My first serious introduction to women’s rights came from my American history college class. I was to read and review Abigail Scott Duniway’s book, Edna and John: A Romance of Idaho Flat. Just as the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin exposed the unfairness of slavery, Duniway exposed the injustice of women’s rights in the late 1800s. She knew full well a woman’s limitations; a disabled husband put her in the position of bread winner and caregiver for him and her children. She had no choice but to work at jobs that didn’t pay the bills.
Of course, living in an era that has given women more rights, I cannot fully understand the challenges Edna faced. If my husband dies, our house will not go to the closest living male relative, but to me. Still, I see some allure in the era that takes place around 1870, just after the Civil War. Enough to inspire me to write historical fiction anyway.
As I write about my characters, and to be in tune with women’s history, it’s not too hard to figure out how my heroine will make a living as there are only so many acceptable jobs. So, in reading our historical novels, we’ve come across the same professions many times. Otherwise, she may have what is either considered an immoral job, live in a rich family, or be married. So, to be different, and to please the reader, the heroine must be engaging in other ways.
My heroine in Wanting Moore was the only girl among six children, which made her clever, competitive, and tough enough to get a task done. She thinks about being a teacher and sets off to mark her own trail until she’s injured and meets a post-civil war doctor on her journey.
When I wondered about the Civil War as related to women’s contributions, I searched for information about the few women nurses that have gone down in history. I set out to learn what medical changes came about because of the civil war hospital, or shortly after. Again, I had to think outside the box for the possibilities to include in my story.
In my time travel series, Nugget of Time (book one), I take a successful news reporter from our time, back to an 1870s mining town where only men have jobs at the local newspaper. She has but few choices to make a living in a town where few women reside. I must consider what can she do. Will she be accepted in this wild west town? How can she be safe? What will she do to be safe and make a living?
I’ve thought about this scenario a lot because I’ve had a summer cabin along a creek in a Northeast Oregon mining ghost town, where I have considered the history and enjoyed the forest for several years. Taking it all in, I find that it is a great setting, and has been for many of my books.
But then, I have it easy. I say, cheers to the women of the 19th century who plotted the way before me!
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