Jessie: In New Hampshire where everything, simply everything, is melting!
March is Women’s History Month and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about historical women. In the course of researching a new project I came across a website devoted to information about American Women’s Dime Novels. While all of it was fascinating, what really struck a chord with me was how books written for and by women were amongst the first bestsellers.
The popularity of inexpensive books written with young, working women in mind held extraordinary appeal for a previously untapped market. Stories with suspenseful plots and plucky working class heroines stole the hearts of factory girls and domestic help. Despite their limited resources they faithfully purchased stories written by literary superstars like Laura Jean Libbey in never before seen numbers.
Long before women had the legal right to vote they were voting with their pennies and choosing to spend both their money and their time with characters that made them feel understood and acknowledged by the world. This is something I think the best writers, from all walks of life and from every generation, have in common. They make us feel that someone, somewhere knows who we are, that somehow, though we’ve never met, they see us. Themes, styles and attitudes all change over time but that craving for connection and understanding never does.
Which circles back to Women’s History Month. I feel such a swell of gratitude and connection when I consider those trail blazing women, both those in my biological family tree and those in a more literary one, that have led the way and made it possible for me to add my own chapter to Women’s History. They created space for women from all walks of life to have the chance at lives they wanted to live.
Thank you ladies!
Readers do you have a woman writer or a woman in your family that struck a chord with you? Who are some of the women in history you most admire?
What a fascinating topic, Jessie. I have bookmarked that dime novel site for my own historical project! My paternal grandmother was the first woman to drive cross-country in an automobile, when she was 18 in 1917. And her house was filled with books, as was my parents’. When I was in about fourth grade I was fixated on reading biographies of women: Clara Barton, Jane Addams, and others, and about the important work they did.
What an interesting grandmother to have had! Did she drive from coast to coast?
It was actually Indiana to the west coast. She and her younger brother drove one car, and her father drove the other with her mother and four sisters. One of my great-aunts kept a wonderful journey of the trip. They camped in many places, and the roads weren’t exactly auto-ready!
I have many women I am thankful for from the past but my favorite suffragist is Lucy Stone. She was not only dedicated to the betterment of women but was also an active abolitionist. Every time I head to the polls my kids hear a lesson on the women before me that made my life possible.
Love this, Larissa!
I’ve had similar conversations with my kids. When I climbed into my car to go to the polls on Tuesday I thought, as I always do, that when the house I was leaving was built there were no cars to drive to the polls and I couldn’t have voted anyway.
On a purely writing side, Harriet Stratemeyer (no relation!), who wrote the first Nancy Drew books (they were picked up by someone else fairly early, also a woman) and inherited her father Edward’s series publishing dynasty. Apart from that, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who married (at different times) both the King of France and the King of England and outlived them both. (But her kids didn’t turn out so well.)
Nancy Drew and her authors are sort of godmothers to us all, I think.
My favorite books from my childhood — The Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace — had the girls borrowing the maid’s dime novels and occasionally sneaking off to buy their own. A lovely post, Jessie and we should all strive as writers to make people feel “seen”.
Maud Hart Lovelace, what a great name! Thanks for reminding me of her!
Today on my blog I wrote about Kate Chopin, who influenced me–and still does–as a writer. Part of that is because she wrote about my own home country with sophistication, but also because, dayum, this woman could tell a riveting tale in a few words!
When I was a kid, I read so many English mysteries for girls. I can’t remember authors and titles, but I got them at the library, where the librarian was also a mystery fan. She would set aside titles for me. What I remember most is bad guys always drove a Jaguar!
I’ll never be able to look at a Jaguar without suspicion again, Ramona!
This is so interesting, Jessie. We always talk about novels for their ability to let us see others, to build empathy by experiencing the world from other people’s points of view. But that inverse, someone sees me, is also important.
It certainly was for the readers of dime novels and I think it is a core part of the success of so much YA fiction. Kids appreciate feeling understood. But then, who doesn’t?
I guess I don’t really think along those lines. Either I just think of women as equal and accept that they should be or I just don’t think deeply enough. 🙂 Either it’s because of my generation or because I’m a guy.
But I do read almost all women authors, so that counts toward something, right?
Of course, Mark!
We all have our own particular lens on the world, Mark and it is lovely that yours sees women as equal. I know I appreciate that and expect many other women would say the same. Reading women authors is always an outstanding decision:)
My great-great-great grandparents adopted Dr. Harriet N. Austin into their family. She was one of the first female physicians in the U.S., co-owned a water-cure Sanitorium with my family in Dansville, NY (Our Home on the Hillside). Created the “American Costume,” which featured loose fitting clothes, edited a health-care journal for years, etc. Her eulogy at the National Woman’s Suffrage Association annual meeting was given by Clara Barton.
I included her in a recently published historical short story. Whenever I even consider bellyaching about some minor inconvenience, all I have to do is to think of all she overcame and what she stood for, and I take the next step.
Jim, that is fascinating! I was just reading a book entitled Marketplace of the Marvelous: The Strange Origins of Modern Medicine by Erika Janick and it had a great deal to say about the ways women manage to enter the medical profession. Hydrotherapy aka water cures was one very popular method of gaining entrance to a career as a healer.
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