I Could Be Anything If Only I Knew What It was
by Laurie Alice Eakes
|click HERE to read an excerpt
My needs were simple—I wanted a job where I got on the train and went to an office like everyone else around me in the hyperkinetic DC Metropolitan Area. Wasn’t quite sure what I’d do in that office, but… Well, I was facile with words and decent with other aspects. The point was—I could do a number of jobs.
I ended up in Human Resources at a huge corporation and hated every minute, from the horrendous commute, to the office politics, to the boring and tedious job. But that’s another post.
My point is that women now can pretty much be whatever they want from carpenters to astronauts, city council women, to Supreme Court justices. Our foremothers, however, could only be wives and mothers, maybe companions, governesses, cooks, servants. Right?
Of course. We’ve all read how downtrodden women were in history, that they swept out the dug-out or helped haul the plow, cleaned the house in heels and pearls, and took care of the children, theirs if they were lucky enough to get a husband, someone else’s if they weren’t.
Not only, that is.
While writing the manuscript that is now my fifth book to release, I realized that all my heroines had careers or wanted some vocation besides wife and mother. Hmm. Was I making a huge historical error? I went back to notes from when I was a history grad student and to many of my sources, many of which were original documents, and realized that, no, I wasn’t being historically inaccurate. I could have been if I handled situations incorrectly, but I wasn’t.
Let me say something here that goes against the grain of contemporary historical thinking—the Industrial Revolution robbed women of independence.
Yet women had known independence in the form of at least being a part. They didn’t lose that, and many rebelled, even in a quiet way. Anne Bradstreet was, by all accounts, a rather good wife of colonial New England. Yet she wrote poetry that wasn’t hidden away in a desk drawer. People read it. Women sewed and sometimes got so good they became seamstresses with others working for them. Especially in Holland, women became painters, but even women in England and colonial America were professional artists. Women inherited businesses from their husbands. A woman (Clementina Rind) ran the Virginia Gazette after her husband died in the eighteenth century.
So was I out of line when my heroine in my first traditionally published novel, Family Guardian (Avalon Books, 2006) became a perfumer? If everyone knew she was one and supported her family with her product, yes. She would have been shunned by society and her family rather disgraced. So she must keep it a secret, which becomes a source of conflict for the story and between her and the man she loves. She won’t marry and let him have her business by law.
Better than Gold, Lily was a telegrapher. Western Union liked paying women to do this—they could pay them less and they gave less trouble. They even put the machines in women’s homes so they could be moms and housewives at the same time. My next three heroines want to do something with their lives besides be wives and mothers. They want that, too, but feel God has something more for them—and they find it.
And we come to my favorite subject, which is another post, too—midwives. I wrote and presented a paper at a history conference called “Women of Power, Midwives in the Early Modern World”. Oh, yes, they had power—independent means, the power to testify in court, the ability to travel at any time of day or night without being thought indecent. Is it any wonder I have a whole series coming out with midwife heroines? (Lady in the Mist, Revell, Feb. 2011) Midwives even had a lower infant mortality rate than did doctors until germ theory and disinfecting the birth room took over.
Until recently, she lived in Northern Virginia, then her husband’s law career took them and their dogs and cats, to southern Texas, where she writes fultime and enjoys the beach whenever possible.
You can find her web site at: http://www.lauriealiceeakes.com/
WHEN THE SNOW FLIES