Linda Harris Sittig has three novels in her Threads of Courage series – the latest, Counting Crows, released in October. Linda is passionate about strong women – check out her Stories of Strong Women site – the latest post is about women in WWII who used their knitting to send coded messages. Welcome to A Writer of History, Linda.
I know the amazing stories of 90 women whose names you’ve never heard. And I know these stories because I’ve profiled each woman’s life on my monthly blog, Strong Women in History followed in over 64 countries.
Today, I’d like to share the common threads that tie Strong Women together.
How did I discover my first Strong Woman? I found her in a graveyard.
I was doing family genealogy and wanted to put flowers on my great-grandfather’s grave. I had grown up hearing my mother’s stories of how James Nolan had become very wealthy during the Civil War because of a unique cloth he produced for soldiers’ uniforms; and how his wife had inspired him.
My mother was most proud because none of his cloth was shoddy.
Let me explain.
Shoddy is a term from the Industrial Revolution in Britain when unscrupulous manufacturers took large pieces of previously processed wool and cut out the spoiled sections. Then they glued the good parts together, ran the cloth under large industrial irons, and when it came out on the other side, it looked like new fabric.
You can stretch shoddy, cut shoddy, and sew shoddy. What you can’t do is let it get wet.
The Philadelphia manufacturers sold the shoddy to the unsuspecting U.S. Federal Government because cloth for soldier’s uniforms was in high demand at the onset of the Civil War. Now, the first major battle of the Civil War was the Battle of Manassas (or called The Battle of Bull Run if you were a Union soldier. During the first year of the Civil War, the Union named the battles after local sources of water; the Confederates named the battle after nearby towns).
The North thought they would win, but they didn’t.
When the Yankee soldiers walked the 16 miles back to Washington DC, a tremendous rainstorm occurred. It rained for 6 hours, and the uniforms made with shoddy began to dissolve. A sleeve fell off here, a pant leg there.
But not from my great grandfather’s cloth.
In 1998 I arrived at New Cathedral Cemetery in Philadelphia and found our family mausoleum. The caretaker handed me the list of who was in each crypt, and I saw James Nolan’s name at the top. On his left was my great-grandmother Sarah Jane Brady and on his right was the name of a Mrs. James Nolan. I asked the caretaker who she was, but he had no idea.
Within a week, I began to search who she might be. Months later, I finally found the answer: she was Ellen Canavan, my great-grandfather’s first wife. No one in our family had ever heard of her.
Months of researching turned into years, and I discovered she had been a determined young Irish immigrant with no money, little education, and no connections.
But she had a passion– to become a businesswoman in the cut-throat textile empire of 1861 Philadelphia. She was proactive– she studied textile production on her own at the Mercantile Library archives. And she persevered, even in the face of overwhelming obstacles.
I admired her bravery and determination so much that I eventually wrote my first novel: Cut From Strong Cloth, telling her remarkable story.
Then I started my blog.
In the eight years that I have been blogging about Strong Women, I have found that they all share these common threads:
They have a passion, they are proactive, and they persevere.
And like Ellen Canavan, the women of my blog disappeared from history without the accolades they deserved, like Annie Charbonneau—so I told her story in my second novel, Last Curtain Call. And Maggie Canavan, my newest Strong Woman. Her legacy is in my most recent historical fiction, Counting Crows.
In Counting Crows, Maggie Canavan leaves her small town in western Maryland and journeys to Greenwich Village, NYC, with the hopes of studying art. Once there, she becomes quickly caught up in the bohemian lifestyle of the Village. Before long, her passion for sketching becomes entwined with the feminist movement. And all goes well until the 1918 Flu Pandemic hits the city and 33,000 die, altering Maggie’s life forever.
Passion, proactive, persevere. These are the threads of Strong Women. Strong Women are all around us, and each one deserves to have her story told.
Congratulations on your writing, Linda, and on discovering the unsung women of history.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.