Friday, December 25, 2020

Luminous: FREE 1st Chapter!

A very blessed Christmas to all my readers! As a little gift from me to you, here is the first chapter of my most recent novel, Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl. Happy reading!        
~ Samantha

Chapter 1

The scientific history of radium is beautiful. ~ Marie Curie, 1921

Another mosquito buzzed in Catherine’s ear as she brushed dirt from the freshly pulled carrots in her hand. With her hands full and covered with the rich, loamy soil of her aunt’s garden, her only remedy was to shake her head and try to shrug her shoulder against her ear. After finally dropping her share of the harvest into her aunt’s basket, Catherine swatted at the pest with a vengeance and was rewarded immediately with a satisfying end to the noise.

“I am so thankful for your help,” her Aunt Mary sighed, waving her hands at more of the swarm that had been attracted by the sweat of their hard work. Aunt Mary groaned as she dropped more produce into the basket and put a hand to the small of her back as she straightened. “The whole neighborhood will benefit from this final harvest. I think we have enough put up, so why don’t you take some of this bunch to Shirley?”

“Yes, Auntie,” Catherine demurred, immediately beginning to separate the vegetables into those that their own household would use in the next few days and those that their neighbor, Shirley, would turn into delicious soup.

“She’ll want some of those carrots . . . and some onion,” Aunt Mary called from the next garden row, as if Catherine didn’t already know.

“Yes, Auntie,” she simply replied again, knowing that no insult was intended. “Should I take some potatoes?”

Aunt Mary straightened again and squinted into the sun. Catherine squinted that way too, in subconscious imitation. Finally, Aunt Mary made up her mind.

“Just a few. I’d like a few more bushels in the cellar as well.” Aunt Mary looked down at the ground and rubbed her back. “I think that’s enough for now. I just don’t know what I would do without you, my dear.”

“Then it is good that you don’t have to worry about such a thing,” Catherine reassured her with a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll run this bundle to Shirley and be back before you can miss me.”

“That’s a good girl.” Aunt Mary was already carrying the remainder of their vegetables into her cozy kitchen as Catherine cut through backyards toward a little, grey house that stood with all the doors and windows open to the crisp breeze.

Shirley hastily closed a brown glass bottle into a cabinet as Catherine strolled into the kitchen, shouting, “Hello,” to announce her presence.

“Look at you loaded down with veggies, child!” Shirley exclaimed happily. “You know I love nothing better than a rich, vegetable soup.”

Catherine tipped her head in agreement as she dumped Shirley’s share of the produce onto the table.

“Very nice. Very nice,” Shirley murmured as she inspected the haul. “I’ll bring you and your auntie a fine pot of soup tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Shirley.” Catherine scooted out before the older woman could strike up more conversation. It was easy to find oneself trapped in the little house all afternoon if the friendly woman got talking.

Reentering her own home, Catherine picked up the Ottawa Daily Times that her Uncle Winchester had left on the kitchen table.

Girls Wanted

Catherine gazed at the advertisement, absentmindedly gnawing at the inside of her cheek. She had heard of Radium Dial. The factory was across the road from St Columba, where her family worshiped each Sunday morning. Running her tongue over the tender spot her teeth had created, Catherine weighed her options. A job as a watch dial painter would take her away from home during hours that her auntie might need help, but it would provide income to cover medical bills that had been increasingly occurring as her aunt and uncle aged.

The thought of those wages was more than Catherine could deny. It took her only a moment to firmly scoop up the paper and charge out of the house. Indecision was not one of Catherine Wolfe’s weaknesses. Her course determined, she forged ahead confidently.

Superior Street was quiet. Soon children would fill the yards as they were released from school, allowing them to run off the energy that they were forced to hold in throughout the day. For now though, scurrying squirrels and dry leaves blowing across the cobbles were the only sounds. It was out of Catherine’s way to walk along the river, but the autumn splendor made it worth it. The trees did not maintain their colors for long. Soon snow would fall, and shades of grey would blanket the fallen leaves.

The Fox River flowed a few blocks from Catherine’s house, and the vibrant views refreshed her soul, giving her the boldness she needed to request a job that she knew many other Ottawa girls would apply for. Radium Dial had been in town since the Great War, and all the girls knew that it was the best paying work they could hope for in this part of Illinois.

At that thought, Catherine accelerated her stride, suddenly irritated that she had frivolously chosen the scenic route. What if the positions were filled before she arrived?

Where the river met the end of Washington Street, Catherine turned west and forced herself to remain calm. The few blocks extra that she had walked couldn’t possibly make a difference. Could it?

An old saloon stood with its windows boarded shut, looking dark and desolate. Catherine knew that to be the furthest thing from the truth. Once the sun dipped below the horizon, a secret door in the back would welcome in more people than the front entrance had before Prohibition had begun. She tried not to examine the saloon too closely. You never knew who was watching, and Catherine would not want to be responsible for giving away her neighbors’ secrets, even if she did not imbibe herself.

Catherine paused in front of the old high school that was now the home of Radium Dial, gazing up at the brick façade. A faint smile curved her lips as she admired the craftsmanship and variation in color in the arched window frames. The new high school might be more practical, but it lacked the Victorian beauty of this building. Her smile broadening, Catherine marched inside, her dark, bobbed hair bouncing as she ascended the steps.

She was directed to a smartly dressed lady who appeared to be about her Aunt Maggie’s age. However, Lottie Murray had an air of sophistication that the middle-aged housewife could never attain and didn’t desire. Miss Murray was one of those progressive women, who pursued a career instead of marriage. Catherine couldn’t imagine making such a choice for herself but was somewhat awestruck at Lottie’s evident success.

Trying not to compare her off-the-rack dress to Miss Murray’s tailored suit, Catherine carefully answered questions about herself. She was a dedicated parishioner at Ottawa’s St Columba Church and had recently turned nineteen. Since there were no marriage proposals apparent in her future, she wished to contribute to the household she shared with her Uncle Winchester and Aunt Mary. They had raised her since the death of her father almost ten years ago.

Miss Murray, who was kind but seemed to hold her head up just enough to look down her nose at Catherine, seemed satisfied with her answers.

“Please, report to Mrs Mercedes Reed promptly at seven tomorrow morning,” Miss Murray ordered to indicate that Catherine was hired. She stood and gestured toward her office door. “She will see to your training. If you complete that satisfactorily, she will direct you as to the next step.”

“Thank you!” Catherine gushed, quickly rising from her seat to follow Miss Murray’s instructions. She tried to temper her excitement, for she felt it gave away her youth and naivety, but a grin lit up her face as she repeated, “Thank you, Miss Murray,” and left the small office.

Miss Murray rewarded her with a perfunctory nod before closing the door the moment Catherine was through it. Crossing her arms to give herself an enthusiastic squeeze, Catherine stood outside Miss Murray’s office basking in her good fortune. Dial painting was a lucrative job in an exciting new industry. Girls were dying to get into Radium Dial’s studio.

Catherine repressed a squeal as she made a show of slowing her footsteps and strolling out of the building as though she obtained exciting new jobs as a part of her daily routine. Once outside, she allowed herself to quicken her pace. Safely away from view of the old school windows, she cheered and leapt into the air, finally able to channel her joy.

She was halfway home before she realized that she should have crossed the road to give thanks within the familiar walls of St Columba. It could wait until Sunday. She was too anxious to tell Aunt Mary and Uncle Winchester about her great news.

Superior Street was filled with playing children upon her return, and Catherine felt that it had been a lifetime since she had been a part of that group, though it had been just a few short years ago.

In the middle of a block, half hidden behind a tall maple tree, stood the white house with black shutters that Catherine called home. She jumped over the porch steps and called for her aunt as she opened the door.

Catherine did not remember much about her mother. It was her Aunt Mary who had nursed her when she was sick, comforted her when her heart was broken, and guided her along her path to becoming a respectable young woman. Much of the time, Mary could be found in her small galley style kitchen preparing the day’s meals or putting up canned goods for the future. That is where Catherine found her.

“Auntie, I have the best news!” She kissed a softly wrinkled cheek and leaned against the counter.

“What is it that has you so excited?” Mary asked as she slid a roasting pan into the oven.

“I got myself a job at the dial studio.” Catherine grinned openly, any doubts she had about leaving the home for outside work buried deep beneath her sense of victory.

“Why, that’s just wonderful. It will be a good thing for you to be able to set a little money aside.”

“And help you and uncle.”

Shaking her head, Aunt Mary protested, “Now, we don’t need your money. It would be wrong for us to take it from you.”

Catherine just smiled and kissed her aunt again. She would find ways of contributing without having to put cash into Aunt Mary’s hand. “Where is uncle?”

Aunt Mary gestured vaguely toward the back yard. “I believe he is working in the vegetable garden. Go tell him your news.”

Catherine skipped out the door, eager to do just that. Her Uncle Winchester was indeed pulling weeds with an eye out for anything Catherine and Mary might have missed. He took longer breaks to stand and stretch between rows these days and couldn’t seem to completely straighten any longer.

He did not notice Catherine until her arms wrapped around him.

“Well, where did you come from?” he laughed, squeezing her to his side.

“You won’t believe it. I’ve just come from Radium Dial. They’ve given me a job!”

“Good for you, little Cat!” He patted her shoulder and eyed the next row of plants.

“Let me finish that for you,” Catherine insisted, knowing how his back must be aching. “I’m sure Aunt Mary could use your help inside.”

She was actually certain that Aunt Mary would provide him with a glass of lemonade and send him out to the front porch swing. He likely knew that as well, but he nodded and shuffled toward the house.

“Thank you. I will see what she needs.”

Catherine quickly completed the work in the garden, energized by her new adventure. By the time she had finished ridding the garden of weeds, Catherine, too, was ready for a tall glass of lemonade and a couple of her aunt’s famous oatmeal cookies.

The next morning, Catherine found her way to Radium Dial’s training room. Her heels click-clacked on the oak floors in an animated rhythm until she reached the door Miss Murray had indicated. With a deep breath, Catherine grasped the handle of the heavy, wood door and went inside.

The room was clearly an old classroom, large and high-ceilinged. Sun shone in, but a dusty haze hung in the air. Upon further inspection, Catherine realized the girls being trained were even sitting at old school desks. She sighed. At nineteen, she thought she was done sitting at school desks. However, her smile was quickly back in place. What did it matter what desk or table she sat at when she was one of the lucky few chosen to paint using the wondrous new material that made watch faces glow in the dark?

“Name?” A brusque voice tore Catherine from her reflections, and her eyes pivoted to its source. The instructress was somewhere between Catherine’s age and Miss Murray’s with no memorable features. Catherine thought she was the kind of woman one could pass on the street and not realize you had done so.

“Name?” she repeated.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Catherine said, moving forward with her hand extended. “I am Catherine Wolfe, and Miss Murray instructed me to present myself to you today. That is, she did if you are indeed Mrs Reed.”

“Of course, I am,” the thereby introduced Mercedes Reed huffed. “Take an empty seat,” she ordered without taking Catherine’s hand.

Feeling awkward, Catherine quickly dropped her arm and lowered herself into the closest seat. Before she could wonder if Radium Dial would be as fantastic as she hoped under the tutelage of women like Mrs Reed, the girl next to her smiled her welcome, and Catherine was certain she saw her wink. Catherine recognized her from around town but wasn’t sure of her name.

Two more girls came in after Catherine and received the same treatment from Mrs Reed, but the instructress seemed to brighten once they had all taken their seats. Her face relaxed as she took up the tools of the trade that she would train them to use. With the items lined up on a low table in front of her, Mercedes Reed addressed the ten girls who leaned eagerly forward to hear.

Catherine glimpsed at the desktop in front of her to confirm that her own brushes and dials were within easy reach.

“Painting dials is important and delicate work,” Mrs Reed began as she held up a brush with bristles too small to be seen from where Catherine sat. In her other hand, she held a paper watch face. “You will affix the dial like so,” Mrs Reed continued as she demonstrated, “and then apply the paint – very carefully – to the numbers.”

She paused as the girls got their dials in place and picked up a brush.

“The best way to be certain of a fine point on your brush is to dip it into the radium paint.”

She did so.

“And then sharpen the tip of the brush with your lips.”

Mrs Reed pursed her lips and gently inserted the bristles. Then she held it up and walked around the classroom, allowing each new employee to see her perfect point. The girls picked up their brushes, and she nodded to encourage them to try.

“Those of you able to perfectly lip-point and trace the numbers on your dials will be selected to become permanent employees of Radium Dial.”

Catherine’s brow furrowed, even as she slipped the brush between her lips and examined the resulting point. She was glad when a more outspoken girl asked, “Are we not all employees, Mrs Reed?”

Mrs Reed laughed in a not entirely unfriendly manner. “For now, yes, but this is skilled work, and not all of you will take to it. Have you got the point?” she asked, looking at the girl’s brush. “Good. Now let’s try with some paint.”

The girls looked at each other questioningly. None were certain about the radium paint, which appeared a dull greenish-white but they knew to possess special characteristics that made it glow.

“Go ahead then!” Mrs Reed encouraged while demonstrating the technique once again. “Dip. Point. Paint.”

Catherine sat up straighter in her seat, took a deep breath and clutched her brush tighter. She dipped the thin camel-hair bristles into the mixture and peered at it for a few seconds before touching it to her lips. Then she grinned happily at her perfect point.

“Very good!” said Mrs Reed as she walked by Catherine’s desk. “Now try to trace the numbers on your dial.”

Catherine’s grin transitioned to a look of determination as she accepted this new challenge. Ever so slowly, she slid her brush along the straight lines of the number one. Finishing, she realized that she was holding her breath, so she released it and looked around the room to observe her co-workers.

Some shared her look of determination. Others took to the work lightly, and Catherine guessed those would be the girls who had a difficult time succeeding at Radium Dial. The girl next to her looked up at the same time and said, “I’m Charlotte. How did you do?” as she leaned over to peer at Catherine’s dial. “Nicely done!” she said, leaning back.

“Thank you. And yours?”

Charlotte nodded, her lips pressed together. “I think I’ve done alright.”

“I’m Catherine. It’s very nice to meet you.”

They smiled at each other and took up their brushes to dip in the paint for the number two. As the girls worked their way around their first watch face, a few questions were asked and frustrations vented. Catherine ignored most but perked up when she heard Charlotte speak.

“Can whatever makes this stuff glow hurt us? I mean, is it safe to put in our mouths?”

Catherine raised an eyebrow. She hadn’t thought about that, but it was a good question.

Mrs Reed’s laughter was thick with condescension. “Of course, it cannot harm you! In fact,” she elaborated as she returned to her table, “the radium that gives our paint its special properties is beneficial to your health and will give your cheeks a rosy glow.”

To convince them, she took her mixing spatula and used it like a spoon to scoop up the paint and eat it. The girls gasped as Mrs Reed swallowed and took a sip of water.

“As I said, our paint is perfectly safe. If anything, you will feel better after working with it.”

Tension fled from the room and the girls laughed together, taking up their brushes and dipping them in the paint. By the end of the day, Catherine not only felt that she had mastered pointing the brush and tracing the fine numbers, she had made a new friend. When she and Charlotte Nevins parted ways upon reaching Superior Street, Catherine was already looking forward to work the following day. Continuing down her street, Catherine was surprised to realize that less than forty-eight hours had passed since she had seen the advertisement for dial painters. She was so glad that she had followed her instincts and applied. It was a decision that would change her life.


Did you enjoy this sneak peek at Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl?

Available on Kindle or Paperback

FREE with Kindle Unlimited

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Jolabokaflod: A Christmas Book Flood!

Jolabokaflod is the Icelandic tradition of giving gifts of books on Christmas Eve. During this "Christmas book flood" more books are sold in Iceland than anywhere else in the world. The Historical Writers Forum decided to get in on the fun this year by creating a blog hop full of book giveaways! You can participate by following HWF Blog Hop Page.

My contribution to the HWF Jolabokaflod is UNLIMITED FREE DOWNLOADS of Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole! Visit Amazon now through Christmas Eve to get your free Kindle copy of this inspiring story. 

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 10, 2020

A Lady Merchant in the New World


Participating in the Coffee Pot Book Club tours is such a great way to meet new authors and learn about parts of history I would have never discovered otherwise. My guests today have written a fascinating story about a Dutch female merchant who joins the adventurers embracing their future in the New World. Anas Hamshari and Caroline Snodgrass are here to discuss the history behind their story.

Welcome, Anas and Caroline!

~ Samantha


A Lady Merchant in the New World

A Guest Post by Anas Hamshari and Caroline Snodgrass

New Netherland, or Nieuw Nederland, as the Dutch called it, was first discovered by the Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524. At the time, Verrazzano was serving the French king, Francis I, as a navigator. It wasn’t until the first half of the 17th century when the Dutch East India Company hired Englishman Henry Hudson to find an easterly passage to Asia.

Hudson, having committed himself to two prior voyages in 1607 and 1608, intended to voyage eastward but his plans were disrupted by an ice-blocked path near the Arctic region.

Instead, Hudson sailed westward in the hopes of finding a westerly passage through the North American territories.

Fort Nassau
It was in this voyage that the Dutch had claimed territorial rights to the region, and by 1614, the Dutch explorer Hendrick Christiaensen had built Fort Nassau (due to the constant flooding of the fort every summer, by 1618, the Dutch colonists built a new fort nearby – Fort Orange), a fur-trading post in Albany, on the west bank of the Hudson River. The site had easy access to the ocean, which contributed to the success of the Dutch fur trade, while at the same time, sparked a rivalry (and later, conflict) with France, as well as England.

In 1621, the States-General (Staten-Generaal) granted a charter to the Dutch West India Company, (West-Indische Compagnie, a.k.a. GWC). The Company was founded by Willem Usselincx and Jesse de Forest so that they may continue the economic warfare against Spanish and Portuguese interests (colonies) in the West Indies (the Americas). Another essential reason for the GWC’s foundation was to eliminate in-house competition by Dutch merchants and to form a united association consisting of Dutch merchants and domestic (and foreign) investors.

The site where New Amsterdam was to be formed had originally been named (New) Nouvelle-Angouleme by the Florentine navigator Verrazzano. To protect the mouth of the Hudson River, the GWC built Fort Amsterdam. The fort also served as the center of GWC’s fur trade in the region; Peter Minuit, the Dutch governor at the time, sought to legitimize the founding of New Amsterdam but officially purchasing the land (now called Manhattan) from a local tribe in 1626. The land was controversially purchased for 60 guilders. The perpetrators of this deal were a group of Brooklyn natives, who had no right or claim over Manhattan, which in turn, infuriated the natives of Manhattan; they were powerless to do anything about it though.

New Amsterdam
During the early 1650s, New Amsterdam saw its first wave of refugees – Jewish migrants that escaped the aftermath of the Portuguese conquest of Recife, a Dutch colony on the Brazilian coast. While the Dutch governor at the time, Peter Stuyvesant, refused to receive those Jewish refugees, the GWC insisted that they stay. Many Jewish traders prospered from the fur trade as well; this provided us with the initiative to dig a little deeper and explore gender equality issues in that time and place.

As it turns out, Dutch women engaged in trade just as much as men did. Such women were called “she-merchants” or “lady-merchants”. This liberty was enjoyed by single, married, widowed, and spinsters. The Dutch legal system granted all manner of Dutch women the freedom to trade as they pleased, despite any obstruction that they may have encountered at the hands of the Dutch West India Company.

While the initial idea was to wholly portray a fictional life of Margaret Hardenbroeck, one of the wealthiest she-merchants of New Amsterdam at the time, Caroline and I decided somehow to deviate from Margaret’s original story and turn Anke’s story into a unique one that was greatly inspired by Margaret’s nonetheless.

Anke: The Beginning starts off in the Belgian town of Mechelen, a once-upon-a-time bustling city that thrived from wool trade during the 15th century. By the end of the story, Anke and her brother Johan decide to migrate from Old Amsterdam all the way to New Amsterdam in New Netherland. No matter who you were, the New World provided endless, new opportunities to all the men and women of the Dutch Republic. The story ends with their ship bearing sight of Fort Amsterdam, leaving the readers (and ourselves) wondering about Anke’s new life in New Amsterdam, and the future that awaits her in that unspoiled part of the world.


Connect with the Authors of Anke:

Anas Hamshari is an established businessman residing in the State of Kuwait, and an author of one personal growth book and two historical fiction novels. Anas has been a lifelong writer and first began creating medieval fiction tales and short stories when he was seven years old. In June 2020, Anas formed Exotic Reads, a historical fiction self-publishing division in one of his main businesses, Exotic Flavor. Exotic Reads will be self-publishing a variety of historical fiction novels in the weeks, months, and years to come.

Connect with him on  Twitter

Caroline Snodgress
 is a first-time author but a long-time writer and ghostwriter. As an Echols Scholar at the University of Virginia, she is planning to double major in English and History, and is thoroughly enjoying taking as many fiction writing classes as she can fit into her schedule. When not in Charlottesville, she lives with her family just outside of Richmond, reading eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature and watching plenty of period dramas in her spare time.

Website TwitterInstagramFacebook

Anke: The Beginning

By Anas Hamshari and Caroline Snodgress

Living in the city of Mechelen, just south of once-prosperous Antwerp, in the aftermath of the Thirty Years’ War, Anke Verhaegen, an ambitious nineteen-year-old, is determined to make the most of her life.

When her brother Johan suggests crossing the Atlantic to New Netherland, Anke knows this is her destiny. Together, the two set about attempting to secure passage across the sea.
Before long, their plans are in motion, and hopes are high. Yet, with vengeful enemies, secrecy, and danger on the high sea waiting to be faced, will Anke really be able to secure a better life for herself?

Available worldwide on Amazon

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Luminous Women: Margaret Looney


Margaret Looney started work at Radium Dial in 1923, not long after Catherine Wolfe (Donohue) and Charlotte Nevins (Purcell). Her friends called her Peg. She was 17-years-old, too young to be working at Radium Dial according to their stated rules, but she was far from the only one. Some women remembered girls as young as 11 working in the studio as long as they were able to perform the fine work. Peg was quite capable, cheerful, and dedicated to earning an income that would help feed her large family of seven siblings (and counting!).

Peg had a habit of reading the dictionary and dreamed of being a teacher, but the wages at Radium Dial were too tempting for a working class girl. Besides that, she enjoyed working in the studio with the other young ladies who became fast friends. Since they were paid according to the amount of dials painted, Peg would sometimes even take work home. Her younger siblings enjoyed playing with the glow-in-the-dark paint.

Workers at Radium Dial, 1936

In 1925, some of the women at Radium Dial were beginning to feel symptoms of radium poisoning, although they did not realize that was the reason for their suffering. Red haired, freckled Peg was selected for health screening by her employer. Since she never received any results, she assumed that she was as healthy as any young woman would expect to be. Peg had a happy life with her friends, family, and a handsome boyfriend. Before long, she was engaged to be married.

Peg didn't make much of the problems she was having. Her jaw was sore, and she lost a few teeth. She lost weight and felt fatigued, but she kept working and living life as her failing health allowed. Sometimes, her boyfriend would pull her around in a little, red wagon when she lacked the energy to walk around town. She still enjoyed dancing and hanging out with friends as much as she could.

When news from New Jersey finally reached Ottawa, Illinois, Peg realized that she must be suffering from the radium poisoning that had caused the death of workers at US Radium Corp, but there was little she could do about it. Radium Dial management insisted that the radium compound in their paint was different - and safe. Peg could only hope that was true.

But it wasn't. Peg kept working, as she struggled to walk and her jaw disintegrated. She couldn't let her family down. She was at Radium Dial on August 6, 1929, when she collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. Radium Dial doctors attended her and refused to allow her family visits. Peg Looney, who had loved to be surrounded by family and friends, died alone on August 14. Company doctors claimed the cause of death was diphtheria.

Memorial to radium girls in Ottawa, IL

Radium Dial continued to insist that the women's work was safe for years following Peg's death. More women sickened and died, but some took up the legal fight against the company. Their bittersweet victory came in 1938, far too late for Peg Looney and many of her friends.


Learn more about Peg Looney and the other radium girls of Ottawa, Illinois in Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl.

Available for Kindle and paperback on Amazon worldwide.

"Well, mother, my time is nearly up."                                                               - Peg Looney

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Luminous Women: Charlotte Nevins Purcell


Charlotte Nevins began working at Radium Dial when she was only 16-years-old, despite the company's policy that required employees to be at least 18. She was far from the youngest girl hired, and ability to paint tiny numbers was more vital than adulthood toward gaining employment. As one of the younger girls working in the dial painting studio, Charlotte was more likely than her older friends, Catherine Donohue and Pearl Payne, to join in the silliness of using the glow-in-the-dark paint as makeup before turning out the lights to make faces and giggle at one another.

She enjoyed the comradery of the studio and built close friendships with her coworkers. Despite her fondness for the young women she worked with, Charlotte did not stay long at Radium Dial. Her dream was to become a seamstress, so when the opportunity arose after a little more than a year in the dial painting studio, Charlotte grasped it. Her friends were sad to see her go but had reason later to be grateful that she had left when she did.

A few years later, Charlotte married Albert Purcell and many of her former coworkers attended the festivities. Some of them were beginning to experience symptoms of what they would later discover were caused by radium poisoning. When Charlotte gave birth to a tiny 2.5 pound baby in 1929, she may have wondered if her time in the dial studio was the cause. Many of her friends were ill, and Peg Looney, to whom Charlotte had been particularly close, had died after months of her body painfully wasting away.

With the Great Depression underway and a healthy daughter born within two more years, Charlotte can be forgiven for setting aside her concerns. After all, medical professionals were united in their claim that no such thing as radium poisoning existed. That might have been the end of it so far as Charlotte was concerned, except for a persistent pain in her arm.

In 1934, then the mother of three children, Charlotte travelled to Chicago for expert medical help. Her arm ached in a way that was abnormal for her 28 years. Even after an amputation, Charlotte felt phantom pain along with the stress of caring for her family with only one arm. A few doctors were putting forward the idea that the health problems suffered by Charlotte and her friends were caused by the radium they had been exposed to as dial painters. Missing an arm and concerned about the future, Charlotte joined Catherine Donohue, Pearl Payne, and others in bringing legal action.

With the town of Ottawa and the medical community divided over the women's case, Charlotte persisted, allowing journalists to use photos of her with her sad, empty sleeve to elicit sympathy from newspaper readers. Charlotte's health was relatively good after her amputation, but the same couldn't be said of her friends. Catherine Donohue especially seemed to be fading away before their eyes.

During the women's hearing, Charlotte had the satisfaction of testifying that Mr Reed of Radium Dial had had the audacity of claiming he "didn't think there was any such thing as radium poisoning" while looking at the young woman who was missing her arm. She had made a huge sacrifice for her 13 months on the job, but Radium Dial was finally held responsible. 

By the time that happened, Catherine Donohue was dead and Charlotte determined to not take a single day for granted. She lived until 1988, the extra decades of life likely granted to her due to the amputation that removed the worst of the radium poisoning from her body. Charlotte made it a habit not to say she couldn't accomplish a task because of her missing arm, and one of her grandchildren remembered her tying a jump-rope to a fence in order to jump rope. 

Charlotte also remained convinced that visits from a black and yellow canary were heavenly visitations from her departed friend, Catherine Wolfe Donohue. Like her friend, Pearl Payne, Charlotte participated in scientific studies to understand radioactivity and its effects on the human body. She continued to undergo tests and exams until 1985.


Learn more about Charlotte Nevins Purcell and the other radium girls of Ottawa, Illinois in Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl.

Available for Kindle and paperback on Amazon worldwide.

"We were a bunch of happy, vivacious girls."

                             - Charlotte Nevins Purcell

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Luminous Women: Pearl Payne


Pearl Payne worked with the young women at Radium Dial in the 1920s, and she was what I would have called a 'non-trad' back in my college days. She was a few years older than her coworkers, but, more notably, she was married. Pearl had her nursing certificate, but dial painting paid better, allowing her to sock away more savings for the day when she and her husband started a family.

Motherly and caring, Pearl was the oldest of thirteen siblings. She loved children and was eager to have a large family of her own. Little did she realize that the paint used in the Radium Dial studio caused miscarriage and infertility. Thankfully, Pearl worked there for only eight months. At the time, she was disappointed when her mother's health failed, forcing Pearl to give up her job to serve as caregiver. Only later would Pearl realize that this course of events might have saved her life.

During her short time at Radium Dial, Pearl had become close friends with Catherine Wolfe (who later married Tom Donohue). Pearl watched Catherine's health devastatingly decline after working at Radium Dial for nine years. Pearl remained relatively healthy and outlived her friend by decades, but radium poisoning did cause one heartbreaking health problem for Pearl. The woman who dreamed of a large family struggled to bear children.

Pearl holding Catherine's hand at IIC hearing

Pearl was plagued by tumors and endured multiple surgeries before realizing that she was suffering from the same ailment, though with varied symptoms, as her dear friend. By 1929, one side of Pearl's face was paralyzed and she had been hospitalized nine times. She feared she might be dying. Catherine was.

Pearl had the advantage of being trained as a nurse, so she realized better than many of the victims of radium poisoning that many of the illnesses suggested by medical professionals did not make sense as the cause of her suffering. When she was forced to have a hysterectomy in 1933, abruptly ending any dream she had of giving her daughter siblings, Pearl began to realize what was happening to the dial painters of Ottawa, Illinois. By the end of the next year, Pearl had brought together a group of women to challenge the legality of Radium Dial's operations.

To protect their assets, the owners of Radium Dial shut down the studio in 1936 . . . . only to reopen it a few blocks away under a new name: Luminous Processes. The workers were informed they would be safe as long as they didn't "lip-point" their brushes, and operations continued. Pearl and Catherine were determined to make a difference.

Desperate for justice - and money to pay the women's snowballing medical bills - Pearl's husband, Hobart wrote to famous attorney, Clarence Darrow, hoping that he would be willing to take on their case. Darrow was not able to help them directly, but he did refer them to Leonard Grossman, who turned out to be their knight in shining armor. 

Pearl wasn't content with the dial painters of Ottawa winning their own case, she also presented Grossman with the idea of an organization created to help other exploited workers. They gave it the morbid, yet apt, name The Society of the Living Dead. Months after the first meeting of the Society, Catherine Wolfe Donohue died of radium poisoning at age 35, leaving behind two small children. Pearl was heartbroken to lose her friend and even more determined to see justice prevail.

When the Supreme Court upheld the Illinois Industrial Commission decision to hold Radium Dial liable for the women's radium poisoning, Pearl did not stop there. She submitted to years of tests and exams for the Center for Human Radiobiology, helping to ensure that others did not suffer the way she and her friends had. 

Despite her radium poisoning related health problems, Pearl Payne lived until 1998. In her attic, she kept a baby stroller and crib alongside the papers she had kept through the years. Many of those clippings, letters, and other records can be viewed today at the LaSalle County Historical Museum. 


Learn more about Pearl Payne and the other radium girls of Ottawa, Illinois in Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl.

Available for Kindle and paperback on Amazon worldwide.

"I belong to a class of women of which the medical profession does not know the reason for their illness."                                                               - Pearl Payne

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Stepping Back into Saxon England: Æthelflæd’s Daughter


Annie Whitehead and Helen Hollick are two amazing historians and authors, so I was thrilled when Annie told me about their joint blog tour. Saxon England may be a little distant for some of my readers, but, trust me, it's worth the trip!

Welcome Annie!

~ Samantha 


Æthelflæd’s Daughter

A Guest Post by Annie Whitehead

I’m delighted to be Samantha’s guest today as part of the Stepping Back into Saxon England tour with Helen Hollick. Recently I was talking to someone about the enduring popularity of the Tudors and why it should be so. I think the fascination is partly to do with two things: a king executing his queens is unique in English history, and women succeeding women to the throne is something which had never happened before and has not happened since, unless you count Anne’s succeeding William and Mary.

Well, I say it hadn’t happened before. It did, once, albeit briefly.

I’ve written a great deal about Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, in my novel To Be A Queen, and both my nonfiction books, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom and Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England. She was the daughter of Alfred the Great, and she was born at a time when ‘Viking’ incursions were not only a major nuisance, but had already seen two kingdoms - East Anglia and Northumbria - fall pretty much permanently under Danish control. Only the very top part of Northumbria, some of Mercia and the whole of Wessex were still under English rule. Alfred, and later his son, Edward, began working alongside Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians and, when a concerted joint effort pushed the invaders out of London, the alliance was sealed by the marriage of Alfred’s daughter Æthelflæd to Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians.

We don’t have much information for the early years of their marriage, except the details of the continuing campaign against the Danes. Around the year 902, however, the chronicles stop mentioning Æthelred’s name and the Irish annals make it clear that he was suffering from some kind of illness, which prevented him from fighting but did not stop him giving strategic advice to his wife. This gives me the impression that by this stage, this was one amazing power couple, happy to support and protect each other - she looking after him while he was ill and he being happy to delegate to a ‘mere’ woman.

History records - and yes, it’s a bit of a spoiler - that after this protracted illness she ended up ruling alone. That’s also worth a moment’s pause. Only once before had a woman ruled an English kingdom, and it didn’t end well. Seaxburh, queen of Wessex, was the only Anglo-Saxon woman to be included on a regnal list. She ruled for somewhere between one and two years in the seventh century but as a later chronicler said, the men of the kingdom would not go to war under the leadership of a woman. I think ‘war’ is the clue here. It’s likely that she was actually ruling as regent for her son during a time of conflict over the succession. At any rate, her rule was not long, and was not successful.

Æthelflæd, on the other hand, ruled Mercia for seven years on her own and in that time she worked in partnership with her brother Edward to wrest occupied Mercia out of Danish hands, building defensive towns called burhs, and famously taking Derby with her troops and losing in the fighting ‘four thegns who were dear to her.’ Derby was one of the strategically important ‘Five Boroughs’ of the Danelaw (the other four being Lincoln, Stamford, Nottingham and Leicester). By the time she died at Tamworth, their work was almost done.

From beyond the grave though, she pulled off another remarkable feat. Her daughter Ælfwynn succeeded her.

We know virtually nothing of Ælfwynn’s life, not even her year of birth, but we do know that she witnessed a charter of her mother’s, issued at Weardbyrig (unidentified but possibly in Shropshire) in 915, when Æthelflæd was in the midst of her intense burh-building programme. Even if Ælfwynn had been born late in the marriage – and it seems unlikely that she would have been conceived after her father fell ill in around 902 – she probably wouldn’t have been on campaign with her mother if she was still tiny. Most likely she was a young adult at the very least. Given that it would have been far safer for her to remain in the Mercian heartland, there could well have been a specific reason for her presence at Weardbyrig, that of watching and learning from her mother, with the intention that one day she would take over.

But if she was already a young woman, why had she remained unmarried? Again, I think it might be because she was being groomed to take over the country and keep it in Mercian hands. It’s said that her mother raised the future King Athelstan in Mercia but she clearly didn’t consider him her heir and, when she died, the Mercian council declared for Ælfwynn. We know this because, like Seaxburh all those years ago, her tenure was short-lived. Her uncle Edward, who’d been happy for his sister to rule, wasn’t so accommodating when it came to her daughter and according to the annal known as the Mercian Register, she was ‘deprived of all authority’. Thus they clearly believed that she was rightful ruler.

We don’t know what happened to her after that, other than that she was probably taken into Wessex. A later charter speaks of a holy woman called Ælfwynn, but there is no proof at all that this was the same woman. Like so many before and after, she simply disappeared off the pages of history.

But we should not overlook that very important point. In Mercia in 918 a remarkable thing happened: a woman ruler was succeeded by a woman ruler. This would not happen again until the time of the Tudors.


About the Author:

Annie has written three novels set in Anglo-Saxon England. To Be A Queen tells the story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians. Alvar the Kingmaker is set in the turbulent tenth century where deaths of kings and civil war dictated politics, while Cometh the Hour tells the story of Penda, the pagan king of Mercia. All have received IndieBRAG Gold Medallions and Chill with a Book awards. To Be A Queen was longlisted for HNS Indie Book of the Year and was an IAN Finalist. Alvar the Kingmaker was Chill Books Book of the Month while Cometh the Hour was a Discovering Diamonds Book of the Month.

As well as being involved in 1066 Turned Upside Down, Annie has also had two nonfiction books published. Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom (Amberley Books) will be published in paperback edition on October 15th, 2020, while her most recent release, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England (Pen & Sword Books) is available in hardback and e-book.

Annie was the inaugural winner of the Dorothy Dunnett/HWA Short Story Competition 2017.

Connect with Annie: 

On Amazon

On her blog 

On Twitter

On her website

On Facebook

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Coronation Day for Mary I

Princess Mary Tudor was crowned Queen Mary I on October 1, 1553, in an event without precedent. After fighting successfully for her birthright, Mary became England's first queen regnant.

The spectacle had actually begun several days earlier when Mary arrived at the Tower of London with her sister, Elizabeth. They were welcomed with music, decorations, and a volley of the Tower guns by the mayor and aldermen of London. Time here was spent rehearsing for the coronation. Mary also met with her councillors and pledged herself, on her knees, to "the task God had been pleased to lay on her to His greater glory and service, to the public good and all her subjects' benefit." It was an emotional moment that left many of the men in tears. Then, on September 30, the sisters rode through the city to the Palace of Westminster, where the coronation ceremony would begin.

Their procession was planned to impress Londoners with the vision of everything they believed their monarch should be, and they were met by cheering crowds. Rich fabrics and vibrant colors glittered with magnificent jewels, silver, and gold. Even the horses were draped in beautifully embroidered cloth. Amid this dizzying array of wealth, Queen Mary was expected to stand out. She rode in an open chariot draped in gold. Her dress of purple velvet trimmed in ermine was complimented by the crimson velvet worn by her ladies and silver cloth-of-gold worn by Princess Elizabeth and Anne of Cleves. The bejeweled crown that Mary wore for the procession was reported to be so heavy that she wearily propped up her head with her hands.

Crowds, pageants, and performers vied for Mary's attention as her procession slowly moved from the Tower to Westminster. Choirs of children sang as wine flowed from fountains. An acrobat even performed atop the weathervane of St Paul's Cathedral. After what must have been an exhausting day, Mary prepared for her coronation.

The next day was certainly one filled with both excitement and anxiety for this woman who had been at various times pampered and bastardized by a tempestuous father. Mary was not necessarily the showman that Henry VIII had been, so to be put on display before crowds would have been stressful, even without the knowledge that she was setting a historical precedent. Setting aside her shyness and timidity, Mary was determined that her coronation be held according to the customs of the kings who had come before her.

Mary wore crimson velvet robes and walked on blue fabric from the porch of Westminster Hall to the Abbey. Her auburn hair was worn loose in the style of a queen, but the orb, scepter, and crown of kingship were carried before her. Inside Westminster Abbey, swathes of cloth-of-gold hung from the choir to the altar and covered the grand chair upon which Mary was seated.

She was presented by the Bishop of Winchester:
"Sirs, here present is Mary, rightful and undoubted inheritrix by the laws of God and man to the crown and royal dignity of this realm of England, France and Ireland, whereupon you shall understand that this day is appointed by the peers of this land for the consecration, inunction and coronation of said most excellent Princess Mary; will you serve at this time, and give your wills and assent to the same."

"Yea, yea, yea. God save Queen Mary," those assembled responded.

Mary gave her offering and lay prostrate upon cloth-of-gold cushions as prayers were invoked above her. After a sermon by the Bishop of Chichester on the obedience owed to kings, Mary was prostrate again to swear her oaths as queen, followed by her anointing. Bishop Gardiner touched holy oil to Mary's forehead, temples, shoulders, and chest as she knelt wearing a sleeveless purple velvet corset. After the anointing, Mary was again regally dressed in a crimson velvet mantle and crimson cloth-of-gold slippers.

Gold coin featuring Queen Mary I, 1555

Trumpets announced the moment each of three crowns was placed upon Mary's head, and the choir sang Te Deum when the coronation ring was placed on her finger. She then received the sword and spurs that would have been presented to a crowned king and received the homage of her clergy and magnates. Finally, another offering was made, and Mary carried the orb and scepters (one traditionally the queen's and the other the king's) to her coronation feast.

She was Queen of England, but she had taken a long road to get there. Her mother's only child, Mary had been raised to believe she would be her father's heir. When Henry VIII broke with both Katherine of Aragon and the Catholic Church in order to disinherit Mary, she may have believed she would never see the throne. Through many trials and tribulations, which did not end once she was queen, Mary endured.


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Luminous Women: Catherine Donohue


It wouldn't be proper to begin this blog series on Luminous Women with anyone besides Catherine Wolfe Donohue. This quiet Catholic woman from Ottawa, Illinois inspired her friends, courageously challenged the radium industry, and made law-changing history in the United States. Her place in history is not one to which she aspired, but when injustice would have reigned Catherine gave voice to the vulnerable.

Catherine Wolfe was born in 1903 in a midwestern town snugly settled along the banks of the Fox River. She was baptized, married, and took her first communion at Ottawa's St Columba, and went to school with the same young people she attended church with. When she was 19, she took a job at the company across the road from St Columba. Radium Dial had taken up residence in the old high school, and they hired young women to paint the fine numbers and lines on watches and instruments with radium infused paint to make them glow in the dark.

This was an excellent opportunity for Catherine and her friends. Working in a painting studio was more sophisticated and higher paying than domestic service or factory work. A quiet girl, Catherine formed close connections with her coworkers. She married Thomas Donohue in January 1932, just a few months after being fired from Radium Dial for poor health and a visible limp.

It would have been tempting for Catherine to settle into being a housewife and raising children, but she was concerned about her health, even more so because some of her young friends had died in recent years making Catherine wonder if there wasn't something dangerous in the paint they used in Radium Dial's studio. The radium industry by this time was well aware of the dangers of the luminescent paint, but inconsistent and underplayed efforts had been made to ensure the dial painters' safety. Radium Dial had briefly given the women glass pens to apply the paint with to stop the practice of lip-pointing brushes, but they were quickly discarded since the brushes were more efficient. 

The brushes were also how radium entered women's bodies. Trained to dip their brush in the paint, point the bristles with their lips, and then paint the tiny numbers on their dials, women like Catherine had been ingesting the radioactive substance for years. Initially told that radium was good for their health, as medical professionals did briefly believe, the women were not informed when new research and multiple deaths proved that people had been wrong about radium.

Profit is king, and Radium Dial continued operations until forcibly closed, long after the death of Catherine Donohue and others like her. In fact, Radium Dial had taken strides to protect it's cash and resources before Catherine's law suit was judged. It wasn't until her hearing before the Illinois Industrial Commission that Catherine and her co-litigants learned that only $10,000 in assets could possibly be paid - if they won - because Radium Dial's assets had been transferred to a new business. Luminous Processes operated just a few blocks away from Radium Dial's old schoolhouse. 

Suffering horribly from radium poisoning, Catherine testified about her years at Radium Dial. She weighed less than 70 pounds. Her teeth and jaw bone were falling out, and a huge tumor grew on her hip. Catherine was carried into the room to make sure the court heard what was happening to dial painters. Only when a doctor was asked to testify as to her prognosis did Catherine finally break down and fully accept that she was dying.

The hearing continued in the Donohue home, so that Catherine could complete her testimony tucked in on the family sofa. Scarcely able to move and her words slurred by the deformation of her mouth, Catherine demonstrated how she had created a fine point on her brushes with her lips and poisoned herself irreversibly. 

Catherine was victorious in her case before the Illinois Industrial Commission, and new worker compensation and employee safety laws began to be drafted, but Catherine never saw any of the settlement Radium Dial was ordered to pay. She died on July 27, 1938, while Radium Dial was still filing appeals. Final victory was bittersweet when the Supreme Court refused to hear Radium Dial's appeal and Tom, Catherine's grieving and bankrupted widower, received about $5,700, a fraction of the amount that had been spent on his suffering wife's medical bills.

Catherine's true victory came in raised awareness of the dangers of radium and worker exploitation. This could not save her or end the suffering of her friends, but it did decrease the chances that it would happen to another generation of working class women. The women's cases of radium poisoning also informed researchers during World War II and led to strict precautions in how radioactive substances are handled. It was one of Catherine's last hopes that, though she would die, she would be able to help and protect others.


Learn more about Catherine Wolfe Donohue and the other radium girls of Ottawa, Illinois in Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl.

Available for Kindle and paperback on Amazon worldwide.

"It's too late for me, but maybe it will help some of the others."

                                                      - Catherine Wolfe Donohue


Other suggested reading:

Radium Girls: Women and Industrial Health Reform, 1910-1935 by Claudia Clark

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Banned! Women Explorers Who Broke Barriers

I'm excited to introduce a new guest to the blog today! Jayne Zanglein is the author of The Girl Explorers, scheduled for publication in March 2021. She is here to give us a sneak peek into the lives of the remarkable women she has researched.

Welcome, Jayne!

~ Samantha


Banned! Women Explorers Who Broke Barriers

A Guest Post by Jayne Zanglein

In 1925, four women explorers had an “indignation meeting” over tea. They spoke of their outrage at reporters who ignored their work while they praised men’s work. They also complained that they were banned from the all-male Explorers Club when they qualified in all respects except one: gender.

Blair Niles circumnavigated the globe with her husband in 1910 on the trail of pheasants. After her divorce, she became an expert on Latin America. She visited Haiti to report on the demoralizing effects of the American Occupation on Black Haitians, who had ruled the country since its liberation in 1791. She became the first woman to interview French prisoners on Devil’s Island, the penal colony off South America’s coast. In 1931, Blair exposed gay profiling by Harlem police.

Marguerite Harrison was a society reporter for the Baltimore Sun when World War I broke out.  She asked the newspaper if she could cover the war in Europe. The Sun refused to send a woman, and so she convinced the US government to send her to Russia as the first female spy. 

The KGB caught and imprisoned her. After she was released, she accompanied 50,000 Bakhtiari nomads and a film crew on a seven-week trek across Persia as the tribe guided its livestock—a half million cows, horses, goats, and sheep—to winter pastures. The movie was the nation’s second ethnographic film.

Gertrude Emerson Sen was the first woman to interview Mahatma Gandhi. He helped her find a village where she could live while she studied India. Gertrude spent most of her adult life in India, working as the editor of Asia Magazine.

Gertrude Mathews Shelby was a feminist economic geographer who studied land use, cooperatives, and natural resources. She also studied Black folklore, particularly of the South Carolinian Gullah people.

On a snowy afternoon during tea, these four women decided to form an organization to address one of the most pressing difficulties they faced: isolation. Usually, they were the only woman on an expedition. When they returned home, they craved the companionship of other women travelers. The organization would allow them to share their experiences with other women.

The founders established the parameters for the new club. First, they wanted to attract an eclectic group of women. They agreed that the association’s name should reflect the diverse nature of its members. They decided on the Society of Woman Geographers because it was flexible enough to encompass explorers, scientists, anthropologists, geographers, ethnographers, writers, mountain climbers, scientific artists, and ethnomusicologists. Second, they only would invite women who had published books that enhanced the world’s store of knowledge about the countries they had visited. Marguerite Harrison summed up the group’s exclusive nature: it would include “only women who have really done things.” Third, the primary purpose would be social.

When it came to selecting a president, the choice was obvious: Harriet Chalmers Adams, who was on a quest to visit every nation or territory that had once flown the flag of Spain. Not only did Adams have an excellent reputation as an explorer, but she was an outspoken feminist who attracted the attention of the press. She criticized men who skulk about in “their hide-bound, exclusive little explorers’ and adventurers’ clubs afraid that some mere women might penetrate their sanctums of discussion.” When a reporter asked her why men dominate exploration, Harriet claimed to be at a loss to understand the phenomenon. “I’ve wondered why men have so absolutely monopolized the field of exploration. I’ve never found my sex a hinderment; never faced a difficulty, which a woman, as well as a man, could not surmount; never felt a fear of danger; never lacked the courage to protect myself.” As a war correspondent for Harper’s Magazine during World War I, Harriet had been “in tight places and had seen harrowing things.” She scoffed at the idea that women are more prone to injury than men: “That sounds like rather a stupid notion.”

The Society had no trouble recruiting trailblazers. In the first year, they admitted 41 members. Soon, they boasted members such as anthropologist Margaret Mead, Arctic explorers Josephine and Marie Peary, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, filmmaker Osa Johnson, and aviator Amelia Earhart.

When Amelia accepted her invitation to join the Society, she demurely replied, “I am very much honored but doubtful of my qualifications. However, if the other members will bear with me a while, I’ll try to make up the deficiencies.” Then she broke Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight record.

The organization is still in existence today, with more than five hundred members. Contemporary members include marine biologist Sylvia Earle and primatologist Jane Goodall. Mountaineer Arlene Blum explains that the Society publicizes members’ accomplishments because although the women “do such wonderful things, they are so apologetic. They say things like, ‘Well, I didn’t do anything much this summer. I just visited the pygmies and was kidnapped.’”

My book, The Girl Explorers, tells the story of these remarkable women and how they widened the world’s understanding of culture, race, sexuality, and gender, especially of marginalized peoples. They broke through barriers so that future generations could carry on their important and inspiring work.


Jayne Zanglein’s book, The Girl Explorers, is scheduled for publication on March 2, 2021. Until then, you can read more about the founding members of the Society of Woman Geographers on her blog, Connect with Jayne on Facebook, Instagram, or  Twitter.