Tag Archives: women’s history

Fashion versus Clothes in History

Feb 23, 2015


Okay, I have this theory about historical clothing. And when I say clothing, I’m talking about the everyday uniform of the masses. Fashion is something entirely different. Fashion is extravagant and beautiful…and can usually only be worn by people who can afford it. Throughout history, particularly the 19th century, fashion was exquisite and varied as rapidly as it does today.

Fashion, 1862

Fashion, 1862

Fashion, 1900 - very different from 1862

Fashion, 1900 – very different from 1862 (also my favorite era of fashion history)

But I have a theory about the everyday clothes of the common man. Namely, that even though a few tiny details, like sleeve shape and size, placement of the waist, and skirt length, varied a little, when you get down to brass tacks, working women’s everyday dress didn’t change all THAT much for hundreds of years. The basic uniform of serviceable skirt, comfortable shirt, and possibly an apron remained steady until hemlines went up in the 20th century, and until pants took over.

Four regular women in 1865

Four regular women in 1865

Two household servants in the 1870s

Two household servants in the 1870s

Regular folks on the trail

Regular folks on the trail

Kickin' it at school, 1888

Kickin’ it at school, 1888

Just a family, 1900

Just a family, 1900

I haven’t done an in-depth study of clothing (which would be fun to do someday, mind you), but this is my very unscientific survey of old photographs from various eras, found on Pinterest. A little bit changed, but really, not that much.

I could totally dress like this and be happy

I could totally dress like this and be happy. Well, most of the time

I also want to note that when you search for Victorian Photography on Pinterest, you get a lot of Victorian post mortem photographs, and frankly, that whole fad just really freaks me out!

Cheyenne Women

Feb 09, 2015
A Cheyenne Woman, 1927. I think she could easily be the head of the Quilling Society. ;) Courtesy of Wikicommons

A Cheyenne Woman, 1927. I think she could easily be the head of the Quilling Society. 😉
Courtesy of Wikicommons

One of the most fun parts of my research into the Cheyenne way of life was discovering the way that women functioned in their society. The role of women was very different within the Cheyenne community of the second half of the 19th century than it was in white society of America…and yet in a lot of ways it was similar.

One of the big similarities that struck me was that male and female society amongst the Cheyenne were largely separate. The women had their duties and responsibilities, and the men had theirs. While the men were responsible in large part for hunting and warfare, both of which were important ways they provided for their tribe, women were in charge of what I would classify more as daily life chores of the village. This reminds me a lot how, in white society of the 19th century, a woman’s realm was the home, and, really, a man had far less say about how his house was run than a lot of modern people realize.

Cheyenne women were responsible for preparing good, making clothing, caring for children, and making and building tipis. There was a lot of prestige attached to these tasks too. I really enjoyed reading in George Bird Grinnell’s book The Cheyenne Indians: Their History and Lifeways about how Cheyenne women had various societies for the different tasks they performed. The Quilling Society was one of the most important of these, and to be invited to join was a great honor. Quilling was the art of decorating clothing and other items with quills and beads and other adornment, so it was sort of like a sewing or quilting circle in white culture, but with actual political punch in the running of the village.

I was impressed by how much clout women had amongst they Cheyenne. They weren’t considered as full equals with men, though. They didn’t smoke with the men, for example, which was an important social and ceremonial practice. There were some strange rules about where they could sit or how they had to walk around a fire or men who were meeting as well. But so many of these things were just as strange and eyebrow-raising as customs amongst white American society.

A Cheyenne couple talking under a blanket outside the woman's tipi. This is part of an awesome collection of ledger art, courtesy of https://plainsledgerart.org/

A Cheyenne couple talking under a blanket outside the woman’s tipi.
This is part of an awesome collection of ledger art, courtesy of https://plainsledgerart.org/

One thing that did really shock me and take me aback about how Cheyenne men and women interacted with each other, though, was the fact that grown brothers and sisters were forbidden to speak to each other. I have three brothers, and according to Cheyenne rules, I would not be allowed to speak to or have any kind of relationship to any of them. Not cool! I suppose I can see how this would have developed from an effort to prevent incestuous relationships? Maybe? Still not cool.

Another detail that I found to be incredibly sweet and that I included in my book Trail of Dreams was the Cheyenne way of courtship. If a young man wanted to “go out” with a young woman, he would wait at the door to her tipi with a blanket draped around him. Then, when she came out, he would wrap her in the blanket too, creating their own little cocoon in which they could talk (or make-out) without interference. Grinnell mentions that if a woman was particularly popular or desirable, she could step outside of her tipi and find several men in blankets lined up to spend time with her. Then she would spend a few minutes talking under the blanket of each man before going on with her duties.

So after learning all these things and more, I hope that I’ve translated them well into the story of Trail of Dreams.

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Who Were the Western Pioneers?

Nov 17, 2014

TrailofHopeIn my new western historical romance series, Hot on the Trail, I’m giving a glimpse into the lives and loves of several sets of people traveling west on the Oregon Trail. My particular stories are set later in the history of the Trail, but all the same, I wanted to give a picture of the kinds of people who would leave everything back East to start over in the West. So who were these people? What would really induce someone to drop the life they had to run west?

Of course, the obvious answer that we’ve learned since childhood is that these were people in search of opportunity. And that’s still a true answer. From the moment the West was opened up through exploration and discovery, Americans back East saw it as one great big ball of opportunity just waiting for someone to rush out and claim it. The land was fertile, natural resources abounded, and gold (and later silver) were found.

But as I mentioned in an earlier post. The very first intrepid settlers who made the trek west during the first days of the Oregon Trail in the early 1840s were not going for gold. They weren’t even going to California. They were headed to the territory in the Pacific Northwest that was already minimally settled by both American and British trappers and merchants. The American government encouraged settlers to high-tail it for Oregon, because the more American butts were on the ground, the more likely it was for the U.S. to claim a larger chunk of the land that was proving to be so profitable. It was about showing Britain up. Working the land was important and ports along the Pacific coast were vital to trade, but really it was an international land grab.

The Oregon Trail, by Albert Bierstadt

The Oregon Trail, by Albert Bierstadt

All that changed, of course, when gold was discovered in California. We hear a lot about the gold rush and the Forty-Niners. That was just the tip of the iceberg. The truth was that there was some gold easily available, right on the surface of the ground for those who could get out there fast enough to grab it. And many, many men did zip out from the east to try to get rich quick. Most failed, though. Too many exhausted their entire life savings trying to make something of themselves. And a bunch of them ended up going home to the East, empty-handed.

The people who succeeded in California, and later in Colorado and Wyoming and Montana, and all the other future states and cities that survived and thrived, were the ones who followed the get-rich-quick schemers and set up businesses to cater to them. The real riches to be had were in mercantile business, selling things to the burgeoning population of the West, or in ranching or farming to feed the West. These weren’t get-rich-quick sorts of enterprises, but they definitely made a lot of people a heck of a lot of money in the long run.

Okay, it’s pretty obvious that the West was populated by adventurers and entrepreneurs, folks with stars and dollar signs in their eyes. But who exactly were these people? What were they like?

As I’ve done research for my Hot on the Trail books, I’ve discovered one consistent trend that I haven’t heard a lot of people talk about before. It seems that a great many of the people who were willing to pull up their roots and chase their dreams west were (unsurprisingly) restless, ambitious dreamers and (surprisingly) quite liberal and secular in their thinking.

Mayer-Awakening-1915Yep, I think the trend is to think that these early settlers were pious and god-fearing, but all the research I’ve done seems to indicate that religion didn’t reach the West until many, many decades after the people did. After all, this was the land of gunslingers and prostitutes. There’s a reason the West was called “wild.” But it was true even for peaceable settlers in the earlier days. In fact, an early missionary heading to Oregon wrote home that she was shocked by the amount of godlessness she found in the West and felt something had to be done.

In fact, something was done, and as the great revivals of the 19th century swept in from the East, lonely settlers out West adopted religion as a means to come together to stave off the sheer loneliness of life on the prairie. But I’ll write more about that later.

The other remarkable thing about people in the West was that they had far more liberal ideas about a variety of topics, especially women’s rights. As the century rolled into its later years, settlers throughout the West began to see the necessity of all people, including women, participating in every facet of life, from farming to politics. Women were given the vote in several western territories as early as the 1880s. They also owned land and operated businesses, and ended up being used as an example of the progress that women could make once the cause of women’s rights took center stage at the turn of the century.

So the people who settled the West were some of the heartiest and cleverest people in America. That can’t be denied. The West also drew a lot of foreigners looking to start anew, but that’s a whole other story. Would you have had what it takes to start over in an untamed land? Would you have been the one to tame it?


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Trail of Kisses – Another Sneak Peek

Sep 17, 2014

It’s Wednesday! So here’s another peek at my upcoming book Trail of Kisses, the first in the new Hot on the Trail series about the Oregon Trail….

“I think you like me,” he said, hoping to get a reaction from her that would distract him from the pain.

It worked. “Of course I like you. My uncle hired you.”

“No, I think you like me.” He worked himself up to a smile when what he really wanted to do was grimace. “I think that’s why you like staring at me the way you do.”

“I do not stare at you,” she insisted. She finished with his arm and examined his side.

“You’re staring at me right now.”

“I’m treating your wounds.”

“Yep, and I just bet you’re thinking about how handsome I am while you’re at it.”

She paused and rocked back on her heels, back braced against a pile of crates. It didn’t take her far away from him. Come to think of it, the wagon bed was closed and cramped. And heating up in spite of Lynne’s frown.

“Any man can be handsome,” she said at last. “So what if you are. You’re also ridiculous and cowardly.”

“Cowardly?” He balked.

“I’m sure you’re about to say something about how you think whoever is supposedly out to kill me tampered with your gun too, that maybe they’re trying to kill you now. In fact, the answer is probably just that you bought a faulty gun back at the fort.”

“I—” He blinked as he considered her words. He’d been too sore to think about that yet, but she had a point. A bad point. If her would-be assassin was trying to take him out too now, it could be a problem.

“If you ever head back to Ft. Kearny,” she went on, studying the scrapes on his calf, “I think you should ask for your money back. They shouldn’t go selling faulty guns. It’s dangerous.”

Cade’s lips parted to say something, but he held back. Lynne was afraid. She’d guessed at the truth but was trying to fight it. She was a lot smarter about the predicament she was in than she wanted to let on, maybe even to herself.

“Honey, it’s going to be all right,” he said in as soothing a voice as he could manage.

It had the opposite effect. Lynne’s eyes flared wide in indignation.

“How dare you call me ‘honey’ like I’m some saloon girl?” she snapped. “I don’t need you to tell me things will be all right. I know they will. I’m going to make sure they are.”

All right, maybe sweet words weren’t the way to go with Lynne Tremaine.

“I forgot,” he said. “You’re brave. Nothing frightens you.”

“Exactly,” she said, throwing the bandage at him. He still held the bottle, though, and for a moment Cade thought she would take a swig from it to prove her point. Instead she reached for the cork on top of the boxes and stopped the bottle, then put it away.

“Any man can be handsome,” she went on, plucking the whiskey-soaked bandage from his hands and tying it around the worst of the scrapes on his calf. “It takes a special man to be brave.”

His lips wobbled from a grimace to a smile. “So you think I’m handsome, then?”

She tied off the bandage with a vicious jerk. Cade cried out before he could stop himself.

“Did I say I thought you were handsome?” she said.

“You were staring at me,” he growled and straightened his leg. The throbbing was worse after her efforts to heal him.

Lynne sniffed and rocked back on her haunches. “You are handsome,” she admitted, chin tipped up. “I think you know that.”

Cade shrugged, grin growing. He adjusted to sit more comfortably with his back against the stack of boxes in the wagon.

“I have yet to determine if you’re brave,” Lynne finished.

Cade barked a laugh. “Still? After all we’ve been through?” Through his pain, he winked at her.

“Still,” she answered, firm as ever.

There you have it! Trail of Kisses, coming October 27th to anywhere eBooks are sold.

But guess what? *whispers* You can pre-order it now! Not only that, while it is in pre-order status, you can buy it for the low, low price of $0.99! But act now, once the official release date gets here, the price will go up to the regular $3.99.


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Women in Politics, 1900

Jun 20, 2014

Somebody To Love_blog sidebarYes! I got my first 1-star review of Somebody to Love! And it was the best possible kind of 1-star review too!

How can a 1-star review be a good thing, you ask? Well, when the criticism is all about a point of historical accuracy, and when the reviewer is, frankly, wrong, it gives me a great opportunity to talk about my favorite subject: History. The accusation was that it is grossly historically inaccurate for Phineas Bell to muse that his 4-year old niece, Eloise, could be President of the United States someday. The reviewer scoffed at the idea, saying that in 1900, when universal suffrage for women was still 20 years off, it would have been ludicrous for a man to think that his niece could be president.

I couldn’t disagree more.

Neither could the actual facts of history.

No, women were not able to vote in federal elections until the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920. However, this didn’t mean that they didn’t have political ambition or dreams of future equality. Far from it. Very far from it if you consider that the first woman was elected to Congress in 1916. Yes, Jeanette Rankin was elected to the House of Representatives from the state of, you guessed it, Montana, not in 1960, but 1916. That’s four years before women gained the federal vote. A woman. Congress. Elected. If a woman could be elected to Congress in 1916, why not shoot for the big office and assume that someday she could be president?

Jeanette Rankin, first woman elected to Congress in 1916

Jeanette Rankin, first woman elected to Congress in 1916

History runs deeper than that, though. It would be false to assume that no one, female or male, had any sort of dreams or ambitions in the political arena whatsoever until—poof!—one day in 1920 everyone decided “Okay, let’s give women the vote”. In fact, the roots of the suffrage movement run deep, deep into the first half of the 19th century. Early women’s rights pioneers like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Susan B. Anthony spent the greater part of the 19th century fighting for the rights of women. They had enough support to fill lecture halls and demonstrations and to make their voices heard at the highest level. They were fighting so that women could participate in government, so why not continue that dream to hope that someday a woman could be the head of that government?

The truth of women in politics stretches even further than that, though. True, women may not have won the vote federally until 1920, but as early at 1869 they were able to vote and participate in government in the western states and territories. Wyoming granted women the right to vote in 1869, and by the end of the century just about every other western state had given women the vote or held referendums to enfranchise them. Again, I propose that the hopes and dreams of the people who supported the movement could easily have extended far beyond just the vote.

Why? And why the West? What made them so advanced and enlightened? Well, one theory was that women were able to have more direct participation in western politics precisely because conditions were neither advanced nor enlightened. Life on the frontier was harsh. In some cases it was primitive and it was lonely. With so little people to tame the land and govern it, women became an essential part of political life. They were sometimes left in possession of land and businesses when their husbands died. Better yet, in some cases they were considered equal partners in enterprising endeavors because the men in their lives had no choice but to count on them. So many women rose to the occasion that their political rights were a natural matter of course.

Mayer-Awakening-1915So impressive was the political power of women in the west and the role that they were given in state and local government, that the suffrage movement back east looked to them as example of what women could do and be and achieve. The Progressive Movement, which is generally held to have started in the 1890s and transformed politics in the early 20th century with platforms supporting universal suffrage, modernization of technology, an end to child labor, and an increase in education, was closely connected with suffragists in the West.

If you take nothing else from this lightning-fast examination of women in politics in and prior to 1900, though, come away with this. Even though women did not gain the vote until 1920, it took decades of work and hopes and fighting and reaching for more to bring public opinion and government around to the point where the work of Stanton, Stone, and Anthony became a reality. So was it unrealistic of me to have a man speculate that his niece could become president in 1900? No! Not at all! And remember too, in 1900, England had a queen, and she wasn’t the first. Women could, and would, rule.


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