men tell us we’re not.

You can read some of her article here.

So have you heard of Ada Lovelace before? Did you know there’s Ada Lovelace Day every year mid-October. (That’s all I can find – no specifics on how it’s otherwise decided, but I know this year it’s on October 13.) 🙂 You can also remember to check out the google doodle on Ada’s birthday on December 10th.
Ada Lovelace Google Doodle
What a singular woman! Thanks so much for sharing, Ki! Have you guys heard of Ada Lovelace before? Have any other women to suggest as being amazing and deserving of celebration? The field is wide open! Let’s hear it! <3

SWHM Guest: Katharine Ashe on Olympe de Gouges & The Rights of Women

Hi friends! It has been a month, hasn’t it? Smithsonian Women’s History Month ends today… and as you see we’ve got Katharine Ashe visiting with a guest post. If you don’t know anything about her, read her bio at the end, and you’ll see why she was a perfect gift this month. I hope everyone had fun, and learned something.  🙂 Thanks for sticking with us! <3

The Rights of Women

Olympe de GougesIn December of 1789, an abolitionist play, The Slavery of the Blacks, or the Lucky Shipwreck by Madame Olympe de Gouges, debuted on stage in the tumult of Revolutionary Paris. After only three performances, the curtain fell on the play for the last time. Incendiary in its call for slave emancipation, the play infuriated colonial plantation owners, whose lucrative sugar industry in the West Indies (today’s Caribbean) depended entirely on the labor of slaves. The play went too far in criticizing their livelihood, and encouraged slaves to rise up violently against their owners, they complained. Who was a woman to demand change to a system she could not possibly understand?

Who was Olympe de Gouges?

Born Marie Gouze in 1748, she was a playwright, pamphleteer, and outspoken warrior in the battle for the rights of all humans, which raged across the world at this time. A citizen of the new France, which had thrown off its absolute monarchy to become a constitutional monarchy ruled by a representative governing body, Marie was not born into the aristocracy. Rumor had it, though, that she was the illegitimate — unrecognized — daughter of a titled nobleman, and some historians attribute her impassioned defense of people without rights to this early rejection in her life.

Whatever the root of her convictions about universal human rights may have been, she was a product of her era, an outspoken and courageous advocate for slaves, mulattos and women.

For centuries, the aristocrats and clergy of France had beggarded the vast majority of the population through taxes and a system of labor that amounted to serfdom. Stirred up by the writings of poets, politicians and playwrights of the Enlightenment and their calls for equal rights for all citizens, the people of France finally rose up en masse, and in 1789 plunged their nation into a Revolution that was to profoundly change not only France but all of Europe and the colonial world.

In May of 1789, leaders of the Revolution formed the National Constituent Assembly as the representative governing body of the kingdom. On August 26, 1789, the men of the assembly passed The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a surprisingly short document including seventeen statements that spelled out “the natural, unalienable, and sacred rights of man” for the nation, declaring the rule of law — rather than the random will of men in power — to be the fundamental basis for society. (Here’s a good version of that declaration.)

Compiled in an atmosphere of heady triumph combined with uncertainty as to how far to go with certain claims of liberty, many provisions of the Declaration discussed in the Assembly were not included in the final version; some were simply too controversial to survive the early days of the Revolution. By and large, though, France’s new leaders embraced the Declaration as a true and just guide for social, political and legal behavior henceforth.

But not every citizen of the new nation thought the Declaration sufficed. In 1790 a call was made in the National Assembly to extend civil rights to women. Support for it was light, and it met with failure. Following this blow, in September of 1791, playwright Olympe de Gouges published The Declaration of the Rights of Woman. (The best online version is here.) This declaration mimicked the National Assembly’s text of seventeen provisions, each provision altered only slightly in form but significantly in essence.

For example, #4 of the declaration ratified by the National Assembly states:

Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.”

Number #4 of The Declaration of the Rights of Woman states instead:

Liberty and justice consist in restoring all that belongs to another; hence the exercise of the natural rights of woman has no other limits than those that the perpetual tyranny of man opposes to them; these limits must be reformed according to the laws of nature and reason.”

Olympe de Gouges’s Declaration included a postscript directly addressed to the people it intended to emancipate from virtual slavery. “Women, wake up,” it demanded.

The tocsin of reason sounds throughout the universe; recognize your rights. The powerful empire of nature is no longer surrounded by prejudice, fanaticism, superstition, and lies. The torch of truth has dispersed all the clouds of folly and usurpation. Enslaved man has multiplied his force and needs yours to break his chains. Having become free, he has become unjust toward his companion. Oh women! Women, when will you cease to be blind?”

The postscript spelled out the tragic circumstances that women often found themselves in — abandonment, poverty, social ostracism — because of men who held all legal rights and social power over them, and it compared women’s powerlessness to the situation of slaves. Among other things, it demanded that a married woman and man hold property in common, and even included a sample marriage contract.

The Declaration of the Rights of Woman was a heady call to true equality of the sexes. In feminist circles its author was praised as a true revolutionary, demanding that France’s new freedoms not only be embodied in white males but in black, mulatto and women’s bodies too. If rights were fundamentally human, natural, then they must apply to all people, not only to white men.

Such demands didn’t go over well with everybody. Leaders of the Revolution didn’t all believe in the fundamental equality of women; for centuries philosophers and scientists had insisted that female humans didn’t actually possess the faculty of reason, a quality that was essential to operate as a full citizen in a society based on law. Without reason, how could they make decisions about important things like property? And how on earth were they expected to vote appropriately? Women’s minds weren’t to be trusted with the functions of government that a responsible citizen must engage in.

On the 22nd of September, 1792, leaders of the Revolution declared the monarchy obsolete and established the Republic of France. King Louis was tried and condemned for treason while two competing factions within the republican government battled for power in the new government. In the midst of this battle, the Reign of Terror commenced, during which tens of thousands of aristocrats and anybody else suspected of plotting against the revolution were imprisoned and then executed. Aligned firmly on one side of the conflict, Olympe de Gouges swiftly fell victim to the Terror: after three months of imprisonment, on November 2, 1793, she died upon the guillotine. Accused of spreading counterrevolutionary ideas and denounced as an “unnatural” woman, she represented both the greatest ideals of the Revolution and the most constricting self-contradictions and injustices of her age.

A year later, in 1794, the National Assembly abolished slavery across France’s empire. It would be reinstated under Napoleon in 1802. But by then abolitionists had established sufficient grounds for victory in both the language of human rights and in successful slave uprisings (including the Haitian Revolution), that universal slave emancipation did eventually become a reality. In 1807, England — which had harbored France’s exiled aristocrats during the Revolution — outlawed the slave trade, and then in 1833 abolished slavery entirely. In the following decades, other nations followed suit, including France once again in 1848.

Despite the work of women like Olympe de Gouges, the rights of women were much slower to find supporters among the men who ruled France and neighboring countries. “Woman is born free and remains equal to man in rights,” stated The Declaration of the Rights of Woman. Given the tenor of our own society’s current debates over feminism, sexism, job equality, the legal rights of women in domestic abuse cases, and rape culture—to name only a few points of conflict—it seems that we still have a long way to go to realize Marie Gouze’s dream.

_ _ _

KATHARINE ASHE is the award winning, best selling author of historical romances that reviewers call “intensely lush” and “sensationally intelligent,” including My Lady, My Lord, nominated for the 2015 RITA® Award of the Romance Writers of America. She lives in the wonderfully warm Southeast with her beloved husband, son, dog, and a garden she likes to call romantic rather than unkempt. A professor of history, she writes romance because she thinks modern readers deserve grand adventures and breathtaking sensuality too. For more about her books, please visit www.KatharineAshe.com.

Wow. I wish more time was spent on Olympe de Gouges when classes study the French Revolution and the surrounding issues. Thank you so much for this post, Katharine!

So, did you guys know about Olympe de Gouges? Have a fun fact to share? Or someone else you think deserves a shout out before Women’s History Month ends?

SWHM Guest: Cathy Pegau on Nellie Bly

Hi friends! So, more fun/not fun with hosting and I’m just losing my mind – beyond the time cost there have been actual monetary ~losses on my part and I’ve just sat there wondering if I should scrap this whole thing. For now, however, we’re holding strong, and Smithsonian Women’s History Month marches on! In fact, we’ve got Cathy Pegau visiting with us again today. This time, she’s talking about one of her favorite female historical figures. I want to say all of us who are stateside know of Nellie Bly – possibly friends overseas as well, but I remember learning about her in elementary school. <3

NELLIE BLY: JOURNALIST, ADVENTURER, SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR

Nellie BlyMy awareness, and subsequent appreciation, for the woman known as Nellie Bly came while doing research for a book I was writing. I’d found Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World* and later several websites** dedicated to the intrepid journalist, giving me great insight into the era I was interested in. By the time I finished reading, however, I’d received more than a history lesson.

Two things about Nellie Bly immediately captivated me. First, she was a journalist living in a challenging time for women (though seriously, what era isn’t?). The main character in my new series is a journalist in 1919, when women were pushing hard for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to allow women the vote. Second, I saw a lot of things in Nellie’s passion, spirit, and determination that I wanted to have in my character, Charlotte.

Elizabeth Jane “Pink” Cochran was born in May 1864 or 1865 (Nellie Bly was the professional name she used later) and grew up in Pennsylvania coal country. The death of her father, and later the divorce of her mother and abusive step-father, were events that stayed with Pink throughout her life, making her keenly aware of the situations women—particularly poor women—had to face.

An “ah ha” moment came at age twenty, as Pink was trying to decide what sort of job she wanted. After reading an article called “What Girls are Good For” in The Pittsburgh Dispatch that basically told girls they had no reason to bother with getting an education or having a career, she wrote a scathing letter to the editor. Impressed, the editor invited her to pen a rebuttal. She did, and the editor was again bowled over by her voice and passion, if not her command of spelling and grammar. He offered her a job at the paper. She wrote under the name Nellie Bly, taking a pen name as many women journalists of the time did to protect their identities.

Nellie started with a bang at The Dispatch. One of her first series of articles revealed the conditions for the poor female workers in a local bottle factory. Another piece focused on the corruption of the Mexican government she had seen while visiting there for five months. She had started to write about it while in Mexico, but the authorities threatened to arrest her. She left Mexico one month sooner than planned so she could have the piece published in the U.S. But when Nellie’s investigative reporting started to irritate local companies, who threatened to pull advertising, she was assigned a gardening piece, more typical fare for a woman in journalism. Nellie turned in the article and her resignation and went to New York.

In 1887 New York, Nellie found it quite difficult to get a job as a news reporter. To make a living, she worked as a freelance writer of pieces on the only topics that papers would buy from her: women’s fashion and the like. She wasn’t alone in her frustrations.

In the 1880 census, 12,308 Americans listed their jobs as journalist. Of those, 288 (~2%) were women. The majority of those were writing for the “women’s pages” of newspapers on things like fashion, shopping, cooking, high society doings, and the home. Few women in the profession were allowed to prove they were as smart, as tough, and as determined as the men. Women reporters and journalists such as Flora McDonald, Jane Grey Swisshelm, and one known only as J.L.H., often criticized the treatment they received. From their being “paid in compliments” rather than cash, like the men, to being told women were too delicate and distractible to be serious writers, to sexual harassment, they overcame all manner of obstacles to be in the news portion of the newspaper.

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the WorldNellie eventually met the editor of The World, John Cockerill, and proposed going to Europe and returning via the steerage class in order to describe to readers the conditions poor immigrants faced on their crossing to America. Cockerill and The World publisher, Joseph Pulitzer, didn’t think a lone women should take on such a journey. (Later, Pulitzer encouraged the ‘round the world race, but that’s another story : ) They did propose she do a story of more local interest. Pulitzer had been told the staff of Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum was mistreating its female patients. If Nellie could get in and get the inside information on what was going on there, she could change the lives of the women remanded to the facility. This was the sort of story Nellie loved, something that would expose corruption or shed light on the situation of those who had no voice.

In September of 1887, feigning symptoms such as constant headache and tiredness, and not understanding English well (she pretended to be from Cuba, using the Spanish she learned while in Mexico), Nellie was committed to Blackwell’s Island. For ten days, she experienced the ice cold baths, poor food, abuse, mistreatment, and deplorable conditions typical of the asylum. Some of the women there were not suffering from mental health issues at all, but were immigrants who spoke little to no English. All were treated no better than animals.

Luckily, Nellie was retrieved by a lawyer hired by The World, and she felt terrible leaving the other women behind. But her series of reports led to an investigation by the state and a court case in which Nellie gave testimony. Conditions at Blackwell’s Island improved, though more likely due to threats from the courts than out of any sort of desire to change on the part of the staff.

Throughout her life, and practically until the day she passed away in 1922, Nellie was a constant champion for poor women, children, and anyone in need or who was being taken advantage of. She wrote about swindlers and animal cruelty, crooked politicians and the plight of the homeless, over-crowded conditions of New York’s tenements and women’s suffrage. Anyone who wasn’t on the up-and-up headed for the nearest escape route if they knew Nellie Bly was outside their door.

But she was also game to go anywhere or do anything or talk to anyone she felt would grab the readers’ attention, from entertainers to public figures. She trained with boxer John L. Sullivan, interviewed Helen Keller, and performed with the chorus line of a stage show.

Nellie used her adventurous spirit and way with words to draw readers in and make them see what was really happening right under their noses. If she were alive today, I could easily see her all over television or on social media calling for justice and fair treatment.

Reading about Nellie Bly not only gave me better insight about my suffragette character Charlotte Brody, who is also someone to stand up for others (though not as daring as Nellie), it made me think about all the women who have come before us, striving to make the world a better place in whatever way they could. And all the women who are now making history by speaking up and acting for the benefit of all. While I will never go undercover in an asylum or factory, I hope I can somehow channel Nellie’s spirit and sense of justice in my own way.

*In Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman, there is, of course a second interesting young woman, Elizabeth Bisland. Elizabeth was a journalist as well, writing literary review for The Cosmopolitan when she was tapped to partake in the race (though she never called it a race). She didn’t have the adventurer’s spirit that Nellie had, but she deserves a lot of credit for taking on what had to be a daunting task.

**There are a good number of websites dedicated to Nellie Bly, but http://NellieBlyOnline.com is a pretty good source.

About Cathy Pegau: Cathy lives in Alaska with her family and a house full of critters. She writes speculative fiction and has a historical mystery series coming out in November 2015 from Kensington Publishing, starting with Murder on the Last Frontier. She has an addendum to one of her favorite quotes: “Well-behaved women seldom make history…or the future.”
Find her online or say hello on Twitter @CathyPegau

Thanks so much for sharing about Nellie Bly, Cathy! I’d forgotten some of the amazing things she had done. <3 Do any of you have a favorite Nellie Bly story? Or another favorite female reporter?

SWHM Guest: Sandra Schwab on Lady Holland

We’re winding down on Smithsonian Women’s History Month! But we’re not done yet! In fact we’ve got Sandra Schwab here today to tell us about Lady Holland! When trying to plan for March I was like “my gosh what do I do?” So I put out a call on social media, contacted some people, and looked up other awesome historical women I wanted to feature. I think it’s gone okay so far, right? 😉

Sandra has everything covered really, with a really great and informative post, so I’ll just let her take it from here!

A Most Remarkable Woman: Lady Holland

Lady HollandSome fourteen or fifteen years ago, I stumbled across a mention of Lady Holland, one of the great Whig hostesses of the early nineteenth century, and the Holland House Circle. What I read was intriguing enough to dig a little deeper when I was doing research for my first historical romance. I read many contemporary and later accounts as well as diaries and detailed descriptions of the house and its environs. What slowly emerged was the story of a most remarkable woman.

Lady Holland was born in 1771 as Elizabeth Vassal, the daughter of a rich merchant family. Barely fifteen, she was forced to marry Sir Godfrey Webster, who was more than 20 years her senior. As can be expected she was deeply unhappy in her marriage, especially when it became obvious that their interests were wide apart. She loved travelling and was interested in the arts. He was not. Even worse: he was becoming increasingly abusive.

In 1793, during a journey through Italy with her husband, Elizabeth wrote in her journal:

“In all the collections much escapes me, as I am always accompanied by one whose impetuosity compels me to hasten from objects I would willingly contemplate, and whose violence of temper throws me into agitations that prevent me distinguishing the objects when they are before me. Much as I endure now, yet it is infinitely more bearable than formerly; experience and a better knowledge of the world makes me laugh at menaces that used to terrify me out of my senses. These threats […] follow the slightest difference of opinion between us. / The present reigning grievance is the being from home, and my determined love for being abroad.”

Sir Godfrey became so violent, that friends and acquaintances were worried for Elizabeth’s safety and advised her never to travel alone with her husband, but always in large groups. It is no wonder then that Elizabeth did try to avoid the company of her husband as much as possible. In the winter of 1793/ 1794 she was travelling alone around the continent (despite the war that had broken out!), and once again went to Italy, where she met Henry Richard Fox, 3rd Lord Holland — and they seemed to have hit if off right from the start. In early February 1794 Elizabeth wrote in her diary:

“Ld. G. Leveson-Gower and Ld. Holland came here the day before yesterday. The first I knew at Dresden. He is remarkably handsome and winning […]. Ld. Holland is not in the least handsome; he has, on the contrary, many personal defects, but his pleasingness of manner and liveliness of conversation get over them speedily. He is just returned from Spain, and his complexion partakes of the Morescoe hue. He is now in better health. He has a very complex disorder, called an ossification of the muscles in his left leg. […] They dined with us […] Ld. Holland quite delightful; his gaiety beyond anything I ever knew, full of good stories.”

Holland HouseAnd so, it did not take long before Elizabeth was head over heels in love with Lord Holland. She started an affair with him and soon was pregnant with his child. This acted as the cue for her husband to start divorce proceedings in England — at that time, a very messy affair. The marriage was eventually annulled in 1797, eight months after Elizabeth had given birth to a son, Charles Fox Vassall — and surely this was meant to be Sir Godfrey’s revenge: he went to parliament for an annulment so late that this child was born illegitimate and could not inherit Lord Holland’s title. Two days after the annulment, Elizabeth married her Lord Holland.

“I was married at Rickmansworth Church by Rev. Mr. Morris to Lord Holland, on July 6th, 1797. […] I was twenty-six years old. Ld. H. was twenty-three. The difference in age is, alas! two years and eight months—a horrid disparity,” Elizabeth writes, tongue-in-cheek. And Lady Bessborough, who was present at the wedding, wrote to Lord Leveson-Gower: “I never saw creatures so happy. Such perfect happiness as theirs scarcely ever was instanc’d before.”

Yet of course, this happiness didn’t come without a price. The divorce from Sir Godfrey was the scandal of the year, and in fact, would never be quite forgotten for the rest of Lady Holland’s life. The first years of her marriage must have been the most difficult for her, one can guess, for she would have been followed by giggles and whispers wherever she went, and some ladies wouldn’t receive her at all. Even several decades later, sticklers for propriety would either leave their wives at home when coming to Holland House, or said wives wouldn’t attend a social event if they knew Lady Holland would be present.

But Lady Holland was in many ways a force of nature and overcame these difficulties to become one of the most famous hostesses of the early 19th century. Indeed, she managed to make Holland House in Kensington a glittering social, political and cultural center. Regular guests at Holland House included Sir Walter Scott; Byron, who sent presentation copies of his works to Lady Holland; John Kemble, the famous actor; Henry Luttrell, one of the most famous wits of the Regency and a protégé of the Duchess of Devonshire; the ladies’ man Palmerston, who was known as “Cupid” at Almack’s, but more importantly was Secretary at War for nearly 20 years (1809-1830), Foreign Secretary for another twenty, and later Prime Minister under Queen Victoria; the Italian poet Ugo Foscolo and the Spanish-Irish poet José Maria Blanco White, who acted as tutor for Lord Holland’s heir Henry for a while. And then, of course, there was John Allen, who lived at Holland House and combined the positions of librarian, steward and loyal friend.

Holland Dining RoomDinners at Holland House were notorious both for Lady Holland’s sharp tongue and for the overcrowded dinner table. Sometimes 16 people dined at a table for 9, and people were given exact instructions where to sit, or were ordered to vacate their chairs for some more favored guests. On one occasion, when Lady Holland ordered Luttrell to make room, he answered, “It will have to be made, for it does not exist.” On the other hand, this tight squeeze at her dinner table, even though it was somewhat disagreeable, still resulted in a feeling of good-fellowship and resembled the general scramble of a picnic.

At her dinner table, in particular, and in her own home in general, Lady Holland was the supreme leader. She was famous for her extreme frankness, which bordered on rudeness, and this character trait sparked lots of anecdotes, for example, she once told Samuel Rogers, “Your poetry is bad enough, so pray be sparing of your prose.” (Ouch!)

Yet despite all her faults, Lady Holland’s friends seemed to have really liked her, for while she could be extremely rude, she was also very kind. Sir Henry Holland, who was not a relative, but one of the most sought-after physicians of his time, wrote of her, “In my long and intimate knowledge of Lady Holland, I never knew her desert an old friend, whatever his condition might be.” She was also very kind to servants, and when Edgar, one of her pages, fell ill, she made fuss of Edgar, whom she called a “little creature” even though he was a tall, hulking lad of 20. She ordered her guests to sit by his bedside and entertain him. It takes little imagination to see how this would have greatly embarrassed both sides. But even though, Edgar remained in the Hollands’ service and was still there when Lord Holland died 16 years later in 1845.

~~~~

Award-winning author Sandra Schwab started writing her first novel when she was seven years old. Thirty-odd years later, telling stories is still her greatest passion, even though by now she has exchanged her pink fountain pen of old for a black computer keyboard. Since the release of her debut novel The Lily Band in 2005, she has enchanted readers worldwide with her unusual historical romances.

She lives in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, with a sketchbook, a sewing machine, and an ever-expanding library.

Find her online, or catch up with her on Facebook, Twitter, or perhaps you would like to accompany her characters to one of Lady Holland’s dinner parties? Sign up for Sandra’s newsletter, so you won’t miss the re-release of The Lily Band this spring!

SWHM Guest & Birthday Girl: Shelli Stevens

Hey guys, so I have been having so many site and hosting issues I think I might start bleeding from the eyes and ears from stress and rage. (Sorry – graphic, but it’s how I feel. In fact I am chatting to tech support right now as I type this. So … site issues.) REGARDLESS we’re finally into spring! That shit is amazing! Fingers crossed for no more snow, and all bright happiness and NOT too many fucking pollen counts. >.>

Erm, new paragraph for happier things. Spring! Birthdays! Shelli Stevens! Well, Shelli hasn’t been to ALBTALBS in some time, but we’re always happy to have her. Especially on her birthday! This is what she had to say. 😀

Bessie SmithLime invited me to come do a birthday blog post, and of course I said yes! Especially knowing it’s women’s history month and I can chat about another love in my life. Music! So I was a big choir geek in high school and college. For awhile I considered becoming a music teacher. One genre I really loved, and performed in, was jazz (blues, swing, etc). I listened to just about every jazz song I could find and discovered so many favorites songs/artists. One singer in particular I want to share with you today.

Her name was Bessie Smith, and she was a super fascinating and mega talented gal. If you haven’t heard of her, she was a legendary blues singer of the 20th century, also known as the “Empress of the Blues”. Born in Tennessee in 1894, she rose from a life of poverty to become one of the highest paid black entertainers in the world, popular with both the African American community and Caucasian. She was controversial with her drinking binges, temper, and having scandalous affairs with women while being married. Sadly, she was killed in a car accident in 1937 (which had all kinds of rumors swirling around it!) but her music lived on and influenced future jazz and rock musicians such as Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin (Joplin helped buy Bessie a headstone for her unmarked grave in 1970).

Just take a moment and listen to her sing in the video below. I would’ve loved to hear her live back in the 20s!

Wow, thanks so much for sharing, Shelli! I’d never heard of Bessie Smith before, but I really enjoyed listening to I’m Wild About That Thing. I agree, hearing her live must have been something really special. So do you guys have a favorite influential artist?

And happy birthday to you, Shelli! I hope you’re having a lovely day and that it includes cake, cupcakes, and cocktails! 😀 Everyone remember to wish Shelli a happy happy birthday!

And you know – even though you shouldn’t … If you do need incentive… 😉 Shelli is generously offering someone an e-copy of her (or his) choice from her backlist!