Sunday, November 23, 2008


Please change your bookmarks and come visit us at our new location:

Of course you can always type in:

Here you'll find not only our regular historical posts, but polls (and eventually surveys) and more information about the Scandalous Victorians, if the mood strikes you. We also have all the old posts from this blogger site as well, so nothing is lost!

We look forward to seeing you in our new home.

The Scandalous Victorians.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Nevada's First Woman Sheriff

In 1919 Clara Dunham Crowell, a former waitress at the Two Bit House, was the law in Lander County, Nevada.

Clara Dunham married George Crowell, a teamster who drove a stage coach, in 1898. The Crowell family flourished with the addition of two children. George, who was highly regarded for his honesty and “can do” attitude, was elected sheriff of Lander County.

He tackled the job with the same enthusiasm he used to drive his old six-horse stage. Clara learned much from her husband about the qualities of a good sheriff – how to anticipate trouble, how to keep calm, and how to use a gun.

Clara herself was not in the habit of running from trouble. During his stage-driving days George often returned late and if he was carrying company money he would keep it safe at home until the bank opened the next morning. One night Clara and her niece were in the house alone when a strange man knocked on the door. “I know there’s money in there,” he said. “Open up or you’ll be sorry.”

Clara opened the door in his face and demanded, “What will I be sorry for?” Then she chased him out the gate.

As sheriff George Crowell was highly respected, but when he was struck down by illness and died in 1919 the local lawmen and women circulated a petition calling for Clara to become the first woman sheriff in Nevada history. There were several male aspirants for the job, but none made a formal application after the petition was circulated and presented to the county commissioners. They unanimously selected 42 year old Clara Crowell to be sheriff for the remaining two years of her husband’s term.

Clara proved that she could handle any situation. She was involved in the apprehension of cattle rustlers, horse thieves, robbers, and other criminals. As sheriff she demanded respect for the law in Lander. She and her deputy, Thomas White, even enforced the new Dry Law, which among other things prevented people from transporting bottles of liquor.

On several occasions she even entered saloons and broke up brawls. In an administrative overhaul, she removed Deputy White who had served under four sheriffs. She earned a reputation throughout the West as a tough law officer. When her term came to an end many people encouraged her to run for election. But she was respected also for her nursing skills and she decided to take the job of matron, or administrator, of the county hospital, a position she held for the next 20 years.

Posted from “The Historical Nevada Magazine.”

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Test blog

Testing this to see how things transfer to word press. This is a test. It is only a test. In the case of a real emergency. . .

Friday, October 24, 2008

Trick Or Treat?

As Halloween fast approaches, the holiday here in the US seems to get bigger each year. I had to wonder, how and when did this holiday take hold in this country? After all, America was founded by Puritans who would’ve banned such holidays. But as other cultures emigrated to the United States, they brought along their own customs.

It seems Irish and Scottish immigrants, who arrived between 1840 and 1870, were responsible for bringing their traditions, including Halloween to the United States. The origins of modern-day Halloween came from a pre-existing autumn festival of the dead, called Samhain.

Scottish and Irish-Americans held dinners and balls, celebrating their heritage and legends. Children’s Halloween activities included bobbing for apples and divination games. Pranks and mischief were also common.

So, like Christmas traditions, many of our modern-day Halloween celebrations originated during the Victorian era.

For more info on the origins of Halloween, visit these History Channel sites:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Enriching Victorian Age Noble Characters: Not Just for Authors

Beyond fairy tales, the Victorian Age happenings provide opportunistic contrasts for noble and royal characters, and possible fodder for story conflicts. Often missed opportunities as I often perceive authors to underutilize this category of characters.

I’ve been a professional editor and writer off and on for some time; occasionally I’ve been asked to do so while in an emeritus capacity with the USSS to guard against the possible endangerment of protected bloodlines by unwitting revelations about said bloodlines.

While reading, I’ve noted a tendency for the sometimes gratuitously placed royal or noble characters within a manuscript (or a galley) to be, well, cardboard cutouts or paper-thin. Part of background rather than major influencers that they were, still. Although my job is perpetually to keep such bloodlines safe, I’ll be the first to say that much of their popular lore is underutilized and certainly would harm none to enhance storylines with more of their, well, ‘real’ natures.

I’ll explain a few ways to maximize upon typical nobiliary traits for characters.

1) Most queens were in Queen Victoria’s shadow during her imperialism. However, they were as active as usual in spheres of influence. Most appear in history books. But do your readers know that queens are historically known to be animal rights activists, or very nearly so? Their role somehow engenders great love of pets and animals. Can your readers see a queen defending horses being whipped along the roadside without stopping the atrocity? Or going after illegal hunting by poachers on her neighbor’s estate or even public parklands? Or befriending an injured wild animal that can stay in her menagerie if it can’t be returned to its habitat? A queen’s entourage member might also make a good solid story character and would tend to follow her lead or act in her behalf on such matters. Such instances would not only be tolerated but expected, therefore. Realizing that women were still often considered by many to be merely a higher level of chattel still helps to understand why those at the top echelons developed human-like reverence for mounts, hunting dogs, cats who moused their barns, and lap dogs. And then there were the exotic pets, topiaries, preserves, and safaris that had started becoming artistic rather than monetary. Household pets were appearing in Masters-styled artwork preserved for future generations during this rapidly changing era. Authors can utilize their nobiliary female characters for more than their well-publicized fashion sense, or lack of.

2) Hiding royal families typically sought out civil or clerical positions during the Victorian era. Their heritages taught them to seek leadership responsibilities even while hiding from the sunset of the French Reign of Terror. To flesh out such a typified noble character recently or still in hiding, it might take adding in depth by adding extremes to behaviors that were not negative traits such as a noble son being an ethical vegetarian. A higher echelon trend did fascinate Society, and wasn’t unexpected amongst clergy well-traveled and often the unlanded nobility or gentry. Many a lady’s journal interlopes into the dietary habits of monks or other clergy frequenting parties and soirees. Imagine the difficulties and story conflicts while such a displaced noble character travels throughout the Wild West. Extreme customs were individually tolerated during this Era and made good parlor talk.

3) Not every princess during the Victorian Era shopped at the House of Worth. Even when they could afford the price tag and could dawdle in the waiting rooms while perched on elegant chairs gazing at reflections in strategically angled mirrors encircling the exclusive invitation-only shops. The influential princesses understood that they started trends, just as ancient ones did and even modern ones today. But princesses were handy with a needle and were known to design and sew their own attire, even for official State functions. There was no looking down on a creation by-hand. In fact, they were lauded for preserving state coffers, or their own purse strings. Rather than be embarrassed by a financial need to sew when they couldn’t use a haute couture fashion house, this generation of princesses excelled at being fashion-forward with their own creations. The license allowed these princesses freed up ladies in lower echelons to remain proud of their own household designed wardrobe pieces. Such princesses were known to draw on their historical accoutrements such as heraldic embroidery and laces. Ironically, perhaps, the fashion designers rising in fame were not on the invitation lists of the same socialites and aristocrats that they dressed. Even though a trip to their shops was considered the height of Society trekking. But Society could speak freely in front of the haute couture designers of this era. Gossip disallowed in the typical drawing room was encouraged over pink champagne in the designers’ show rooms, after all. Even in the company of princesses.

4) Madame Guillotine still drove many a royal son into the military decades later. Speaking of this type of hero, he wouldn’t have given up his heritage. The Armed Services worldwide were (and still are) known to accommodate hiding royal lines within their ranks. With accommodations. Such an officer might have many a secret to hide, beyond the brooding hero’s clandestine needs of the Dark Ages. He would be trying to take care of loyal pensioners from a lost estate, support dependent female family members unable to work, and yet still maintain a show on the surface equal to his military counterparts so that he didn’t give anyone away. He would forgo luxuries, maximize gifts, become a martyr due to perceived need, and woo a heroine with charm rather than expensive gifts. Although in the end her reward might be a title should she prove worthy of his noble household. Plenty of room to demonstrate his nobler-than-thou character that was nonetheless expected by his pressuring social peers. All about adding depth to even the smallest kind gesture, beyond mere formalities, for story characters.

5) Writing in a noble character’s active participation in reviving a trend can expose their inner-motives and set up story conflicts to an advantage. For example, the Victorian Era was known for self-imposed or directly dictated decorum, reflected on the surface with aforementioned Morality Laws. It was a matter of taste. Renewed, at that. Nude horsewomen riding through central parks were no longer tolerated. But artistic visions promoted by noble patrons of the arts would still find nudity in plays far above the saloon hall patronage. Especially during the Renaissance revival that spiked in between revolutions and wars worldwide. Although Victorians were not underdressed, they were not shocked by nudity in its artistic form. As in the Renaissance, a top noble lady would be expected to play the part of an upper echelon Shakespearean heroine in the buff. Albeit, at that level, the plays were by private invitation and tickets were not on the market for a general public, per se. A character with a vested interest in hiding, or exposing, such artistic venues would only add depth to motivations, for example, and give plenty of valid reasons for secrecy between characters. Not all aspects of such trends were potentially scandalous or to be misunderstood. This flirtation with the Renaissance that even revived blackwork embroidery that spread like wildfire across the Wild West.

Merely a smattering of ideas for Victorian Age authors of any genre to consider, as they are the types of elements I would love to read or watch more about, myself. Go ahead and come up with your own ideas on how to more deeply motivate your noble household members and their ilk. I promise you'll be pleased with the responses.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Victorian Ladies Used Economy in Fashion

The trend-sensitive Victorians spent much time and effort on their wardrobes, sometimes due to matters of economy, as well as to keep fashionable. Dressing suitably for each occasion was most admired, because of one of the new trends coming in from Great Britain. That of tailored and conservatively constructed clothing, something which British attire is still noted for today and considered untrendy and classic.

Fashionistas, though, were most concerned with keeping up with the offerings from the House of Worth. Or, appearing to. In reality, very few ladies could actually afford to do so, even from the higher echelon societies around the globe.

Frivolity was kept to a minimum, although there were notable ladies who would only wear a gown once. It was perfectly acceptable for them to wear the same gown to more than one occasion on their social circuit during any given season. In fact, in respectable society they could also attend the same echelon of soirees in past season’s fashions as a statement of their household’s economic condition without losing status or eliciting comment.

Remarking negatively upon another’s economy was considered a low-class behaviour but did become more commonly heard post-Civil War for a variety of reasons that would bear too long an explanation for this brief article.

Of interest to authors and researchers trying to capture the Victorian era lady and her society would be understanding how she handled her attire with challenged incomes. Also, how the characters viewed wardrobe and utilized one can be a subtle but poignant method of layering their emotional experiences in a Victorian era story. A layer beyond the mere weight of a fabric on a heroine.

In my Civil War short story manuscript, Silver Linings, the heroine at the beginning of the story in New Orleans wears highly decorative brocades and silks which befits her station as an opera star. Although she is actually a spy from an impoverished noble household, she expresses the flamboyance expected in her role with tastes from her background.

By the end of the story, the heroine is bereft of incomes and hiding in an exotic port of call waiting to enter the Mexican Imperial Court II. Her fashion sense takes an approach that many Victorian ladies increasingly utilized, that of mixing unmatched skirts and jackets and blouses. In fact, jackets were considered an economical and respectable approach to adding life to a fading wardrobe. Even the princesses abroad under constant scrutiny were known to use such fashionable tactics.

It was the fact that a lady had put concerted thought and planning into her wardrobe to breath life into it that was admired and noted and kept her fitting into her society.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Brand New Cover

Just wanted to show off my brand new cover for my Civil War romance, Confederate Rose, just contracted by The Wild Rose Press.

Isn't it gorgeous?

Here's the blurb:

Disguised as a man to serve with her husband as a soldier in the Confederate Army, Irish immigrant, Katie Rose O'Reilly, vows to remain in the ranks and seek revenge on Yankees after her husband is killed at Sharpsburg. As she's transporting mail from Richmond back to camp, a stranger startles her, causing her to fall and almost drown in a swollen stream.

Southerner Alexander Hart, a Yankee spy, saves Katie from drowning, then nurses her through a resulting fever. He must keep his identity secret from the beautiful Rebel soldier even as he finds himself falling in love with her.

Katie falls in love with the caring gentlemen stranger, only to later discover he's the enemy. Heartbroken, she turns him in to the Confederates, but then questions her goals and beliefs. Is it possible to put aside her quest for revenge to save the man she loves?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It is Election time in both Canada and the United States, so I thought I’d take a look at what elections were like during Victoria’s reign.

Less than a decade before Victoria ascended the throne, the electoral situation in England (Wales, Scotland and Ireland too, but I’m not focusing on them) was badly in need of updating. The rules for who could vote changed with every borough--some ruled that every male householder who could boil a pot on his own hearth got a vote, while in other boroughs only those with a burgage property (basically, someone renting in some specific tenement blocks) could vote. There was also a problem in the size of the different constituencies. The largest borough had 12,000 voters, while the smallest had between 6 and 13 at any given election. Six! Six men’s vote was equal to the votes of 12,000! And of course, these were by no means secret ballots. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that many of these smaller constituencies were ripe for the votes being bought. Hence the term ‘pocket burough’, a borough in a (rich) politician's pocket.

Other problems included the fact that if you owned property in more than one county or borough, you got two votes (or three or more). Then there was the fact that some areas got no vote at all.

At her death, uniform voting rules were practiced throughout England, allowing almost all adult males the vote. Most of the smaller or ‘rotten’ boroughs were done away with to make way for new boroughs, and the composition of voting constituencies were roughly equal--or at least closer in size. In addition, they now used secret ballots.

About the only thing Victoria didn’t live to see was the successful culmination of Women’s Suffrage. And surprisingly, to me at least, Victoria was against the idea. She said,

“The Queen is most anxious to enlist every one who can speak or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of "Woman's Rights", with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propriety.”

With all due respect Your Majesty, we've come a long way since then. Sarah Palin, Elizabeth May, Hillary Clinton, Kim Campbell, Margaret Thatcher . . .

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Alienist

This is not Tuesday and I'm not writing ten things. At least I'm getting a post in, though!

This book was a best seller ages ago, but I only got to reading it this last summer. It's setting is New York City, 1896 putting it comfortably in the Victorian period. I imagine many people have already read it, so I won't go into a long summary. Besides you can find them all over the web. Basically it's a book about a Victorian serial killer in New York City. The main characters of the book are trying to hunt down and catch the killer using profiling techniques used today--only they haven't been invented yet. Enter a psychiatrist (an alienist they were called back then, so we are told) who introduces the team to his thoughts on the workings of the human brain. That's it in a nutshell and if you're interested in this sort of thing, like I am, it is absolutely fascinating. If not, you may find parts of it a little draggy.

My point mentioning it on the blog, however, is of course the Victorian aspect. Caleb Carr is a historian, and brings the flavor and setting of the period to life, vividly. When reading the book you are walking down the streets of New York in the 1890's. Some of what I've posted on this blog--a discussion of Delmonico's and Jesse Pomeroy--is in this book. Of course I loved that. Some of the history I wasn't 100% certain about--I'm taking his word for it. I wasn't particularly pleased with his view of Boston in the 19th century either, but I could be a little biased, coming from that area as I do.

Of course these people are "regular" people for the most part. We aren't talking about Society or balls and such, which is what I tend to like to write about. This is the nitty gritty kind of background, delving into New York City gangs, prostitution and Five Points (which I knew nothing about before reading this). Since it's late in the era there are telephones and other conveniences, most of which aren't really found in many cities until the 20th century. Regardless, if you want to know what this city was like--and I suspect a few other Eastern cities at the time, this is a wonderful book to get the feel.

Anyone else read any good Victorian books lately?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Tuesday Ten: Victorian Etiquette

As a writer, I’m usually leery of challenging myself, but there are times when it turns out to be fun. And I don’t merely mean making the leap from historical writing to contemporary and back again. I’m talking about moving outside of my comfort zone.

To put it quite simply: my heroes have always been cowboys. *G* Well, cowboys, gunfighters, lawmen, range detectives—in other words, men who don’t have “purty” manners and are basically take-me-as-I-am kind of guys. And pairing them with a heroine who will at least pretend to be offended when he cusses, spits or smokes is a lot of fun. But the hero in my WIP this time around is different. He’s a gambler, a con artist, a snake oil salesman—and he’s the kind of guy who wants to make a good impression. So if he wants to move in certain social circles, proper manners and etiquette are a must for him.

And that’s what has led me out of my comfort zone into the land of the unknown, LOL. Sure I knew the basic customs of the era, but I’ve never had a character that had to adhere to them. But here, for a late Tuesday Ten, (sorry, my internal calendar is a day off this week) are some of the more interesting “rules” I’ve learned along the way, some I knew and have had fun breaking, others were no-brainers (it’s bad manners to pick one’s teeth at the table. LOL. I’ll bet even my most trail-weary cowboy knows that one) but they were all fun.

It was not considered appropriate for a young man to approach a young lady. Even if they had already met, he must still be introduced by a mutual friend a second time before he can speak to her freely.

In a stage of courtship, the couple always walked apart - the only contact allowed was for him to offer her his hand over rough spots while walking

Women never rode alone in a closed carriage with a man who was not a relative

Women did not call on an unmarried gentleman at his home

Men could not be received into the home if a woman was there alone, a family member must be present at all times.

A true gentleman always tips his hat when greeting a lady, opens doors and always walks on the outside. (Sigh.)

When introduced to a man, a lady should never offer her hand, merely bow politely and say “I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”

A gentleman may delicately kiss a lady’s hand, forehead or at most, her cheek. (I suspect my heroes’ have broken this rule a time or two. *G*)

A lady should never be neglected. A gentlemen should help her with her cloak, shawl or any other outer garment she may wish to remove. (A safe bet to say my heroes are quite capable in this area.)

When ascending a staircase with a lady, a gentleman is to go at her side or before her.

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tuesday Ten: Victorian Fashion

I came across this article by Kris Lindquist in my Civil War reenactor magazine on fashion during the Victorian era and thought the info would be of interest here.
1) Demin trousers were introduced in the 1850s by the Levi Strauss Company. They made the first ones from brown tent canvas. Blue colored fabric and rivets were introduced later.

2) In 1865, John B. Stetson opened his first hat factory in Philadelphia. His family was in the hat making business and he designed a hat especially for prospecting gold. It had a big air pocket between the head and the crown, creating a cushion of air to keep the head warm, along with a wide brim to keep out the elements. The inside lining was waterproof and could double as a water bucket.

3) Between 1859 and 1860, 100 tons of hair was imported by the United States for wig making. Snow white hair purchased from poor, elderly women was most prized, because of the ease with which it could be dyed.

4) James Smith and Sons opened the first umbrella shop in London, England in 1830. The first umbrellas were constructed of wood or whalebone and covered with alpaca or oiled canvas. Artisans carved ornate handles from hard woods and were well paid for their efforts. Umbrellas were viewed as a women's accessory, but this implied the woman was too poor to own a carriage. Men who carried them were ridiculed by passersby.

5) The U.S. imported silk fabric until 1839, when silk was produced on a large scale in Patterson, New Jersey. By 1880, Patterson was nicknamed Silk City.

6) Americans purchased over 100,000 sewing machines by 1860. Ebenezer Butterick, a tailor, and his wife Ellen Augusta Pollard Butterick, invented the tissue paper pattern in 1863. This changed the face of home sewing forever.

7) Charles Worth, an Englishman, in the mid-nineteenth century, put his name on the label of the clothes he made. He changed his approach from having a client tell him what to create for them to producing ready made clothing from which a client could view, and approve or disapprove. His approach set a new standard for the clothing industry.

8) Jet was used in the manufacture of jewelry, particularly for mourning. Jet is a form of coal.

9) Wooden hangers didn't come into use until the 1880s. Prior to that, clothing was hung on pegs in wardrobes or on walls.

10) Flatirons were used to press clothing in the 1860s. They were a heavy mass of metal weighing up to 15 pounds. They were used several at a time and heated on the top of a stove.

Source: Kris Lindquist, Life As They Knew It: Fashion, The Citizens' Companion, August 2008

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Tuesday 10: What I learned at RWA National

As you may or may not know, I went to San Fran recently for the RWA National Conference. This is what I learned from my 4 days there. You may already know this, but it's worth a Tuesday 10.

1) Always check for the 10 day forecast. Seriously, you might not think so, but there's nothing like getting there and FREEZING because you didn't bother to check weather. I did check, so dressed accordingly for the unexpected 60 degree weather.

2) Pack comfy shoes! Forget the heels, no matter how business-like you think they are. You're walking, baby. Walk in comfortable shoes. It's a must.

3) Like your roommate. Seriously. I LIKE the woman I roomed with but was so ready to murder her about 1 am when the TV was still on, she was sound asleep, and I couldn't find the remote. Talk about things like this in advance. She may think the TV was low, but once it's quiet, that light's off, and you're ready for some zzzzzzz's, it's as loud as a disco.

4) Schedule in advance. You want workshops in Sierra J and Golden Gate Hall C1? You're walking. They're far apart (like 2 floors and a block or so), they're crowded and you're most likely sitting on the floor. You really, REALLY want that workshop of dialog? Get there early. Don't dawdle, don't talk, if you must use the ladies, grab a seat then go.

5) Take notes. I can't stress this enough. Sure, you can always buy the CDs later, but there's always that right now you'll lose if you don't take notes on everything you're thinking and they're saying. Think that line about tags just helped you cure your problem? Jot it down (and don't lose the paper!) It's invaluable alter when you're going over your story and think, "Hmm, wasn't there something...?"

6) White Space. Now we're into what I really learned while I was there. Readers no longer like long pages of 1 paragraph worth of NOTHING. Break it up, especially with dialog. Using dialog is the best way to move the story along. If your character has no one to talk to, and she won't look stupid talking to herself, do that. Make it into thoughts (italicized). Cut any back story that isn't needed in the info dump and can be sprinkled later.

7) Arc-ing. I went to a wonderful workshop given by Susan Mallory called The Arc of the Trilogy. Yeah, it was on writing a trilogy, but it can work in any story, single, duo, triplets, or more. Plus, she's hysterical and a great speaker.

So...arc-ing. Pick a Big Bad and make him relevant in each story but also have 3 other baddies you get at the end of each of the 3 books. This makes it a closed story a reader can enjoy without being pissed off she came in the middle and has no idea what's going on. If you're writing a story about a commonality (rather than a baddie) it's also a good idea to make sure your H/H from books 1 & 2 are in 3. Not overwhelmingly, but enough so the reader can reconnect with beloved characters. It's why series are so popular, after all.

8) Plotting. Again by Susan Mallory and her critique/plotting group. They use others to plot aloud. This helps with holes, gaps, walls, ad corners. Sure, another opinion might not be what you're looking for, or not to your taste but it's something you haven't thought of and that's what counts.

Trapped in a hotel twice a year, each of the 5 member team gets 2 90 minute sessions to plot two entire books. You're supposed to send ideas/outlines beforehand, but for the pantsers amongst us it can be as little as "I wanted my heroine to find a baby in a life-sized Nativity." [Maureen Child's Some Kind of Wonderful St. Martin's Paperbacks December 30, 2003 this was a actual example she was kind enough to share.] It's then up to the group to blurt ideas, but you to say what you do and don't like. If you don't want your heroine looking like an idiot for the sake of plot, just say no. No matter how much everyone else likes the idea, it's your story.

9) Hooks. Took 2 workshops on this. The best, by far, was given'll come to me later. I'm still sleep-deprived and not nearly at my best. Anyway, hooks. Each sentence builds on the previous one. So, if your first sentence is "I'm going insane." Then your 2nd sentence shouldn't be "Three days ago I was walking along the path by the water when I noticed the pretty fall foliage." No, it should build on the insanity sentence. Why are you insane? Who are you talking to? What's their response to this sentence?

If you need all that previous info, you're not starting your story in the right place. If the catchiest line is on page 6, cut pages 1-5. Don't eve think about the prologue, though Hilary Sayers seemed to be OK with them if they were relevant to the story and didn't introduce a character in dire straits then go into chapter 1 of the 'real' story. Big no-no there.

Ending hooks. Always end our chapter on either a hook or wretched emotional drama. If you have a 3 page chapter, so be it. The goal is to keep the reader wanting more. And by wanting more, they always want to read the next sentence/page/chapter.

10) Historicals. We've all heard the 'they're hot'...'they're not' bit but frankly they're still selling. It's all about the writing. OK, and marketing. But if the story's good they will come. So, what's the best way to write the hot historical? Research. Sure, you may not think that they'll never notice you used a sub in April 1861, but trust me...they will. And you'll get nasty emails about it.

Have a crazy tidbit from the past you think would make a great story? Go with it...but don't forget the research. Not 3/4 of every page steeped in historical fact. Sprinkled throughout. Clothes, words, accents, scents (very important), sights. Political gossip. It's the little things that make the story, not a dissertation on Dracula. (If you ever read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova you'll know what I mean. Sure it was a great story but in serious need of cutting.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday not quite Ten--Divorce in Victorian America

After doing Tuesday ten for lo these many years, we have decided to cut ourselves a little slack. Mostly because it's darned hard to come up with ten of anything, never mind ten Victorian things. I am much relieved. So this week for my blog, I'm doing Divorce in Victorian America and not actually counting how many little tidbits I can put down.

All of this information comes, by the way, from The Road to Reno, Nelson Manfred Blake. This book fascinates me, mostly because I had believed for many years that divorce in America was strictly a 20th century phenomena, mostly late 20th century. When I was growing up (I'm dating myself here) divorce was still one of those things people whispered about. No one knew anyone who was divorced, and if you were, well, there was something wrong with you. Considering that one of Yale's Presidents, Timothy Dwight was appalled at the rate of divorce in his state--estimated at 1% of marriages over a period of 5 years--the stigma was much worse back then. But consider again--1 in 100 divorces in five years. As much as we often think differently, you could get divorced in the 19th century, you could in fact get divorced in the U.S. in the 18th century, and people did. Thus my fascination.

The book is not written in a time line, so coming up with information along those lines is hard. But I've seen a few things both interesting and puzzling, and I'll do my best to get the dates straight.

1.) It appears that at the time of the revolution, divorce was obtained based upon English common law. That is to say if a couple wanted a divorce, they had to apply to the ruling body, not the court system. Thus at the start of the 19th century the colonies-turned-states were in transition. The northern states seem to be the first to change the application of divorce from applying to the legislature, who would have to create a separate bill, to the court system. It took some time to do this, and often for a period of years a couple could obtain a divorce either way. However, by 1867, 33 0f 37 stares had prohibited legislative divorces. Why? Too much time, too little consistency. One year the legislature made up of a,b, and c, might decided to grant a divorce to one couple based upon these ground. The next year, the legislature made up of x,y and z, would not.

2.) There was such a thing as partial divorce. This was basically separation of bed and board, and was often, in the earlier years the answer to "extreme cruelty." Eventually this sort of thing went out the door, often because it seemed to cause more lapses in morality than corrected--if you couldn't marry, well many people were still going to get their lovin' somewhere, maybe several somewheres. Better to allow these people to divorce and remarry with the hope that they'd stay faithful to once person, than risk the souls of all those others, right? Right.

3.) In the beginning of the period, many states provided quite a number of grounds for divorce. Some of them, such as consanguinity (marrying a relative) seems just logical. The often sighted bigamy gives me pause (if the person has been married before, than you can't be married to them now, right? So how would divorce apply?) others seem well thought out and not something I'd have considered the "very conservative Victorians" to have allowed--desertion, imprisonment, former criminal charges (unknown at the time of marriage), intemperance (aka alcoholism) and extreme cruelty. Granted, at a time when women were just beginning to have some legal standing in the country, "extreme cruelty" often referred to behavior that was hazardous to life, but still. . . if you thought no one could divorce, this seems almost kind and compassionate.

4.) Not all states were kind and compassionate. In South Carolina there was no divorce (it was the only state that stood by this). Period. None. Not for adultery, not for desertion, not for imprisonment. Be sure you know whom your marrying, baby, 'cuz you're stuck with them.

5.) The second strictest state was--hold onto your hats--New York. Who would've thought it of the state that had New York City in it? What with Five Points Gangs, and contraception readily available even after the Comstock Laws. But yes, New York was strict. Divorce was only allowed for adultery and then for many years only the injured party was allowed to remarry. People could and sometimes did, however, manage to get annulments. You could do this based upon many factors, the best one being "fraud". The judges decided what "fraud" was, and sometimes it was a simple as "He said he was honest. But I found out he operates a poolroom". Annulment granted.

In 1879, New York finally passed a law allowing remarriages for both parties--as long as they were not divorced before 1879. If so, they would have to do what everyone else appeared to do--leave the state to remarry.

Which brings me to my 6th and final interesting fact:

6.) Divorce colonies. What if you could not get a divorce in your state? What if you desperately needed one--we'll take, for example a woman whose husband drank so much he could not support her or her children, and even if she was able to work, he stole her money and spent it on alcohol. How to cope?

Go to another state.

Granted this would not have been much of an option for our poor example (being poor that is) but for many it was an option. The procedure--establish a temporary residence, then sue for divorce. States whose residence laws were lax would often become "divorce colonies". Eventually they would correct for that, of course. But for awhile, people took advantage of the situation. In the eastern states a year's residence was required, still for true misery, it was deemed worth it (Connecticut, however, even with pretty liberal divorce laws, required 3 years). Some known divorce colonies: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois (Chicago was "the place to go" during the Civil War) and the Dakotas. Indiana had virtually no residence requirement until 1859. The Dakota's had a 3 month residence requirement through much of the period.

So, when you're thinking of the good ole' days when everyone stayed married--well they didn't. And many traveled great distances to get that divorce. And for those who didn't do that--well here's another option. Remember there were no Social Security numbers, very little way of keeping track of people back then. What was to stop anyone from abandoning his/her spouse, running away with a lover to another state and "marrying" there and starting a new life? Who would know?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Taking a (day) Trip Back in Time

This past weekend, my family and I took a little day trip back in time. Not far from where I live in Rochester, NY, there is a jewel known as the Genesee Country Museum. Situated on 600 acres of beautiful farm land in Genesee County, NY, it’s a collection of the art and architecture of a long-ago era—beautiful old houses that have been moved and lovingly restored, right down to the last detail, complete with furniture and accessories accurate to the period in which the structure was built.

Think Williamsburg VA on a smaller scale. Or, as I like to think of it, Disney World for the history buff, LOL.

Since the gates first opened to the public in 1976, it has been my favorite place in the whole world. It’s like stepping into another time.

Once inside the gates you’re greeted by the great meadow, a curving slope complete with bandstand that serves as an amphitheater for events held at the museum throughout the year, from a Highlanders Bagpipe march, to a nineteenth century circus or Fourth of July celebration. This day it would serve as the battlegrounds of Gettysburg for a Civil War reenactment. (Never mind that little person scaling the barrier—he’s with me.)

But the first order of business was to visit the 19th century village—sixty-eight restored and fully furnished buildings (the oldest home was built in 1797). An old country store; a ladies dressmaking shop, doctor’s office, a law office, a pharmacist, bookseller, printer, a blacksmith, tinsmith, cooper, a gunsmith, wagon maker and opera house are all part of the village. For most of the businesses, you can walk right in and browse, others have a waist-high Plexiglas door to keep you from going inside.

My favorite, by far, has always been the Livingston-Bacchus house.

This beautiful Greek revival structure (and I regret that I didn’t take any pictures of the inside; I wasn’t thinking about a blog, just enjoying a day with my family and thinking how much my Victorian sisters would love this place!) always seems to set my imagination wild. The gardens as well make me think about the hero and heroine who might slip outside on a warm summer evening for a romantic embrace in the gazebo.

I know what my hero and heroine would be doing out here!

To read more about the Livingston Bacchus house,


Not far from this beautiful home is another favorite, the Hamilton House. (below)

This is one of the few homes where you can actually head upstairs and look around. Again, I wish I’d had my head on straight, LOL, I’d have taken more pictures. These homes are every bit as breathtaking on the inside as they are on the out. For more information on the Hamilton House, click here

The Octagon house scared my kids, LOL. They thought it looked creepy. But I think it’s a stroke of genius in architecture and wouldn’t mind living in one myself.

After a folk music revival at St. Feehan’s Catholic Church we watched Confederate troops march into the village and returned to the grassy meadow for a picnic lunch and re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge in the round. By the end of the day, I think a true interest in history was sparked in both my young sons—the oldest was impressed with the soldiers and battle, the youngest with how people lived in “the olden days.” They both want to know when we can go back again.

All in all, despite weather that switched from skin-soaking rain, to heat and humidity that had sweat dripping down our backs, it was a great day for a trip back in time.

For more information on Genesee Country Museum, visit

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tuesday 10: To Knight or not to Knight

What makes Dame Judie Dench or Sir Paul McCarthy worthy of being knighted and er…damed? I have no idea. Sure, I like some of her movies and some of his songs, but knighted?

But here are 10 people knighted (ok, MEN considering the time) for various contributions to the crown. You be the judge.

  1. Rowland Hill, a schoolmaster, invented the adhesive postage stamp in 1837
  2. George Williams, President of the Young Men's Christian Association in 1894
  3. Isaac Pitman, inventor of the Pitman Phonetic System of Shorthand in 1894
  4. Joseph Hickson, manager of the Grand Trunk Railroad 1890
  5. Dr. J.E. Bourinot, clerk of the Dominion House of Commons
  6. Pryce Pryce Jones, owner of the first mail-order business (he supplied Queen Victorian with her unmentionables), 1887
  7. John A. Macdonald, first Prime Minister of Canada, 1867 (on July 1, Canada Day!)
  8. James Simpson, a member of her Majesty’s Physicians [no date given]
  9. William Venner, introduced matches to Canada, c. 1870 [based on circumstantial evidence]
  10. Mayor of Wrexham (you find his name, I swear they struck it from the records!) for…drum roll please…pomp & circumstance in honor of a visit from Queen Victoria, 1889.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tuesday ten, Victorian Slang

From Random House Dictionary of American Slang, by J. E. Lighter. I have the first two editions, up to the letter O. The last one was never published, which irritates me to no end because these are really awesome books.

I'm choosing these sayings randomly, not to pun or anything. Okay, I did mean to pun. I just can't help it.

1.)bed rock, down to bed rock. Probably started as miners slang in the Rocky Mountains. First written reference (which I always assume means it was being used in speech 5-10 years earlier) is 1869. It means down to the essentials. Or, in this reference (the way I've used it in my writing) the heart of the matter--"and your poet has brought the matter down to bedrock."

2.)eat up-- to administer a decisive or ruinous defeat. From 1830 or so, and there are tons of references for this one. 1874: He seemed to determined to draw. . . .(him) into a fight and. . . ."Eat him up without salt."

3.)chain lightning--cheap potent whiskey or rum. 1837 on

4.)chalk--something that is genuine truth 1843. I've personally used this phrase a few times, just 'cuz I like it. not by a long chalk. 1841 by any mean. 1859--He can't do it by a long chalk.

5.) foofoo--a soft, weak or effeminate fellow, a sissy. from 1848 on. Seems to be originally out of mostly in New York, but I would imagine since it started in 1848, it migrated west some.

6.)Jim dandy--excellent, or an extraordinary person. also, Jim Hickey. 1887 on. Seems to have originated with baseball. "Whereas on Wednesday night they were proclaimed 'Jim Dandy' players, they were on Thursday proclaimed to be 'no good'."

7) love--fondle, caress, engage in sexual activity. I've used this a few times, because I've yet to come up with other Victorian euphemisms for sex. From 1876 (I expect it was much earlier, though).

8.)on one's own hook--on ones own initiative. 1812 on. There are quite a few references, which I think means it was pretty standard slang pretty quickly. from 1845 "She told me she was very economical. . .since she was. . .going upon her own hook. "

9.)out of sight--wonderfully good or impressive. Yeah, and you thought it was 1960's slang. Nope, originated around 1876 (remember, probably earlier in speech) and there are quite a few references after that. In Buffalo Bill "For ye see our beans an' crackers 'an our pork were outen sight."

10.)hell on wheels--most formidable, savage, aggressive. 1843 on. My reference here is from 1868--It is a most aggravated specimen of the border town of America, not inaptly called 'Hell on Wheels'

Monday, July 07, 2008

The End of the East Indian Company

Commonly known for its vast interests world-wide, and for being richer than many monarchs, the EIC was formed by English Royal Charter by Elizabeth I on December 31, 1600. Their goal was to favor trade privileges in India, with a 21 year monopoly on all trade in the East Indies. The Company transformed from a commercial trading venture to one that virtually ruled India and other Asian colonies as it acquired auxiliary governmental and military functions. What brought the demise of this company?

The Indian Mutiny of 1857, also known as The Sepoy Rebellion of 1857.

Deprived of its trade monopoly in 1813, the company was now a trading enterprise.
Following the 1857 war/rebellion, the Company was nationalised and lost all administrative functions and all Indian possessions in the Government of India Act 1858. It managed the Britishtea trade until the East India Stock Dividend Redemption Act and the Company was dissolved on January 1, 1874. The Times reported, "It accomplished a work such as in the whole history of the human race no other company ever attempted and as such is ever likely to attempt in the years to come."

It'd take a dissertation to really explain the rebellion but suffice it to say that:

  • It started as a mutiny of sepoys of British East India Company's army on May 10, 1857, in the town of Meerut. It quickly erupted into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India.
  • This uprising posed a considerable threat to Company power in that region and it was contained only with the fall of Gwalior on 20 June 1858.

  • Grievances over the issue of promotions, based on seniority, as well as the increasing number of European officers in the battalions which made promotion difficult.
  • Controversy over the new Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle. To load the new rifle, the sepoys had to bite the cartridge open. It was believed that the paper cartridges that were standard issue with the rifle were greased with lard (pork fat) which was regarded as unclean by Muslims, or tallow (beef fat), regarded as sacred to Hindus.

The civilian rebellion where there were three groups: feudal nobility, rural landlords called taluqdars, and the peasants.

  • The nobility, many of whom had lost titles and domains under the Doctrine of Lapse, which refused to recognise adopted children of princes as legal heirs. They felt the Company interfered with their traditional system of inheritance.

  • The taluqdars lost half their landed estates to peasant farmers as a result of the land reforms that came in the wake of annexation of Oudh. As the rebellion gained ground, the taluqdars reoccupied their lands, and, in part due to ties of kinship and feudal loyalty, didn't experience significant opposition from peasant farmers, many of whom joined the rebellion to the great dismay of the British.

  • Money lenders, as a result of reorganization by the Company of lads caused a great may farmers to go into debt. So they, in addition to the EIC, were particular objects of the rebels' animosity.

And that's not all. Areas where the rebellion began stayed calm while other areas where it spread did not. Some landowners stayed loyal, others even prosperous ones, did not.

For more:

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Battle of Gettysburg

Today is July 2nd. In the year 1863, one of the bloodiest battles lasting three days was happening in the little town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The battle began on July 1st and ended on July 3rd with a Union victory. Before this battle, the Confederate Army had been winning most of the battles, likely why they tried to go so far north.

It's hard to imagine how it must have felt for the inhabitants of that sleepy Pennsylvania town. The closest the war had come to them had been the battle of Antietam at Sharpsburg, Maryland.

I've visited Gettysburg and heard the story of Jenny Wade, the only civilian killed in that battle. And the site where General Reynolds was taken after he'd been shot on the battlefield. Ghost stories abound of the many who died during those three days. There are also stories of the horrors the townspeople witnessed and how they rallied to try to nurse wounded and bury so many dead. Just the sounds of shelling and horrible smells had to be terrible.

Gettysburg is a fascinating site with loads of history. It's a place I like to visit again and again.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tuesday Ten: Fascinating Fourth Facts

I really debated which way to go with this week's Tuesday Ten; I thought about doing a blog on the time line of events leading up to the Signing of the Declaration of Independence; and I considered doing some Fourth of July trivia. Neither one really fit into the Victorian era, both were interesting but the one about the Declaration of Independence didn't really fit for a Tuesday Ten (though it may show up on my personal blog one day this week). As for the other .... do we really care how many hot dogs are consumed every year on the Fourth??

Ever the indecisive one, I scrapped both ideas and came up with this instead. *G*

1781 – The first official celebration of the Fourth occurred in Massachusetts.

1801 – The first public Fourth of July reception at the White House occurred.

1804 – The first Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi occurred at Independence Creek and was celebrated by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

1805 – Boston has its first fireworks display.

1866 – General George G. Meade watches 10,000 war veterans parade in Philadelphia. In an editorial, the Nashville Banner urges its citizens not to celebrate the Fourth.

1876 – Centennial celebrations occurred throughout the United States, many of them three-day affairs celebrated from July 3-5

1884 – formal presentation of the Statue of Liberty takes place in Paris

1887 – The first Fourth of July celebration in Yellowstone National Park takes place.

1912 – The new national flag with 48 stars is formally and officially endowed.

1926 – The 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence is celebrated throughout the nation.

1960 –the American flag with 50 stars is flown for the first time after Hawaii is given statehood.

1976 – the nation’s Bicentennial is celebrated.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Happy Coronation Day!

“Queen Victoria was crowned at Westminster Abbey about a year after her accession, -- June the 28th, 1838. It would be easy to fill many of these pages with accounts of a ceremonial which has increased in splendor as it has diminished in significance. The whole ceremony was founded upon the belief that the Sovereign represented the Majesty, and wielded the power, of the great God of heaven and earth. So long as this belief was real and universal, the ceremony of the coronation, and all the complicated state and etiquette of royal life, was not altogether wanting in propriety. It was the attempt of rude and barbarous men to express their rude and barbarous conceptions of the divine government, and the sacredness and awfulness of even its poor human representative. But people no longer believe that any special divinity resides in, or is represented by, the convenient ducal houses of Germany, from which England borrows a monarch upon occasion. We need not dwell therefore upon the extremely laborious and expensive way in which the English of modern times get the crown placed for a few seconds upon a sovereign's head.
She was queen, then, at length.”
James Porter, 1868

Way to go, James! What, a little jealous, are we? At least you knew men were ‘rude and barbarous’ even as you wrote the most rude, belittling, irrelevant piece on a royal coronation.
Now this is more like it!

”I was awoke at four o'clock by the guns in the Park and could not get much sleep afterwards on account of the noise of the people, bands, etc., etc. Got up at seven, feeling strong and well; the Park presented a curious spectacle, crowds of people up to Constitution Hill, soldiers, bands, etc. I dressed, having taken a little breakfast before I dressed, and a little after. At half-past nine I went into the next room, dressed exactly in my House of Lords costume..."
"At 10 I got into the State Coach with the Duchess of Sutherland and Lord Albemarle and we began our progress... It was a fine day, and the crowds of people exceeded what I have ever seen; Their good humour and excessive loyalty was beyond everything, and I really cannot say how proud I feel to be the Queen of such a nation."
"I was alarmed at times for fear that the people would be crushed and squeezed on account of the tremendous rush and pressure. I reached the Abbey amid deafening cheers at a little after half-past eleven; I first went into a robing room quite close to the entrance where I found my eight train-bearers Lady Caroline Lennox, Lady Adelaide Paget, Lady Mary Talbot, Lady Fanny Cowper, Lady Wilhelmina Stanhope, Lady Anne Fitzwilliam, Lady Mary Grimston, and Lady Louisa Jenkinson, all dressed alike and beautifully in white satin and silver tissue with wreaths of silver corn ears in front, and a small one of pink roses round the plait behind, and pink roses in the trimming of the dresses."
"After putting on my mantles and the young ladies having properly got hold of it and Lord Conyngham holding the end of it, I left the robing room and the Procession began… The sight was splendid, the bank of Peeresses quite beautiful all in their robes, and the Peers on the other side. My young trainbearers were always near me, and helped me whenever I wanted anything. The Bishop of Durham stood on the side near me, but he was, as Lord Melbourne told me, remarkably maladroit and never could tell me what was to take place."
"At the beginning of the Anthem I retired to St. Edward's Chapel, a small dark place immediately behind the Altar, with my ladies and trainbearers took off my crimson robe and kirtle, and put on the supertunica of cloth of gold, also in the shape of a kirtle, which was put over a singular sort of little gown of linen trimmed with lace; I also took off my circlet of diamonds and then proceeded bareheaded into the Abbey; I was then seated upon St. Edward's chair where the Dalmatic robe was clasped round me by the Lord Great Chamberlain."
"Then followed all the various things; and last (of those things) the crown being placed on my head which was I must own a most beautiful impressive moment; all the Peers and Peeresses put on their coronets at the same instant..."
"The Enthronisation and the Homage of, first, all the Bishops, and then my Uncles, and lastly of all the Peers, in their respective order was very fine."
"Poor old Lord Rollo, who is 82 and dreadfully infirm, in attempting to ascend the steps fell and rolled quite down, but was not the least hurt; when he attempted to re-ascend them I got up and advanced to the 'end of the steps, in order to prevent another fall…"
"I then again descended from the Throne and repaired with all the Peers, bearing the Regalia, my Ladies and Train-bearers, to St. Edward's Chapel. The Procession being formed I replaced my Crown (which I had taken off for a few minutes), took the Orb in my left hand and the Sceptre in my right, and thus loaded, proceeded through the Abbey, which resounded with cheers, to the first robing-room; where I found the Duchess of Gloucester, Mamma, and the Duchess of Cambridge with their ladies. And here we waited for at least an hour, with all my ladies and trainbearers."
"The Archbishop had (most awkwardly) put the ring on the wrong finger, and the consequence was that I had the greatest difficulty to take it off again, which I at last did with great pain..."
"At about half-past four I re-entered my carriage, the Crown on my head and the Sceptre and Orb in my hands, and we proceeded the same way as we came-the crowds if possible having increased. The enthusiasm, affection, and loyalty were really touching, and I shall ever remember this day as the PROUDEST of my life! I came home a little after six, really not feeling tired. At eight we dined..."
from Queen Victoria’s diary

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tuesday 10: Qing China

10 Events (of dozens) in Qing China that led to the 1911 Revolution:

1. First Opium War 1839: For decades the Chinese desperately tried to stop the illegal opium smuggling conducted by foreign (mainly British) ships at Canton. Millions were addicted and corruption was rife among customs officials. Smuggling also drained the cash silver from the country, making it too poor to survive and open to invasion.

2. Treaty of Nanjing: Unequal Treat 1842: An Unequal Treaty (and China considers many they were forced to sign as such) is just what it implies – the stronger West forced horrible concessions on the weaker Qing Dynasty, as well as late Tokugawa Japan, and late Joseon Korea. The Nanjing (or Nanking) Treaty was signed aboard the British warship HMS Cornwallis by British representative Sir Henry Pottinger and Qing representatives, Qiying, Ilibu and Niujian. It consisted of thirteen articles and was ratified by Queen Victoria and the Daoguang Emperor ten months later.

3. Treaty of Wanghia 1844: A diplomatic agreement between the Dynasty and the US. Dispatched by President John Tyler under pressure from American merchants concerned about the British dominance in Chinese trade, Caleb Cussing was sent to force the Chinese into concessions much like the Treaty of Nanking. A physician and missionary, Peter Parker (I swear and had to include it because of the name), served as Cushing's Chinese interpreter. However, this one was slightly (very slightly) more favorable to the Chinese. Terms included declaring the Opium Trade illegal and handing over all offenders.

4. Taiping Rebellion 1851-1864: Led by by Christian convert Hong Xiuquanan this rebellion was against the Dynasty and included both the army and civil administration. He established the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace with capital Nanjing (Nanking) and gained control of significant parts of southern China, at one time ruling about 30 million people.

5. Third Pandemic of Bubonic plague 1855-1959: The Plague had been prevalent for centuries, since it was found in rodents in central Asia. However, due to political conflicts and global trade an influx of new people in new areas, led to the distribution of this disease throughout the world.

6. Second Opium War 1856-1860: Britain demanded a renegotiation of their Treaty of Nanjing (1850) citing their Most Favored Nation status, and wanting better terms than the Americans (Wangxia Treaty) and French (Treaty of Huangpu). Their new demands included:
a. Opening all of China to British merchants
b. Legalizing the opium trade
c. Exempting foreign imports from internal transit duties
d. Suppression of piracy
e. Regulation of the coolie trade
f. Permission for a British ambassador to reside in Beijing
g. The English-language version of all treaties to take precedence over the Chinese.

7. Burning the Old Summer Palace by British & French 1860: The destruction of the Gardens of Perfect Brightness is still regarded as a symbol of foreign aggression and humiliation in China. During the 2nd Opium War, French units diverted from the main attack force towards to the Old Summer Palace. Although the French commander, Montauban, assured the British commander, Grant, that "nothing had been touched", extensive looting, also undertaken by British and Chinese, took place. The Old Summer Palace was only now occupied by a few eunuchs, the Emperor Xianfeng having run away. There was no significant resistance to the looting from the Chinese, even though many Chinese Imperial soldiers were in the surrounding country.

8. Chefoo Convention 1876: An excuse for Great Britain to press for more concessions from China. The official reason for the treaty was to resolve the "Margary Affair", but the final treaty included a number of items that had no direct relation to the killing of Margary the year earlier. It was really Margary's own fault for traveling through semi-lawless provinces in a time when foreigners were all hated and reviled.

9. Sino-French War 1884-1885: It was fought to decide whether France should replace China in control of Tonkin (northern Vietnam). On one had, the French achieved their war goals, so are are usually considered the victors. But the French triumph was marred by a number of defeats, and the Chinese armies performed quite well and far superior to their other 19th century conflicts. This war saw the emergence of a strong Chinese nationalist movement, and some Chinese scholars hail it as ‘the Qing dynasty’s sole victory in arms against a foreign opponent'.

10. Hundred Days' Reform 1898: Between June 11 and September 21 Emperor Guangxu and his reform-minded supporters led by Kang Youwei undertook a failed 104-day national cultural, political and educational reform. The movement proved to be short-lived, ending in a coup d'état "The Coup of 1898" by powerful conservative opponents led by Empress Dowager Cixi. The movement aimed at making sweeping social and institutional changes in response to weaknesses exposed by China's defeat by Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). The defeat was a major shock to the Chinese as Japan had been a tributary state, was much smaller than China, and was regarded as inferior. Moreover, the defeat of China by Japan led to a scramble of 'privileges' in China by other foreign powers, notably the German Empire and Russia, further awakening the stubborn conservatives.

And we wonder why China still harbors such ill-will towards the West. Can’t blame them when they were treated so horribly in the past.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Public reading

Tonight I’ll be giving another public reading at my library. Let’s recap prior experiences, shall we?

Reading number one: Although practice had me a minute under time, apparently I went over during the actual reading. The moderator of the evening, while without a giant hook, did cover the microphone just as I finished. This was a low-tech event, but the lights would have been turned off and the orchestra would have played louder if we’d had those things.

Reading number two: I followed a heart-breaking story from the reader ahead of me. No one else in the room seemed affected, but I was sobbing my eyes out. I couldn’t see the page to read from it, and my voice quavered and tightened to the point that I basically stood there and sniffled.

Reading number three: I made sure my practices had me at half the time allotted. I also asked to go first. It went great, I felt I was finally getting the hang of it. Until I finished reading, then spilled coffee all over everything.

What will happen this time? Perhaps I’ll set fire to the building, or maybe just drop my papers in a puddle on the way inside. Will I knock the podium over? Anything’s possible.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Viewing the Civil War, Under Water

Welcome to the Victorian era, my Muse whispers, while I draft scenes about a 19th Century submarine for my anthology story with other co-bloggers. So I let my Muse teleport me back to when an enthusiastic child-cousin raced up to me at a café near dawn one day -- because of a Civil War submarine … not in the military but for sale somewhere....

I was fully expecting that his new hobby as a Civil War buff was the reason. True to form, it was about wartime tools and weapons and most of all submersibles. The youthful cousins, it seemed, had honed in on an innovative wooden submersible from the Civil War ingenuity. (Many inventors were drafted or otherwise pressed into service, but not all.)

A wooden submersible was the aim of an open-water dive in Hawaii for myself and a few cousins. They missed the fact that I was the babysitter-slash-chaperone for the day while playing with a Civil War invention they’d located somewhere. I still to this day don’t know who invented it, because the sites for the U.S. Navy and similar track their projects. I presume many other records were lost or otherwise secreted during the Civil War aka, War of Aggression to the Confederates.

Sharing my alternator mouthpiece and air tank with the enthusiastic young cousin killed two proverbial birds with one stone as we practiced underwater lifesaving techniques and also descended to 19th Century underwater craft.

As the bubbles cleared, it came into view. The coral beds and schools of vibrantly tinted fish parted in the luminescent waters. A wooden cylindrical object with a paddle wheel attached was the target of the dive. Yes, the cousins had located a one-manned invention that utilized not a hand-cranked propeller but a one-man pedal-activated-paddle-wheeled-submersible. Needless to say, the dive guides monitoring decided to have a gander, too. Peddling it around a tropical bay was about as much fun as I’ve ever had in the Deep Blue.

Privateers and smugglers – sometimes from the most surprising quadrants and echelons – utilized underwater submersibles during the Civil War. Contraband as well as weaponry were secreted aboard the underwater crafts, in active use since the American Revolution.

Easily the most popularized Civil War submarine is familiar to readers and American audiences, the HL Hunley. I won’t belabor by repeating.

A few sites about the known history of Civil War submersibles appear on the Internet and on the popular Enjoy the viewing.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tuesday Ten, Famous Victorian Women

Today I thought I’d talk about famous women in the 19th century. Many of the names on the list you’ll know; I hope to add some information you may not know about them, as they are only names of women you (and I) remember from our early education. Some you many not know at all. I’ll start with one woman I never heard of until today, who I found fascinating. If only she were born 10 years earlier, my women’s right’s advocate heroine would have loved her.

Nellie Bly—Born Elizabeth Jane Cochrane in 1864, she was nicknamed Pink because her mother had her christened in a pink gown. Her father died when she was quite young and her mother, following one of the few choices for women of the time period, remarried. The man, apparently, was abusive. It may what have made Nellie so passionate about women’s rights.

At all events, at the age of 18 she read an editorial in the Pittsburg Dispatch that was blatantly sexist (but I imagine pretty “normal” for the time). She wrote a rebuttal piece to the whole concept of the “women’s sphere” which, along with showing up at the newspaper office itself, landed her a job as a journalist. Because at the time journalism was not a proper occupation for a woman, she was given the pen name Nellie Bly. Nellie was not happy just writing “fluff” however, and dug deep into the sociological disparities of the era as an investigative reporter. In 1887 working for the New York World, she had herself committed to an insane asylum for purposes of an expose on that. It was this piece that threw her into the journalistic limelight.

Still, it wasn’t enough for Nellie. When the World considered sending a man around the world in less than 80 days, like the Jules Verne Novel, Nellie volunteered—whatever a man could do, she could do just as well, if not better! They took her on and she made it in 72 days. It gave her fame world wide fame, and spawned a board game, trading cards and even a song.

Florence Nightingale: Born in May 12 1820, in yes, Florence Italy. We know her for her work in the Crimean war, and we all have heard of the Florence Nigthtingale effect. What I didn’t know was that she was born to wealth, was considered attractive and expected to marry well. Instead, as well all know, she developed a keen interest in nursing even though it was not at that time considered an honorable profession for a woman, not that there were many proper professions for a woman of means. Regardless, she eventually under went 3 months of training as a nurse in Germany. Which eventually qualified her for a job as Superindetend of the Establishment at 1 Harley street in London. When the Crimean War broke out in 1854, an acquaintenance of her, knowing her background asked her to oversee the introduction of female nurses at Britains military hospitals where the condtions were considered deplorable. Her actions, specifically in relation to cleanliness, reduced the mortality rates from 40% to 2%!

Like Nelly Bly, however, this was not enough for her. Florence returned home after the war with a purpose. Despite ill health which eventually made her an invalid, she founded the the Nightingale School and Home for Nurses at St. Thomas's Hospital and a year later, another school at Kings College for Midwives. Bascially her efforts raised the level of respectability for nurses, who in her school now studied for a full year. It may not seem like much to the 21st century mind, but consider that women still have very few basic rights at this time.
Florence was also an extensive researcher and stistichian, publishing over 200 books report and pamphlets. Finally we this amazing woman to thank (or curse) for the creation of the Pie Graph. All of which brings us naturally to :

Clara Barton—Famous civil war nurse, this woman’s “work” began when she was in her 40’s. She is totally all right by me! Although considered “shy” she opened her own school in New Jersey after teaching 10 years previously. When (not sure how this happened if it was her won school) the board hired a man to lead it, she moved to Washington D.C. where she worked in a U.S. Patent Office, as a clerk, rare for women in those days. Following these studies, Barton opened a free school in New Jersey. The attendance under her leadership grew to 600 but instead of hiring Barton to head the school, the board hired a man instead. Frustrated, she moved to Washington D.C. and began work as a clerk in the U.S. Patent Office; this was the first time a woman had received a substantial clerkship in the federal government.
When the Civil War started, Clara, devoted to the Union cause, decided she wanted to volunteer her help. But women had never been allowed to work in hospitals, camps or battle fields before, and she met resistance. Eventually though, she gained their trust and worked so diligently that she became known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” and was promoted to superintendent of Union nurses

In 1869 after the war ended she traveld to Europe and learned about the Red Cross. The more she learned, the more she liked, which at this point was basically a twelve nation treaty. Upon returning to the U.S. she worked to have the US. Join the treaty thus creating the US Red Cross, which she expanded to include assistance and aid in national disasters.

Lucy Stone—Born in Massachusetts 1818, she was “first” in oh so many things. First woman in the state to earn a college degree, a degree that she pretty much saved up for and paid for herself. She earned it in Oberlin college Ohio, the first college to admit both men and women. Dedicated to women’s rights, she was determined never to marry. But eventually she could not resist the courtship of Henry Blackwell, a fellow abolitionist. Still, she refused to forfeit her freedom and so upon marriage she kept her name (which is why she is Lucy Stone and not Blackwell). They married in 1855 and the couple issued a statement, which the reverend not only read, but passed around. You can read it here:

Basically it says that a wife is not the property of her husband, a very radical idea back then.
When Lucy Stone died in 1893, sadly many years before women finally did get the vote, she was the first woman in New England to be cremated.

Lucy Stone’s sister-in-law was also an activist in her way:

Elizabeth Blackwell--born in England in 1821, she was the first US female to graduate from medical school. Her father brought the family to the U.S. in 1832. When years later her father died, leaving the family to fend for themselves, the women opened a school. Here, Elizabeth became a teacher and learned something about medical study. Eventually medicine became not only a calling but receiving and education “assumed the aspect of a great moral struggle,” In 1847 she started searching for a college that would admit her. She was rejected over and over again (writers everywhere can commiserate with her!). At the Geneva Medical school, however, the faculty put it to the students to vote. Believing that it was a joke, they voted to accept her. She graduated in 1849, first in her class. A huge accomplishment, I would expect, because I can’t imagine they made it very easy for her.

In 1868, after studying abroad, she and her sister opened the Women’s Medical College in New York in 1868, a plan worked on with Florence Nightingale, whom she met and became friends with in England. Eventually, though, Elizabeth returned to England where she became a professor of gynecology at the London School of Medicine for Children.

Susan B. Anthony—You can’t really talk about Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Blackwell etc, without mentioning this woman. Of course we’ve read tons about her, had a coin minted with her on it, etc. She worked alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton to found the National Woman’s Suffrage Association. I’m not going to write much about her here. If I did then I would be remiss in not mentioning Amelia Bloomer and a whole host of other activist-type women. Let us suffice to say there were lots of women working in this arena during this era, many of whom I’ve already talked about.

Mary Cassat—born May 22 1844. Mostly when I think of impressionists I think of Degas and Monet. But did you know there was this female impressionist too? She was the daughter of a Pittsburgh businessman, she studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. In 1874 she went to Europe to continue her studies and settled in Paris. There, at the beginning of the impressionist movement she became close friends with many of those artists including Degas. She participated in the exhibitions of 1879, 1880, 1881 and 1886. She offered financial support and encouragement to her fellow painters, and helped them to establish their work in America as well. Her own paintings were also displayed in her homeland, to much acclaim. Although she did not take up the suffrage movement until much later in life, the fact that she was a female in a typically male profession is pretty remarkable. She never married, but spent many hours studying family life, which is what is reflected in her paintings.

Marie Curie—Born 1867 Poland. You just can’t talk about famous 19th century women without mentioning her. Granted most of her work and acclaim came in the early 20th century, but she did get a Nobel prize for Physics, alongside her husband, in 1903, which was technically still the Victorian Era. The prize was awarded for the study of spontaneous radiation, which honestly I cannot begin to understand. I just think it was so cool at by the end of the era we had come to a point where a woman could not only attend college but get a Nobel prize. She was also the first woman to teach at Sorbonne. She went on to get another Nobel prize after her husband died, making her the only person to ever win Nobel prizes in two different sciences, physics and Chemistry. Of course all of this took place in Europe, not America which is where all my books (currently) take place but still, oh so cool.

Emmeline Pankhurst—Born England 1858. Okay so one more suffragette, but this one on the other side of the pond! She was one of the British suffragettes, founding the Women’s Franchise League. Her father was an active anti-slavery man, her mother a staunch women’s rights advocate, who started taking her daughter to meetings in the 1870’s, Much like Lucy Stone, she married a man as committed to the cause as she was, Richard Pankhurst. He was main person responsible for drafting a women’s property bill that Parliament passed in 1870. She grew up reading abolitionist literature like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which brings me to my final famous woman. . . .

Harriet Beecher Stowe—June 14th 1811. She published her first book at 22 under her sister Catherine’s name. She helped support her family by writing many different kinds of literature, but we know her mostly for Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Although she didn’t live in the south she apparently lived fairly close to Kentucky and used the knowledge that she gained from that and the underground railroad to write the book, which was originally published in installments. It brought her great fame, as we know. Other than that much of her work was Christian in nature and about family life. Which only made sense as her father was a preacher, her husband a biblical scholar and many of her brothers went on to become preachers also, the most famous one Henry Ward Beecher. Famous (or in this case infamous as he was a well known preacher that became involved in a sex scandal—and you only thought that happened in the modern era, huh?) men however, are for another blog.