Thursday, February 21, 2013

Women Trailblazers

It's twelve days to go until The Family Way is published, so I'm getting excited.

I'm also gearing up to respond to more people who tell me Molly could never have been a detective in her time. So I've been thinking more about what women actually achieved in Molly's time. Of course the expectation was the women stay home and raise a family. But in spite of this women were doing amazing things.

Do you remember that wonderful TV series called The Duchess of Duke Street? It was about a woman from very humble beginnings who goes on to found one of the best hotels in London. And it was based on a real woman who founded Brown's Hotel (still going strong--the hotel, not the woman).

Then there is Coco Chanel, whom I have written about. She came from an orphanage, learned to sew, started designing hats for ladies, then their outfits and went on to create a fashion house and perfumerie known all over the world. Not only did she start a fashion house but she designed business suits for women, and chic trousers long before anyone else in the world dared to wear them. Hooray for Coco.

And we mustn't leave out the scientists and inventors. Madame Curie who won the Novel Prize for science. Alice Hamilton was a distinguished physician who was the first woman on the medical faculty at Harvard. And Augusta Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace worked with Charles Babbage on the first mechanical computer in the mid 1800s, writing was has come to be accepted as the first computer program.

So Molly--feel free to be brave, adventurous, ambitious.  Molly is married now, so it will be interesting to see whether being a married woman restricts her from carrying on a professional career, won't it? Somehow I don't think she'll stay home and have tea parties.


  1. Molly would die if she just stayed at home and had tea parties.

  2. And let's not forget about Kate Warne - who was a Pinkerton operative before, during and after the Civil War, even though women were generally not considered "detectives" until after the war.

  3. Dearest Rhys, maybe you should remind the naysayers about the women who operated as spies, dressed as men, during the United States Civil War. Or maybe they should hear about the widowed women who walked across our continent to make homes for themselves and their children in the west. How about the females who wrote books long before Molly Murphy's time?

    There were women who established businesses in the old west, not houses of ill repute, but ran stores, restaurants, boarding houses, dressmaking businesses, etc. Some women even ran large, successful ranches (Euphemia Hill comes to mind). Maybe the majority of women didn't stray from the norm, but many did. Some were even bank robbers and other criminals! Their stories can be found in biographies, encyclopedias, and online.

  4. Edith Hamilton [1867-1963]
    American historian and educator Edith Hamilton was not an archaeologist--but her popular writings on Greek culture and mythology have affected generations of archaeologists. She studied at Bryn Mawr, and the European universities of Leipzig and Munich; and then was chosen Head Mistress at Bryn Mawr, where she taught Latin until her retirement in 1922. She published her first book, The Greek Way, at the age of 63 and kept writing and learning up until the day she died, at 95, one week after finishing her last book on Plato. There's a good biography on Edith Hamilton at the Indiana University at Fort Wayne History Department's website (she was from Fort Wayne).

  5. Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell [1868-1926]
    With a degree in history from Oxford, Gertrude Bell excavated at sites such as Birbinkilise in Turkey, at Byzantine monuments in Syria, and at the Abbasid Palace of Ukhaidir. She was the founder of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, and is considered the mother of modern Mesopotamian archaeology. She had an amazing life for any period, full of travel and adventure--and even espionage during World War I. Two sources for more information on Bell's life are available on the glossary page linked above, including the Smithsonian Institution's 'Daughter of the Desert' page and the Gertrude Bell Project at the Department of Archaeology, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.

  6. I featured her in the first of these posts, Bette.

  7. What is fascinating about this time in history is that women did not have the kinds of freedom that Molly is enjoying; however, many women did what they wanted anyway, many more than we are lead to believe. These "new women," as they are sometimes called- often had inherited Industrial revolution fortunes, managed to stay unmarried, became widowed and financially independent, or in a rather untraditional marriage. I can recommend a wonderful book by Very Brittain called -Honorable Estate. Loosely based on her mother's in law's journal's of her Victorian upbringing and the life V.B. -after WWI. There is lot's of women's history of the early 20th Century yet to be told.