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Then and Now

Jessie: Enjoying the heat of summer finally finding its way to the coast of Maine!

As I have mentioned on the blog at least a few times in the past, I adore the research part of writing historical mysteries. The past is filled with so many intriguing tidbits and inspirations and I never leave off a session of poking round in historical archives or boxes of old photographs without a few new ideas whirling through my mind. Sometimes I am even lucky enough that things I have researched and events and experiences in my present converge. So often peeks into the past make the present feel more endurable, less unusual, or even more beneficent.

The fourth book in my Beryl and Edwina series, Murder Comes to Call, takes place in June 1921 in the U.K. and as I was researching events that were current at the time I discovered that the census had taken place then. The census was taken two months late that year because there was a tremendous amount of unrest throughout the country. When the soldiers who managed to survive the horror of the trenches returned to the country they had given so much to defend, they were promised a nation fit for heroes. What they got was a country with rather less on offer.

The economy was in terrible straits and most of the population was feeling the strain. Unemployment numbers were through the roof. Families were stilling reeling from the grief of loved ones lost to the war or the wave of influenza that had swept across the globe, another sort of world war.

In times like that the rules that have always gone unquestioned were more easily held up to scrutiny. People who had never questioned the notion that there were some people who were better, at least not aloud, found themselves far less likely to simply accept the status quo. Suddenly working-class people were not willing to stand by without comment as the government forced miners back down below ground for less than a living wage.

Instead, they organized into unions and joined socialist causes. Unions banded together into alliances that had enough clout to grind the nation to a halt. Surplus women chose to live on their own, or with female housemates, in large numbers for the first time in history. Multitudes of women also embarked on careers rather than putting their energy into raising families. Motorcars, household appliances, and contraceptives all became commonplace.

All of these changes led the powers that be to worry that so many members of the public would feel sufficiently disenfranchised to refuse to participate in the census as a form of protest. The government delayed the census long enough for some of the support to ebb away from the unions before they felt certain that they could trust the people to do what was asked of them.

I thought about these things as I filled out the census this year for my own household. So much feels similar now to the situation then. The economy has taken a discouraging downturn. Illness romps across the globe. Technologies make work different than it has been in the past. People are speaking out about what is unfair and are questioning in droves the way things have always been for some members of society. Even the census is running on a different timetable than it has in the past with the government allowing the results to trickle in to them more slowly than usual because of the state of affairs across the nation.

It wasn’t easy for the people my sleuths Beryl and Edwina would have known. It isn’t easy for us now. But it turned out that there was so much ahead to look forward to for people then, much of created it because of all the struggle and strife. I like to think that we may have just as many wonderful things ahead for us before long too.

Readers, if you were alive for the 1920 census what do you think you would think was the most amazing, surprising or delightful thing about today?

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