Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sports Women

Mary Stuart,
Queen of Scots
 Up until the late nineteenth century, if you were a woman you were not allowed to participate in sports. When did it change?

There were always the exceptions. Women in ancient Greece were not allowed in the Olympics, so they held their own Games of Hera every four years. Mary, Queen of Scots was an avid golfer, and called her assistants “cadets”. The first caddies. During her reign (1542-67), the famous golf course of St. Andrews was built. Women in Regency times walked—Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice enjoyed a good, hardy stroll. There have been a few boxers, fisher-women, horse racers, runners, hot-air balloonists, and archers.

May in "Age of Innocence"
But until the 1870’s to 1890's mainstream women and sports didn’t mix.

The bicycle changed everything—though not because it was a way to get exercise or that it was considered a sport, but that it finally allowed women autonomy. They could move quickly from Point A to Point B by themselves. And they didn’t need a man to come along as a chaperone. I think about the feeling of freedom a woman would have felt the first time she rode a bicycle. The breeze through her hair, the exhilaration of using her limbs until they burned… And the choice involved to go somewhere. Even that. Especially that. Choice.
As bicycles gained popularity in the 1880’s, women’s clothing was adapted for ease of movement. No more bustles! As early as 1850 Amelia Bloomer developed “bloomers” to wear under a skirt, thus giving women more freedom of movement.  With bicycles, the bloomers were ends in themselves.  How risque!  Some considered women who rode bicycles whores...  Yet in the decade of 1890-1900 over a million women would ride bicycles. Beyond all the other sports, bicycling was a wide-spread hit.

During this time many sports became womanized: rowing, hiking, fencing, lawn tennis, tennis, croquet, sailing, and swimming. The summer resort of Newport, Rhode Island, encouraged all these activities.  I have some of my characters deal with bicycling, swimming, and sailing in An Unlikely Suitor. Even baseball was played by women: According to this wonderful timeline site, in 1875 two women’s teams, the "Blondes" and "Brunettes", played their first match. “Newspapers heralded the event as the 'first game of baseball ever played in public for gate money between feminine ball-tossers.'"

Boulder Field of Long's Peak
 Some of these sports didn’t require a lot of physical effort, but some did. In 1871 Addie Alexander climbed Longs Peak in Colorado. I’ve climbed Long’s Peak (the tallest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park at 14,256 feet), but I was 18 and wearing rubber-soled shoes. I can’t imagine climbing over the Boulder Field in the slippery leather-bottomed shoes of Addie’s time. Twenty-two years later, Katharine Lee Bates climbed Pike's Peak and composed a poem, “America the Beautiful.” It was set to music in 1910 by Samuel A. Ward. On top of the peak, there is a commemoration plaque.

With the doors to sports open, some women took it to extremes. In 1891 Mary French Sheldon led an expedition to East Africa. That same year Beatrice Von Dressden jumped with a parachute from a hot air balloon. This was her first jump. First? Are you kidding me? She did it again? Get this woman a place on “Fear Factor”!

Not everyone thought women should exert themselves and there were many articles condemning this change in women’s lives. Many men seemed intimidated by a strong, active woman. But in 1892, the YMCA devoted an issue to women, saying exercise for women was a good thing.

Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it! And as with most acts of freedom, I appreciate having the choice.//Nancy

Monday, June 20, 2011

1903 , Kuna, Idaho, and Donna Fletcher Crow's Daughters of Courage Series

It's Monday, and I (Stephanie) can't think of a better way to begin a week than with a great story combined with a good deal.

Donna Fletcher Crow (www.DonnaFletcherCrow) joins us today to share footnotes from Idaho histor
y (inspired by her own family heritage), with news of a re-release of her beloved Daughters of Courage series.

The "good deal" part is for those of you with ereaders, because Greenbrier has made the books available for a short time for ... can you believe it ... less than one dollar each. Happy Monday, booklovers! (Kindle: Nook:

I suppose I should admit right away that two of my favorite reasons for loving Kathryn's story include the Scotsman (I'm part Scot) and the character named Stephanie (ahem). Lenore Persons of Guideposts Books said this after reading Kathryn: It’s rare to find novels that combine a strong Christian ethic with such compelling story-telling. Because these are real people and real events, the experiences of faith challenged and faith triumphant are all the more meaningful. I hope that Donna Fletcher Crow’s loving testament to her grandmother and mother and to the brave men and women who shaped our country will touch you as much as it did me.

The story's main character,Kathryn, has never been short on courage. But then she's never faced a wilderness so hot and dry that the only growing thing is endless miles of rattlesnake-infested sagebrush with the nearest fresh water 15 miles away. Yet Kathryn Jayne is determined not merely to survive. She will thrive. Even when those nearest to her die. Even when murder strikes their tiny community. Even when a dashing, irreverent Scotsman struggling to outdistance a troubled past brings turmoil to Kathryn’s heart.

From untamed Idaho, to Edwardian London, to enchanting Scotland, Kathryn records her experiences in the journals that become an inspiration for her family and the basis for this gripping saga.Through every generation America’s women have exhibited courage, spirit and faith. Kathryn, Elizabeth and Stephanie are true Daughters of Courage. This sweeping family saga will help today’s women find inspiration to triumph in the challenges we all face.

Let's talk about the history behind this series. You mentioned a family photograph?

Even as a child I loved this picture of my paternal grandmother Esther Fletcher when she was a teenager. She was so pretty. And I loved her dress. Could my grandmother ever have been that young?

I have always been able to look at a picture from history and put myself in that scene, so when my editor askedme to write a pioneer series, I knew I wanted to tell my grandmother’s story.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about "the real story" while researching this book?

Well, okay. I didn’t immediately want to tell my grandmother’s story. I didn’t want to do a pioneer story at all. Jeanette Oke was all the rage at that time. And there was the wonderful Little House on the Prairie series. One more tree didn’t need to die for another pioneer story.

Then I began researching the lives of my grandmothers and other Idaho pioneer women— and I discovered that our desert pioneers had completely different stories from the sod buster stories we all think of when we say pioneer romance.

These incredible women who homesteaded in the desert before the irrigation canals were dug in 1909 had to survive a climate so dry that washing wrung out by hand and spread on a sagebrush bush at night would be dry in 20 minutes. After Indian Creek dried up in June the nearest water was 15 miles away in the Snake River and had to be carted up in a horse-drawn buckboard. And the only creatures who could survive in the wild were jackrabbits and flying ants that would swarm down the stovepipe in the heat of the day. Then fall dead on the floor when soot encrusted their bodies.

And yet these brave women not only survived their days, but would also sit down at night and write in their journals. These journals have been collected in the Kuna Library where I did a great deal of my research and I used Kathryn’s journal as a through-line in my series as a source of strength for her daughter and granddaughter.

Besides the photograph of my grandmother which I mentioned above, the photographs, such as this one on the left, of pioneer families standing proudly in front of their homesteads inspired me with a sense of the courage and vision they must have had. Surely they were seeing “the desert blossom as a rose” in their minds. Look hard and you’ll see a heartbreakingly fragile tree planted beside the house.

One book that really helped my research was titled THE SETTLEMENT OF THE KUNA REGION 1900-1925 (sponsored by: Kuna Joint School District No. 3, Kuna Library District, and the Association for the Humanities in Idaho, and dedicated to the memory of Warren Reynolds who was a moving force in the Kuna History Project). Warren Reynolds must have been a distant cousin of mine, because Reynolds is a family name on my mother’s side. The book was helpful for its narrative, but even more so for its many, many pictures like this one.

What spiritual encouragement did you draw from what you've learned?

Every generation has its own unique challenges that require its sons and daughters to stand strong, but God is always faithful. I find it encouraging to know that no matter how hard things might seem today, and no matter how dim the flame of faith might flicker, it has been much harder and the flame has burned much lower in other times, but it has always come back. At times only a handful have stood against a dark, but, with God’s help, it has been enough.

Did you meet a special woman from the past you'd like to tell about?

Kathryn is a composite of both of my grandmothers Esther Smith Fletcher and Tennie Botner Book. Although I have very dear childhood memories of both of these courageous women (they were both at our wedding, even) I felt that I came to know them in a new way by recreating the world they raised their families in. A world so different from our own that required skills and knowledge none of us have today.


Special thanks to Donna for joining us today... learn more about her and her stories at: (AND DO GO HERE...I think Donna has the most intriguing author photo I've ever seen. Makes me want to tag along on her next research trip!)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Trains, Boats . .. and NO Automobiles

It’s 1895. Look at a map. If you were rich and lived in New York City and wanted to go to Newport, Rhode Island for the six-week summer season, how did you travel those 175 miles?

Cars hadn’t been invented yet. And considering Newport was on an island... You had two choices: take the train or take a steamer ship.

When I was doing the research for An Unlikely Suitor, this transportation issue was my biggest challenge. It’s not like there are that many train schedules sitting around from 1895. And as an additional complication, the character who needed to go on the journey was a poor seamstress, not someone from the Vanderbilt set.

Interior of Fall RIver Line Steamer

I discovered that most wealthy travelers took steamers. The Fall River line left from the North River in NYC in the evenings so its passengers slept on the ship and stopped in Newport, continuing to Fall River, Massachusetts, then continuing on to Boston, where businessmen could be at work in the morning.

The interior of these steamers was luxurious. They had staterooms, or there were berths in dorm-type rooms. Even middle class passengers could experience a bit of luxury on such a ship.

2nd class car

Others went on the train from Grand Central Station (see my June 2 blog) to Wickford Junction, Rhode Island, where they’d take a short trek down to the dock to catch a steamer for the 75 minute trip to Newport. On the trains, the second class cars were simple seats and had a shared lavatory for both men and women.

This is the train car I used in An Unlikely Suitor

First class train travel was more luxurious, with velvet seats, and gilded ceilings. There were salon cars and dining cars.

1869 Dining Car

But… it still must have been a hot and noisy ride as men wore suits and women wore long-sleeved, high-necked ensembles. And hats and gloves. A few years ago I was riding in a train in France that lost its air conditioning, and it was a miserable experience—and I was dressed for the heat. So first class or no, travel could be tedious.
1895 Fashion

When the wealthy set arrived in Newport, they would find that their summer homes were ready for them, as their servants had been sent ahead weeks earlier. And each socialite had ordered at least thirty new outfits for the 6-8 week season. Summer vacation was a big production for all involved.

Sometimes I imagine being able to take one of these ladies in my car and explain to her the highway system, rest stops, drive through food, cruise control, reclining seats, climate settings, cup holders (and 44 oz. drinks), navigation systems, back-up cameras, the radio, CDs, and DVDs. They’d probably scream from the speed alone...

But wouldn’t it be fun to share?//Nancy

Monday, June 6, 2011

1881 Arizona & Mary Connealy, Author of Deep Trouble

Today I've asked fellow Nebraska author (yeah!) Mary Connealy to tell us about what it's like to be in deep trouble :-). I just retrieved my copy from my daughter, who gave it applause and a "thumbs up."

Deep Trouble follows Shannon Dysart on a search for a city of gold, the lost city of Quivera, which she believes is in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. She's on a quest to prove her father's
research isn't the work of a madman, and that he really did find treasure in the west.

Gabe Lasley is trying to keep her alive until she comes to her senses ... and then he plans on marrying her. With trouble on their back trail from the villains who still want Shannon’s map, the dream of gold coloring every decision Shannon makes, and Gabe’s surprising need to protect her, they set out to find a city of gold. Along the way they find that true treasure is rooted in love. And that was within their reach all along.

  • What artifact, place, historical event, or woman from history made you want to write this book?

Deep Trouble really began as a treasure hunt. X marks the spot, you know??? My heroine is searching for the Seven Cities of Gold, the Kingdom of Quivera. As I tried to figure out where in the world a city of gold might be hidden, I latched on to a long ago memory of a visit to the Grand Canyon. If someone wanted to really hide something, where better. My heroine's course is set and then the trouble begins. Deep Trouble.

  • What was the most surprising thing you learned about “the real story” while researching this book?

I did a lot of research about the history of the Grand Canyon and found out there were a lot of people, very early on who recognized it as a tourist treasure. It's so remote it's hard to believe someone would think travelers would come there, but Americans, even back then, had a great knack for figuring out how to profit from their hard work. The research I did about the Seven Cities of God struck me as being a mythological heaven on earth. Streets of gold. It made a wonderful contrast between the heroine looking for earthly wealth and the hero trying to get her to accept what was truly treasure here on earth. Love, family, faith.

  • Is there a historical photograph that inspired you you’d like to share?

My book begins in Mesa Verde, in Colorado. I slightly fictionalized Mesa Verde and didn't exactly pin point the location because I needed my cliff dwellings to be of a very specific design so someone could be trapped at the topmost cave simply by removing a ladder and Mesa Verde didn't do that for me, from what I could see in pictures. I've attached a picture of Mesa Verde to my email and if you'll look close there could be some caves high above the others, and if I was searching for gold in that place, I'd probably find a way to look in every nook and cranny.

  • What one non-fiction book helped you research the most (for those who want to learn more)?

For the Grand Canyon I relied heavily on The Man Who Walked Through Time by Colin Fletcher. Colin Fletcher is the first man to walk the length of the Grand Canyon. His first person reactions to the canyon were invaluable to me.

  • What spiritual encouragement did you draw from what you’ve learned?

Writing this book made me want to get out into nature. I spend so much of my life behind the computer researching. I'm trying to get out more, go to museums, visit locations, get my hands on things. It deepened my respect for the beauty God has created all around us and what a beautiful country we've been blessed with.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Grand Central Station

You’ve probably heard of the “Commodore” in regard to American history. He—Cornelius Vanderbilt—was the founding father of the Vanderbilt dynasty in the mid-1800’s. He began earning his fortune in steam shipping, and expanded to railroads. He was ruthless, and became one of the richest men in America. When he died in 1877 he left $100 million--$95 million to one son and his four sons, and $2 million each to a grandson and two other sons, and a piddling $250,000-$500,000 each to his eight daughters.  One "wastrel" son, Cornelius, got a $200,000 trust fund. He considered the one lucky son--William Henry Vanderbilt--the only one capable of continuing his business.  And even the ones who received the lesser amounts were considered wealthy for it.
Grand Central from Lexington 1890

But enough about the Commodore's wealth, and back to railforads...  In New York City, Vanderbilt bought the key land between 42nd & 48th Street, Lexington to Madison, with the intent of constructing a new train depot. In 1871, at a cost of $6.4 million, the first Grand Central would arise—and be out of date even before it opened. Why? 

It was the time of the Industrial Revolution, and times were changing. Constantly. Even as the Commodore had the Grand Central depot built, the steam engine—for which it was built—was on its way out. Steam engines were noisy, dirty, and potentially dangerous—and one arrived every 45 seconds!

Streetcars arriving at Grand Central

 In 1902 there was a collision in the smoke-filled Park Avenue Tunnel that killed 17 and injured 38 people. This catastrophe fueled the demand for the cleaner electric trains. By the end of 1902 there were plans to demolish GSS and build a double-level terminal. Isn’t that the way? It takes the loss of life to get our attention, and get much-needed changes implemented. Here are some original news articles about it: Grand Central 1902 crash 

Interior 1880's?  This is what I used
in my novel An Unlikely Suitor
Another negative about the design was its congestion. Originally the GSS served three rail lines—that each had its own facilities for waiting, baggage, and ticketing. Talk about confusing! The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, New York and Harlem Railroad, and the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, all shared the space. 

Clearing the tracks after Blizzard of 1888
Although updated in 1899, in 1913 the GSS that we know now was unveiled, and 150,000 people attended the ceremonies. The 1930’s and 40’s were the heyday of train travel. “In 1947, more than 65 million people -- the equivalent of 40% of the U.S. population -- traveled through Grand Central Terminal.”  
New Grand Central about 1918

But then . . . during the Fifties . . . people started to drive and fly and train travel waned. GSS was nearly demolished to make way for more of the skyscrapers that surround it. But concerned citizens rallied (including Jackie Kennedy Onassis) and the original 1913 station was preserved—and restored. Today it houses many restaurants and shops and gives us a glimpse of the past. //Nancy

Restored Grand Central terminal today

Here is a great website about the Grand Central Station, with some interesting “secrets” and trivia: Grand Central Station Info

Some famous movies filmed there: “North by Northwest”, “The Cotton Club”, “The Fisher King”, “Superman”… and wasn’t there a scene in “The Prince of Tides” filmed there? With the kid playing his violin?  Grand Cental Movies