Sunday, March 31, 2024

Daughters of James Alexander Hamilton

It has been an amazing Women's History Month! I appreciate all my guests and readers who have participated. For our final day, I would like to share a little bit about the daughters of James Alexander Hamilton. Each of them, of course, has their place in my next book. The Hamiltons were a close family who spent significant time together at James's Nevis on the Hudson River near Sleepy Hollow. Today, let's talk a little bit about his four daughters.

His eldest, named Elizabeth after her grandmother, was born 8 October 1811. She married George Lee Schuyler in 1835, and they had three children. I'm sharing an image of those children, since I have not discovered any of Elizabeth, who was called Eliza by family and friends. I have found many letters written between Eliza and her father as evidence of their close relationship. Eliza died of cancer in 1863 at age 52 while she was in Washington volunteering for the war effort. 

In what is likely her last letter to her father, she wrote, "If you could see, my dear Father, the love and devotion of every one. To one so independent of others, it is worth while to be sick, to learn so rich a lesson from them. I look to you, my dear Father, to keep up the family tone and spirit now, as you have ever done. Shall we receive good only from God, as we have all our lives - and when the good is veiled, so that we do not see it, shall we complain? Or even bear the sorrow, like a scourged slave: My spirit rises above such abject submission, in to harmony with the Divine Will. What God wishes to do for us and with us, is hidden in the future….This Life is the gift of God; this everlasting Life, which the loss of a tired body will set free for fresh youth and zest."

Eliza's daughter, Louisa Lee Schuyler, became a well-known leader in women's charitable work and nursing, following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother.

Fun fact: since Elizabeth Hamilton married George Lee Schuyler, she was Elizabeth Hamilton Schuyler, while her grandmother was Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton!

James's second daughter, Frances, was born 2 October 1813, almost exactly 2 years after her sister, Eliza. Fanny, as she was often called, married George Bowdoin in 1832, and it is through this couple that most modern day descendants trace their lineage to James.

Fun Fact: Fanny's husband was named George Richard James Sullivan, but he took the last name Bowdoin from his mother's side, as did his brothers, in order to inherit the family fortune.

A third daughter, Mary, was born on New Year's Day 1818, and was named after her mother, Mary Morris Hamilton. She was one of the original members of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association that saved George Washington's home from falling into disrepair and ruin. Mary was the vice-regent for New York and raised $40k toward the purchase of Mount Vernon. She also attempted to keep Mount Vernon accessible during the Civil War, which was difficult due to its location in Virginia. Mary doubted the MVLA could afford to maintain the estate & encouraged transferring ownership to the federal government. A difference of opinion over this caused Mary to leave the organization, which still owns Mount Vernon to this day.

Mary also co-founded the New York School of Design for Women in 1852. It eventually became part of the Cooper Union. She was an active volunteer alongside her sister, Elizabeth, and niece, Louisa. Elizabeth died in 1863, and six years later her widower, George Lee Schuyler, married Mary. George Lee Schuyler is buried in the James A Hamilton family plot at Sleepy Hollow between the two sisters.

When admirers wished to honor Mary after her death with a statue of her at the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, relatives filed a right to privacy suit to stop them, saying that Mary would not have wished it. 

The youngest of James A Hamilton's daughters is the one I discovered the least about. Her name was Angelica, and she was born 13 November 1819. James wrote several letters during his trips to Europe in which he mentions Angelica being with him. She married quite late in life for the era, becoming the second wife of Richard Milford Blatchford in 1860. Angelica was buried in the James A Hamilton family plot at Sleepy Hollow when she died in 1868, and her husband remarried again. She had no children. 

I have found no images of Angelica. Pictured is the James A Hamilton family plot at Sleepy Hollow. James, his wife, four of their five children, and three grandchildren are buried here.


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Friday, March 29, 2024

Urania Titani: Sofie Brahe

Hello, dear readers. I've never had so many guests for Women's History Month, and I hope you're enjoying this wonderful variety of stories about amazing women! My guest today is Maria Yrsa Rönneus, who is not only a fantastic author, she is the designer of the cover art for my novel, But One Life. Maria takes us back to the 16th century and introduces us to a true Renaissance woman, Sofie Brahe.

Welcome, Maria!

~ Samantha


Urania Titani: Sofie Brahe

Guest Post by Maria Yrsa Rönneus 

It is a truth oft perpetuated, that clever, successful, and interesting women make bad relationship choices. Though hardly a universal fact, it was certainly true of Sofie (Sophie) Brahe.

She was a true Renaissance woman – astronomer, astrologer, alchemist, meteorologist, historian, genealogist, gardener, and landlady. Strong, clever, beautiful, but she had a terrible taste in men.

Scania (Da: Skaane, Swe: Skåne) along with the counties of Halland and Blekinge, make up the southernmost tip of the Scandinavian peninsula, and aside from a brief interlude of Swedish reign in the 14th century, Scania was historically Danish until 1658. It was a coveted and well-guarded breadbasket, but whichever side of the sound the monarch was on, Scania always had, fought for, and retained its own traditions, culture, and even language.

It was in this rich province, at Knudstrup Castle (Swe: Knutstorp) that Sofie was born the youngest of ten to Otte Brahe and Beate Bille in 1556 or 1559. The noble family of Brahe was ancient aristocracy; they were influential and extremely wealthy – their vast family tree is littered with Councils, Marshals, and Stewards of the Realm and Ladies in Waiting. Needless to say, that they could well afford to give their children the very best education available at the time. 

And their oldest son, the famous astronomer Tyge (Swe: Tycho) certainly benefitted from university in Copenhagen. Of all Sofie’s siblings he was the one she was closest to, despite his being at least twelve years her senior. Sharing the same interests and talents, they faced the same opposition from their parents and other siblings. Sciences weren’t seen as suitable occupation for nobility in general, and particularly not for women. Sofie, of course, stood no chance of getting an education equal to her brother’s. 

Tyge taught her horticulture and alchemy, but their relationship wasn’t without conflict either. Tyge was a man of his times after all, and wouldn’t teach her astronomy as he feared that her feebler female mind might not be equal to the task.

Sofie, however, wasn’t one to let a few obstacles stand in her way, and promptly proceeded to teach herself Greek mythology, history, German, and astronomy. By her own admission, she had little interest in women’s conventional skills and chores, and already in her teens, she began assisting Tyge in his work.

The scientific disciplines as we know them today had yet to crystallise – astronomy and astrology were one and the same. Consequently, Sofie’s interest in astronomy was inextricably tied to her firm belief in astrology. She achieved great skill in calculating the natal charts for friends and acquaintances, and did so wherever she went for both her own and others’ amusement. Similarly, her aim to find the formula for the elusive “Philosopher’s Stone” taught her to prepare medicines and herbal remedies which she handed out to friends, tenants, and the poor.

In 1577, when she was about twenty-one years of age, she was married to Otte Tagesen Thott of Eriksholm, (presently Trolleholm). Little is known about him, he appears to have been quite unremarkable. We can’t know whether this was a marriage she welcomed or was forced into, but eleven years of marriage didn’t result in more than one child. It’s easy to read lack of love and passion into that, but it’s also possible that Otte Thott wasn’t a healthy man. The cause of his demise seems to be unknown, but he died already in1588, when he was only forty-five.

In any case, Sofie was given quite a lot of freedom to keep up with her interests as well as cultivate new ones. Her garden at Eriksholm was renowned, and she seems to have thrived. Otte Thott may have lead a quiet life, but his funeral was such a lavish affair as to attract the displeasure of the government. 

As a widow, Sofie continued to live and work at Eriksholm, managing the estate for her young son. She kept visiting Tyge frequently, much as she had during her marriage. King Frederik II had given Tyge an island in Öresund. Ven is a mere speck on the map, but there he built his wonderful mansion Uraniborg, and his subterranean observatory Stjerneborg (Eng: Star Castle). Underground, his delicate instruments would be protected from the weather, and readings not be influenced by for example winds, which would have been a real problem on the tiny island. Both the castle and the observatory were demolished after Tyge left for Prague in 1599, but the observatory was reconstructed in the 20th century, and now houses a museum.

At Uraniborg, the learned scientific elite of the late 16th century gathered. Sofie became more than merely her brother’s assistant, she participated in all parts of the scientific discourse at Uraniborg. So much so that Tyge planned to include some of her work in the second volume of his ‘Astronomical Letters’, which he sadly never got to finish. Sofie befriended the learned men, and their regard for her knowledge and work is well documented. They called her Urania for the Greek muse of astronomy. (The planet Uranus also named for the same muse wouldn’t be discovered for another two centuries.)

It was here that she met and fell head-over-heels in love with Erik Lange of Engelsholm. He was a young nobleman who had received education in Paris and Wittenburg. There are no known paintings of Erik, but I imagine he must have been handsome. Erik was clever, but could hardly compare to the intellectual giants that Sofie was used to rubbing shoulders with. Yet she was decidedly dazzled. Sofie was thirty-four when they got engaged.

But, let loose in the well-equipped laboratory at Uraniborg, Erik’s love of alchemy trumped his love for Sofie. He gave himself over to the gold-making business with such abandon that he distilled away almost all his assets. Two years later, the wedding had still not taken place, and Erik had to flee from his creditors. Erik left Denmark in 1592. 

Sofie returned to Eriksholm, to her son, her studies, and her garden. It’s from this time that a poem called Urania Titani originates. It is a long letter professing Urania’s passionate love for Titan (Erik) composed in sonorous Latin hexameter. It tells of her sadness and longing for her beloved, and Urania reassures Titan of her trust in him.

Accounts conflict on whether she actually wrote the poem herself, or if she commissioned it; some sources say that she didn’t know Latin. She was known to write poetry, albeit in Danish. Her brother Tyge, who also wrote poetry, took credit for it. It seems to me a very odd thing to write a fervent love letter to one’s sister’s lover. Far more reasonable then to assume that he translated it. Regardless of who wrote the poem, it’s safe to say that Sofie was besotted.

Erik meanwhile, was mostly besotted with the thought of making gold, and letters from him were brief and far between. Travelling from place to place in present day Germany, Poland, and Czech Republic, he accumulated new debt where ever he went. Gold-feverish addiction had him in a firm grip, and little else mattered. He neglected his duties as landlord, yet forced his tenants to work too hard, and ultimately pawned his estate.

Sofie’s family tried to persuade her to break it off with him, but her loyal heart wouldn’t hear of it.
Instead, she sent him such sums of money that her family intervened with legal actions, and seized her assets on behalf of her son, then still a minor. 

Sofie was not about to let true love slip away, and in 1599, when her son reached majority, she managed to scrape together enough to travel to Germany. Erik, however, could barely tear himself away from his “art”. Sofie was well liked and had many friends and connections in Europe who sent her invitations to stay, but Sofie couldn’t bring herself to give up on Erik. When he left for a new place, she found some excuse to follow. But with her closest relatives in Scania, she found neither help nor compassion.

Sofie and Erik returned to Denmark in 1602, where Erik was arrested and put in debtors’ prison. Help came from her extended family, and finally when she was forty-six, they were married. She wrote in a vivid and acerbic letter to her sister that she did not own one pair of stockings without holes for the wedding and that the groom’s clothes had been hocked.

The wedding bells had barely stilled before Erik took off again. Inheritances made Sofie’s life more bearable, but her holdings were now Erik’s and his debts devoured much of that too. Erik died destitute in Prague in 1613.

Another woman might have returned full of remorse and sorrow to her son’s Eriksholm, but not Sofie. It was not for nothing that her brother Tyge spoke of her “animus invictus” – her invincible spirit. In 1616, she moved to Helsingør (Elsinore) where she devoted herself to genealogical research. Her work resulted in a folio of over 900 pages in 1626. Genealogy was a popular pursuit with the ladies of nobility of the time, but Sofie’s family book was considered a pinnacle among similar works, not least because of her animated storytelling.

As a female scientist, Sofie Brahe was a new phenomenon is Nordic history. Her work defied norms in terms of both sex and class. She died in Helsingør in 1643, at an age of eighty-seven. Made possible, partly by her brother’s support, partly by her own stubbornness, hers was a remarkable life on her own terms. 


‘Dansk Biografisk Leksikon’, C. F. Bricka (1887 – 1905)

‘Breve og aktstykker angaaende Tyge Brahe og hans slægtninge’, F. R. Friis (1875)

‘Sofie Brahe Ottesdatter. En biografisk skildring’, F. R. Friis (1905)

‘Tycho Brahes "Urania Titani": et digt om Sophie Brahe’. P. Zeeberg (1994)

Images from Wikipedia, Alvin and Flickr. Artwork by Joan Blaeu and Edith Annie Ibbs.

In Orbits of Attraction, the fictional protagonist, Juliet, is an astronomer in the early 19th century Britain. Two hundred years had changed very little for women in sciences. It highlights the particular challenges that being female in a male dominated pursuit entailed. The protagonist meets Caroline Herschel, another clever female astronomer, doomed to playing second fiddle to a celebrated brother.

Although privileged, Juliet too faces sexism in her work, and has to wrestle the issues arising in combining independence and love.

Connect with Maria on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.


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Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Joan of Leeds: A Rebellious Nun

Hello, dear readers! You will recognize my guest today because she has been here before. Toni Mount has contributed several fascinating articles and is the author of one of my favorite series as well as several nonfiction books, including How to Survive in Medieval England. I'm pleased to welcome her as part of Women's History Month with a journey back to the 14th century to introduce us to a lady who went to some extremes to claim her freedom! 

Toni is also celebrating the release of her latest novel in the Sebastian Foxley series, Color of Sin. By the time you're reading this, I will likely be halfway through Seb's latest adventure and not wanting it to end. More on this below. Now, let's talk about the ladies.

Welcome, Toni!

~ Samantha


Joan of Leeds: A Rebellious Nun

Guest Post by Toni Mount

Joan was a young nun at St Clement’s Benedictine Priory in York in northern England in the early fourteenth century. It isn’t known at what age she entered the religious life, taking vows of obedience, poverty and chastity. Perhaps her parents decided for her as becoming a nun was a way of dealing with an unmarried daughter without a dowry. Whatever the reason, Joan discovered that the monotonous round of daily prayers and those tedious vows was not the life for her. 

Joan was bored. 

So she hatched a plan and, possibly, her sister nuns were tired of her, too, because they assisted in her scheme to escape from the priory. In 1318, Joan complained of being unwell and took to her bed. No remedy aided this mysterious ailment and, eventually, she died – a drastic means of escape, you’ll agree. The nuns buried Joan’s body in holy ground and that could have been the end of her brief, sorry story.

Except that it wasn’t.

Joan had made a cloth dummy, stuffing it with straw, and it was this makeshift corpse which the nuns buried. Meanwhile, Joan fled the convent and walked thirty miles to Beverley. Whether her destination was pre-planned to meet up with someone we don’t know but, later, it was said she was living there with a man.

However, her ruse was uncovered back at the priory and William Melton, the Archbishop of York, was informed. He sent a letter to the Dean of Beverley Minster, detailing Joan’s sins and demanding her immediate return to St Clement’s. It seems the first letter didn’t result in her return because the archbishop wrote again, explaining that she had faked death and fashioned a dummy ‘in the likeness of her body’ which her sister nuns, aiding and abetting her crimes, then buried ‘in a sacred space amongst the religious of that place’, all for her sinful desire to follow ‘the way of carnal lust’, he said, righteously. Joan was officially denounced as an apostate for absconding, breaking her vows and abandoning her nun’s habit and those who helped her were ‘evildoers’. Further, the archbishop continued, ‘She perverted her path of life arrogantly and now wanders at large to the notorious peril to her soul and to the scandal of all of her order’.

And scandal there was.

A local priest wrote to the archbishop from Beverley on 26 August 1318, saying that Joan had voluntarily told him her version of events, admitting she’d faked her death in order to escape. It’s not known whether she ever did return to the priory and these letters, found in Archbishop Melton’s Register, are the only source, telling of her life and career. 

Joan’s story was discovered in 2019 when a University of York research project, led by Professor Sarah Rees Jones, found the scribe’s marginal notes in the Archbishop’s Registra for 1305-1405. The priest’s letter was uncovered in 2020. 

Connect with Toni

Toni Mount earned her Master’s Degree as a mature student at the University of Kent by completing original research into a unique 15th-century medical manuscript.

She is the author of several successful non-fiction books including the number one bestsellers, Everyday Life in Medieval London and How to Survive in Medieval England, which reflects her detailed knowledge of the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages.

Toni’s enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mysteries.

Toni’s first career was as a scientist and this brings an extra dimension to her novels. She writes regularly for The Richard III Society's Ricardian Bulletin and a variety of history blogs and is a major contributor to

As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, is an enthusiastic member of two creative writing groups and is a popular speaker to groups and societies.

Come with Seb Foxley, Rose and their enigmatic friend Kit, a priest with a shadowy past, as they join a diverse group of pilgrims on what should be an uplifting spiritual journey to Canterbury Cathedral.

Beset by natural disasters and unexplained deaths, the dangers become apparent. Encountering outlaws and a fearsome black cat, every step is fraught with peril.

Amidst the chaos, Seb finds himself grappling with the mysteries surrounding him, as well as his own demons, while Rose's reunion with her family sets off a chain of events with unforeseen consequences.

But the greatest threat lies in the shadows, where sinister forces unleash evil upon the unsuspecting pilgrims. In a world where trust is a scarce commodity and even allies may harbour dark intentions, Seb must uncover the truth and protect his fellow travellers.

Prepare to be enthralled by a tale of betrayal, intrigue and redemption as Seb Foxley races against time to unravel the malevolent secrets hidden within the heart of the pilgrimage. Who can you trust when even friends prove false?


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Sunday, March 24, 2024

Civil War Hospital Matron Phoebe Pember

If you've read anything about America's Civil War, you know that medical care of the mid-19th century left a lot to be desired, especially as resources ran low. Author Michael Ross is here today to help us celebrate Women's History Month and share how Phoebe Pember selflessly served the wounded and strove for better care at Chimborazo Hospital through this turbulent time.

Welcome, Michael!

~ Samantha


Civil War Hospital Matron Phoebe Pember

Guest Post by Michael Ross

Phoebe Pember (August 18, 1823 – March 4, 1913) was a South Carolina widow who became the head matron at Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond.

Phoebe was born into a wealthy and prominent South Carolina Jewish family, the fourth of seven children. Her father was Jacob Clavius, a successful merchant, and her mother a well regarded actress. She had a private tutor, and learned the feminine arts of the time as she grew up. One can only speculate as to why she married late at 33, but later life might suggest her strength of character deterred suitors. She was no delicate flower.

Eventually, Phoebe did marry Thomas Pember, a Gentile from Boston, two years her senior in 1856. Thomas didn’t last long. He contracted tuberculosis and died July 9, 1861 in Aiken, SC. Phoebe became a childless widow at 38. Her parents fled south to Georgia, hoping to escape the ravages of war. Phoebe went with them, but fidgeted, restless, her reserves of energy unused. Her father expected her to sew, attend parties, and play the pianoforte. Such pursuits were profoundly boring to Phoebe, who longed to be useful. She had a great friend, the wife of the Confederate Secretary of War, Mary Pope Randolph. Randolph offered her a position as matron at the Chimborazo Hospital, and Phoebe jumped at the chance. There were ninety hospital wards, forty beds each.

Almost from the beginning, Phoebe was at odds with her male colleagues. She was appalled by the abuse of hospital alcohol supplies, consumed by doctors, male nurses, and orderlies while on duty. She lobbied to be put in charge of the entire alcohol supply for the hospital, prompting complaints to superiors in the Richmond hierarchy.

During her tenure, almost 76,000 Confederate soldiers were tended. She did not practice medicine herself, lacking the training, but her skills as an administrator made sure that medical staff had the supplies needed to do their job. She also personally read for, wrote for, cared for, and otherwise helped as many wounded men as possible, up to 15,000 under her direct care during the course of the war. She got a fair amount of flak for being female, but never let it bother her. She relates one conflict with a powerful man, William Carrington, head of the Confederate Medical Dept.:

“He advanced towards the [whiskey] barrel, and so did I, only being in the inside, I interposed between him and the object of contention. The fierce temper blazed up in his face, and catching me roughly by the shoulder, he called me a name that a decent woman seldom hears and even a wicked one resents. But I had a little friend, which usually reposed quietly on the shelf, but had been removed to my pocket in the last twenty-four hours, more from a sense of protection than from any idea that it would be called into active service; so before he had time to push me one inch from my position, or to see what kind of ally was in my hand, that sharp click, a sound so significant and so different from any other, struck upon his ear, and sent him back amidst his friends, pale and shaken.

‘You had better leave,’ I said composedly (for I felt in my feminine soul that although I was near enough to pinch his nose, that I had missed him), ‘for if one bullet is lost, there are five more ready, and the room is too small for even a woman to miss six times.’” – National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Kristin Brill, and A Southern Woman’s Story: Life in Confederate Richmond, Phoebe Pember

One Confederate observer said of Phoebe that she possessed “the will of steel under a suave refinement.”

On one occasion, as she was visiting some newly arrived soldiers who had been wounded in a recent battle, one of them called for her attention. At first glance, it could be seen that he was very weak and would probably soon pass away. She stepped to his side to see what she could do for him in his final moments:

“He shook his head in negative to all offers of food or drink or suggestions of softer pillows and lighter covering.

‘I want Perry,’ was his only wish.

On inquiry I found that Perry was the friend and companion who marched by his side in the field and slept next to him in camp, but of whose whereabouts I was ignorant. Armed with a requisition from our surgeon, I sought him among the sick and wounded at all the other hospitals. I found him at Camp Jackson, put him in my ambulance, and on arrival at my own hospital found my patient had dropped asleep. A bed was brought and placed at his side, and Perry, only slightly wounded, laid upon it.”

…when the young soldier awoke, he was overjoyed to see his old friend, and got to spend the last few minutes of his life with his army buddy at his side, thanks to the quick and selfless work of Phoebe Pember.

Another time, there was a young man who had suffered a badly broken bone in his upper thigh, but he was healing and expected to make a recovery. One night, he rolled over in bed and screamed.

Phoebe came running and found that a bone splinter had poked out through his skin, and the wound was jetting blood (apparently an artery had been severed). Phoebe immediately pressed on the wound with her finger and was able to cut off the flow of blood until a surgeon arrived.

Unfortunately, when the surgeon arrived, he found that he could not locate the severed artery, and finally told Phoebe that there was no hope. She was left to break the news to the wounded man. This task was very difficult for her, but finally:

“It was done at last and the verdict received patiently and courageously, some directions given by which his mother would be informed of his death, and then he turned his questioning eyes upon my face.

‘How long can I live?’

‘Only as long as I keep my finger upon this artery.’ A pause ensued. God alone knew what thoughts hurried through that heart and brain, called so unexpectedly from all earthly hopes and ties. He broke the silence at last.

‘You can let go.’

But I could not. Not if my own life had trembled in the balance. Hot tears rushed to my eyes, a surging sound to my ears, and a deathly coldness to my lips. The pang of obeying him was spared me, and for the first and last time during the trials that surrounded me for four years, I fainted away.”

This story demonstrates once more how deeply Phoebe Pember cared for those who came into her care, but that is not the only thing that made her a successful matron at Chimborazo…

At the end, as the battle neared Richmond, many of the surgeons deserted the hospital for the front. Phoebe was moved by the cries of the wounded. Countermanding the orders of her superiors, who insisted the wounded be taken elsewhere, Phoebe received them. She heeded the cry of a soldier who said, “For God’s sake, take them in or kill them.”

After the surrender of Richmond, her duties did not end. There were still wounded to attend to, and they needed relief from pain. Laudanum and other anesthetics were not to be found, but a thirty gallon barrel of whiskey was delivered. Phoebe again resorted to her pistol to defend it, as others assumed all authority was gone, and a mere woman was of no consequence.

“Undaunted, Mr. Wilson headed for the barrel himself, but Phoebe stepped in his way. Wilson swore at her, and grabbing her arm, moved to throw her out of his way. Suddenly, he heard the distinctive sound of a pistol being cocked.”

Phoebe stayed for about six months after the conclusion of the war, tending the wounded. The Union took over the hospital, using it for their own wounded. Phoebe returned home to Marietta, Georgia. She traveled widely, speaking on the evils of war. She died of breast cancer in Pittsburgh, Pa. in 1913.


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Wednesday, March 20, 2024

What I'm Reading: Anywhere But Schuylkill


Some of my readers will appreciate the difficulty of my search for 19th century historical fiction set in the United States. Those who share my desire to read about this era have probably found loads of Civil War fiction and not much else. Because of this, I was excited to have the opportunity to read Anywhere But Schuylkill by Michael Dunn for this Coffee Pot Book Club tour!

Here's the blurb:

In 1877, twenty Irish coal miners hanged for a terrorist conspiracy that never occurred. Anywhere But Schuylkill is the story of one who escaped, Mike Doyle, a teenager trying to keep his family alive during the worst depression the nation has ever faced. Banks and railroads are going under. Children are dying of hunger. The Reading Railroad has slashed wages and hired Pinkerton spies to infiltrate the miners’ union. And there is a sectarian war between rival gangs. But none of this compares with the threat at home.

My Review:

I read this novel with a little bit of previous knowledge of the hardships of coal mining in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, but not of this specific event. (For another fantastic series set in coal mining country, see the Ava & Claire series by Karen Heenan.) It can be a challenge to keep track of all the players in this drama, but it is worth it to gain greater appreciation for the impossible situations faced by the men and boys working in the mines and their families.

Mike Doyle was forced to grow up quickly, as were most of the children living in the mining towns of the late 19th century. This was the part of the book that touched me the most. Mike and his younger brother, Bill, wanting to "be men" and support their family, when their ages barely hit double digits.

"He staggered under the weight, which seemed a hundred times more than just Bill, as though he was carrying a house that was crumbling apart, trying to keep his family from tumbling out."

And that's exactly what is expected of them, especially after their father is killed in a mining accident. I probably don't want to know the average life expectancy of a coal miner. I cringed more than once at the conditions they worked under as expertly described by this author.

"As they descended, sparkling black walls slid past them, spiked with rusty nails and burnt shards, a nightmare sky spinning out of control."

Mike was confused by different groups and loyalties and who was actually concerned about his life and interests, and who could blame him? The kid was making adult decisions with little education or assistance, so, of course, he made some mistakes.

"But how could he say no to these guys? They'd just killed two men. He couldn't risk angering them. Couldn't risk becoming one of them either."

The Long Strike of 1875 ends in the tragedy of the execution of twenty men, supposedly for terrorism, but really for daring to stand up for themselves and demand living wages. Mike Doyle escapes this fate but loses almost everything except his life. Where will he go next? Anywhere but Schuylkill.

Connect with Michael Dunn

Michael Dunn writes Working-Class Fiction from the Not So Gilded Age. Anywhere But Schuylkill is the first in his Great Upheaval trilogy. A lifelong union activist, he has always been drawn to stories of the past, particularly those of regular working people, struggling to make a better life for themselves and their families. 

Stories most people do not know, or have forgotten, because history is written by the victors, the robber barons and plutocrats, not the workers and immigrants. Yet their stories are among the most compelling in America. They resonate today because they are the stories of our own ancestors, because their passions and desires, struggles and tragedies, were so similar to our own. 

When Michael Dunn is not writing historical fiction, he teaches high school, and writes about labor history and culture.

Connect with him on his website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon Author Page, and Goodreads.

I am also celebrating Women's History Month! Check out all my wonderful guests and articles about historical ladies!

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Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Stay with the Wagons

Good morning, dear readers! You may remember recent guest, David Fitz-Gerald. He joins me again today with a lovely excerpt from his novel, Stay with the Wagons.

Welcome, David!

~ Samantha


Stay with the Wagons

Guest Post by David Fitz-Gerald

It’s so exciting to be on tour, supporting Stay with the Wagons, Book Three in the series Ghost Along the Oregon Trail set in 1850. This installment features some of my favorite scenes and locations, including Independence Rock, Devil’s Gate, and the White Mountain Petroglyphs, in what is now Wyoming.

In August 2022, as I was working on my manuscript, I traveled to Fort Bridger. Before my characters visited the famous mountain man’s trading post, Dorcas Moon’s teenaged daughter went missing, disappearing into the wilderness.

For those of you who have read A Grave Every Mile and Lighten the Load, you know that this troubled teen disappears far too often. In Stay with the Wagons, she borrows a horse without permission and rides off alone in the middle of the night without a word to anyone.

It is as if a mystical power draws her to a sacred place where she meets Chief Washakie, his pregnant wife, and a blind seer. The sandstone hill features a cave, ancient carvings, and a large rock known as The Birthing Stone. Many of the petroglyphs depict animals within animals. Some portray the birthing process. This holy place is an ancient monument to womanhood and childbirth.

The day I visited, it was sunny and warm. I was glad to get there early before it got too hot outside. There wasn’t anyone else there and I was grateful for the solitude. Wyoming is known for being windy, but that morning was calmer than usual. It was so quiet and desolate, that time didn’t seem to matter.

It was a great day to contemplate the miracle of life and the balance between the past, present, and future. I didn’t want to leave, but as I drove away, I couldn’t wait to send my beloved characters on their own journey to this spiritual place.

Perhaps you know the feeling. Have you visited a place wrapped in a similar mystical allure? A place where the past and present merged and spoke directly to you?

Here’s an excerpt from June 28, 1850:

Our guides have let us sleep late this morning. When the trumpet sounds at dawn, I glance about and see that Rose is already up and gone. She often rises before Reveille, but I become concerned when Rose fails to materialize as the boys and I prepare for our morning departure.

After harnessing the oxen, I can no longer wait patiently for my daughter to appear. I hate asking for help, but when it comes to a child’s safety, one cannot be too proud. Our guides are finishing their breakfast at the wagon master’s camp when I sound the alarm. It’s rare to find Boss Wheel, Agapito, Arikta, and Dembi Koofai all in camp at the same time. I exclaim, “Rose is missing!”

I can’t bear to look at Boss Wheel. The gruff ramrod has made his feelings about Rose crystal clear. Agapito tells the scouts to fetch the horses as the wagon master cusses in French. Then, ever so briefly, Agapito places a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

Dembi Koofai returns at a fast trot, with Arikta right behind him. The Shoshone says, “Rio is missing.” He says more with his hands than with the words he speaks. “I track.”

Agapito fills in the missing details, though I know enough of the hand talk to understand that Dembi Koofai thinks Rose is riding Rio. There are no other tracks, so whatever has happened, kidnapping and horse thievery are not suspected. It appears that Rose has ridden off on the assistant wagon master’s horse alone and on purpose.

Agapito tells Dembi Koofai and Arikta to follow the missing horse’s trail, but Boss Wheel interrupts him. “The wagons will continue. I’ll ride point, Arikta will ride drag, and you stay with the wagon. Dembi Koofai can go alone.”

I say, “I’m going with him.” Agapito’s brow furrows and he shakes his head slowly. He looks concerned but I can’t worry about that now.

Boss Wheel scowls at me. “I don’t recommend it. This is Shoshone country.” His scowl deepens into a sneer. “Dembi Koofai can move faster on his own without having to look out for you. He knows the country, and he is our best tracker.” Boss Wheel turns his back to me and tells his scout, “We will camp on the Big Sandy tonight and the Green River the next two nights.”

I don’t care what Boss Wheel says. I’m going with Dembi Koofai. I turn my back and run toward camp. After a few quick words with Stillman and the children, I saddle Blizzard, fill a canteen, and toss biscuits in my saddlebags. Andrew looks confused, Christopher appears jealous, and Dahlia Jane seems like she wants to cry. I try to reassure them. “Don’t worry, children, we’ll find your sister.”

Dahlia Jane says, “What if something happens to you, Mama?” The child bursts into tears, and I can’t imagine what tragedy she imagines. There isn’t time for more, so I hug her quickly and promise her that there is no need to worry. I can feel my face twitching as I say words to the child that I can’t possibly be sure of myself.

Dembi Koofai has a lead on me, but Blizzard catches up quickly. He rides along at a fast trot, eyes following a dusty trail that is so clear, even I could follow it.

I ask, “How do you know it’s Rio and Rose’s trail.”

“Ever’ horse is differen’. They don’ go fas’.”

“How old are the tracks?” If Rose rode off in the last hour or so, we should find her fast.

“Don’ know.” The mysterious scout doesn’t offer suspicions, voice concerns, or express worry. I imagine tracking takes concentration, so I fall back a little and let the man do his work.

Soon after, Dembi Koofai turns back to me and says, “They go fas’.” He turns back and follows the straight trail in a southeastern direction. I watch the constellations of spots strewn across his horse’s speckled haunches as the Shoshone rides at a spirited, mile-eating trot.

We maintain a steady pace without stopping to rest. My throat is parched, and I need a drink, but I appreciate the scout’s diligence. My daughter’s life could depend on finding her quickly. There is no time to stop. We shall tend to our thirst later.

After hours on the flat trail, we reach an area of rocky hills, and beyond them lies a ridge of mountains. Dembi Koofai doesn’t appear to be watching the ground as much. Instead, he looks toward the mountains in the distance as if hoping to see movement on the horizon. It’s been hours since he has spoken. Finally, he turns to me, points, and says, “I know where she goin’.”

Rose doesn’t ride horses that often, and I can’t remember her ever riding bareback. I don’t know why she would think she could take a horse that doesn’t belong to us. We’ve been trailing her all day. She must have ridden off in the middle of the night, or we would have caught up to her hours ago. What’s gotten into that child now?

An hour later, the Shoshone says, “Almos’ there.”

The distant gray mountains seem to have changed color now that we’re in them. An impressive rise of yellow and brown sandstone stands tall above us as we ride toward it. A trickle of smoke leads from somewhere on the other side of the prominence. Before we circle around the bluff, Dembi Koofai says, “We are not alone. Don’ worry.” He makes the sign for friends and then the sign for family. I can’t fathom how he could know. Perhaps he has seen more tracks or other evidence.

We continue at a slow walk. A couple of minutes later, the solemn scout coughs quietly at first and then louder. I’ve never heard the man make such a sound before. The horses take a couple more steps, and I see Rose seated beside a fire with a small group of Indians: two middle-aged men, a younger woman heavy with child, and a couple of children. I gasp at the sight of my missing daughter, surprised to see her sitting with strangers, and relieved that she appears unharmed.

I glance to the left and see Rio, the horse that Rose borrowed without permission, standing at rest in the shade of a steep rock wall. I squint and see crude pictures scratched into the brown sandstone. They are a curiosity. If only there were time to look at them.

In front of me, Dembi Koofai slides from Coffeepot’s back and approaches the fire. I also dismount.

The men rise, and Dembi Koofai greets the taller man. Instead of shaking hands, the men clasp each other’s forearms near the bend of their elbows. The shorter man has a hunched back and scary-looking, white eyes. After exchanging a few words with Dembi Koofai, the short man sits across from Rose and stares into her face.

I step toward Dembi Koofai and the taller man, and peek at Rose, who doesn’t acknowledge my arrival. She sits cross-legged and silently stares into the strange man’s haunting gaze.

Dembi Koofai turns halfway toward me, not turning his back toward the taller man. “This man Chief Washakie. Ver’ good friend.” Then Dembi Koofai walks backward toward the horses and crouches in the shade beside his Appaloosa.

I don’t know how to greet this man. Should I offer my hand or try to grasp his arm as Dembi Koofai did? Not knowing what else to do, I curtsy and admonish myself. Chief Washakie looks at my legs. He must have seen Larkin’s trousers. Then, he looks at my bosom, smiles, and looks into my eyes. By now, I should be accustomed to the way men’s eyes linger when they look at my chest. I know better than to wait for the scout to introduce me, especially given the fact that he has stepped away from Chief Washakie. My tongue trips as I try to speak, and I eventually spit my name into the air. The warm, friendly smile on the Chief’s round cheeks puts me at ease.

Washakie reaches his hand toward me like a southern gentleman. I extend my hand, and he takes it into his. He bows softly toward me, his straight black hair cascading over his shoulders.

“It is nice to meet you, Dorcas. Is this child your daughter? You must be very proud.”

I glance at Rose, who doesn’t seem to be listening to me and the chief. “Yes, Chief. Her name is Rose Moon. I’m so relieved that we found her. I was very worried.”

He looks at me with sympathetic eyes. “You need not worry about this one.” He sweeps an arm toward Rose as if casting a spell of invincibility upon her. “The ancient ones watch over her. But a mother always worries about her children.” He turns toward the woman who stands a short distance away and speaks to me. “Would you like to meet my wife?”

I’m distracted by the Indian’s words. What ancient ones? How could they watch over Rose? Sometimes it seems like the whole world is going mad. I say, “Yes, Chief. It would be an honor, your Highness.” I don’t know how to talk to an Indian chief, and I hope I’m doing so correctly.

“Please call me Washakie. Should I call you Mrs. Moon?”

“Thank you, Washakie. That is most kind. You may call me Dorcas.”

Washakie beckons the Indian woman with his hand, and she steps toward us. “This is Crimson Dawn, and these are our youngest children.”

I extend my hand. Forgetting to be ladylike, I realize that my grip is too firm. I relax my hand, and Crimson Dawn bows her head toward me as she brings her hand back to her side. I’m surprised when she says, “You are like the woman who left her handprints in stone.” She points at a nearby rock.

Washakie extends an arm toward the rock and suggests we take a closer look. “This is the Birthing Stone. Crimson Dawn hopes to have the baby here, but the little one doesn’t seem to be in a hurry.”

I can’t believe I’m in the presence of an Indian chief, let alone talking with him about childbirth. He seems to be at ease. I think of Boss Wheel and Captain Meadows, who are nothing like this man. Perhaps being away from the responsibility of leadership causes Washakie to be relaxed. The coming birth of a child doesn’t seem to unnerve him either. I wonder how many children he has fathered, and then I try to estimate his age.

As if reading my mind, the man looks at me and says, “You are trying to guess my age. The truth is, only the Great Spirit knows for sure. I was orphaned young, but I’ve seen at least forty winters. What about you, Dorcas?”

“A lady never reveals her true age.” I grin. “But I am happy to confide in you, Washakie. I am thirty-four.”

The chief leads us from the Birthing Stone to the wall that shades the horses. I think of the names, initials, and years carved into Independence Rock and other places along the dusty roadway we have traveled. The ancient drawings on these remote mountains make me think differently about leaving something for future people to wonder about.

One illustration features a long horse carrying a stick figure with an impressive array of feathers flowing down his back. The oversized spear with a point half as large as the rider seems to have an oval aura surrounding it. I try to imagine the warrior or hunter preserving his likeness in stone, patiently scratching away at the soft rock for hours. I think of Bacon and try to imagine an ancient Indian, eons ago, preserving a single moment in stone.

The wall features many pictures of buffalo. Some are more intricate than others and require an active imagination to see. Many images look like feet. From their shape, I don’t think they represent people. They look more like bear footprints to me.

The most curious images I see are of one animal drawn inside another. I look back at the Birthing Stone, standing in the bright afternoon sun a short distance away. Then, I look at an etching that appears to show an animal giving birth. I gasp at the next symbol I see. At the risk of sounding vulgar, the only way I can think to describe it is to say it looks like an unmentionable lady part. Despite the depiction of a hunter with a huge spear, this sacred landmark seems like a place dedicated to womanhood.

Next, Washakie leads us into the shade. He says, “This is a sacred place of life, fertility, and rebirth.” I wonder what he means by rebirth. Does he refer to a spiritual reawakening of some sort? There is a feeling of optimism that overwhelms me.

I look at the wise chief and say, “This is a very special place.”

“Would you spend the night as our guests, Dorcas?”

I look away for a moment. It took us so long to get here, there’s no chance of returning to The Oregon Trail tonight. I look back and say, “Thank you, Washakie. We’d be much obliged.”

When we return to the small fire, Crimson Dawn hands me a bowl of stew. Washakie’s friend sits like a statue and continues looking into Rose’s face, and she stares back with that same vacant expression that always scares me. I don’t know what to say about my daughter’s strange behavior. I want to jostle her and force her to acknowledge my presence, but experience has taught me not to disturb her during such moments. Instead, I say to Washakie. “Sometimes, my daughter seems asleep and awake at the same time.”

Washakie looks at me knowingly. He says, “Do not worry, Dorcas. I understand.” I scratch my chin as he speaks, and look at Rose. I wish I could say that I understand.

As I slowly chew the thick stew, Washakie tells me that his friend is known as Sees Through Clouds. I ask if the man is blind, and Washakie says his vision comes and goes. “Like many who lose their vision, Sees Through Clouds can see things that others cannot. His medicine is very strong.”

After a moment passes, I decide to ask a question. I understand why Washakie and his wife have come to this place. I’m surprised that another woman hasn’t come along to help Crimson Dawn during her confinement. But, I don’t understand the presence of the medicine man. Afraid of offending, I whisper to the chief, “Why is Sees Through Clouds here?”

Washakie seems to be surprised by my question. “Spirit people are always drawn to sacred places. You know that, Dorcas.”

I gulp, wanting to inquire further but unable to speak the words: Do I?


After a delicious meal and great conversation with the chief and his pleasant wife, I’m weary and ready to retire. Everyone is quiet, and I’m expecting Washakie to suggest that everyone go to bed.

Dembi Koofai sits beside me but slightly away from the fire. He’s been quiet as usual. Sometimes, I turn my head and glance at him just to see if he’s still here.

Since we arrived, Rose’s vacant fog lifted sufficiently to tend to basic biological necessities. I tried to speak to her when I led her away, but she neither acknowledged my presence nor indicated she knew I was speaking. When she ate, she chewed like she was matching the slow rhythm of native drums. The most unnerving thing to witness as her mother is the strange countenance of the man, Sees Through Clouds, who seems to be out of his head as much as she is. Over the past several months, Rose’s strange ways have become more and more concerning. Though I hate to admit it, I may have to accept that Rose will never be her old self again.

When Dembi Koofai suddenly bounds forward, chattering in his native language, I wince. He holds a scorpion in his hand. Over and over again, the rickety spider unfurls its curly tail and strikes his hand. Dembi Koofai giggles and laughs like someone is tickling him. The mysterious scout with the mystical countenance seems like a different person as he rejoices in being stung repeatedly by the devilish creature. When the scorpion’s energy wanes, Dembi Koofai holds the spider over his naked chest. The arachnid lashes out with its claws and grabs hold of Dembi Koofai’s skin, tightly clamping its tiny pincers into the Shoshone’s naked flesh.

The young man, who always looks like he wants to disappear, smiles proudly, thrusts his chest forward, boastfully and looks down at the insect that clings to him like an adornment. I’ve never witnessed anything like what just happened, and can’t stop looking at the young man’s chest. The scorpion looks like it clings to life as it clutches Dembi Koofai. Perhaps it perished after latching on. The scout speaks to Washakie. “I’ll stand watch.”

Our host says, “Wake me when you are tired.”

When Dembi Koofai is gone, I tell Washakie that the scout regards the scorpion as his spirit creature. If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never forget moments like this. My chest heaves with exhilaration. I’ve been told that scorpions aren’t lethal this far north, but something about watching the scout’s brave display seemed dangerous. A year ago, I never imagined that I’d be camping in a sacred location with scorpions and an Indian chief.

Washakie says, “Scorpions are masculine symbols of youthfulness, potency, and vigor. Their presence here, at this monument to womanhood, represents balance.”

Venture deep into the uncharted wilderness and crest the continental divide.

Stay with the Wagons is the enthralling third chapter in the Ghosts Along the Oregon Trail series. Dorcas Moon has discarded her mourning dress and yearns for freedom and independence amidst the vast frontier. But a perilous world and a commanding wagon master keep her tethered. Ultimately, it's a brutal bout of fever and ague that confine her to camp.

Relentless disasters and beguiling challenges unfold in this installment. A young man is crushed beneath a wagon wheel. Dorcas' son breaks an arm, a grizzly bear attacks the wagon train, and the looming threat of attacking outlaws whips the emigrants into a worried frenzy. How many must perish before they reach the end of the trail?

As chaos reigns, her troubled daughter, Rose, disappears once again, leading Dorcas on a perilous quest. Tracking Rose to a sacred site, they encounter a blind seer and a legendary leader, Chief Washakie. Rose's enchantment with Native American adornments sparks Dorcas' concern about an unexpected suitor and raises worries about Rose's age.

Stay with the Wagons is bursting with action, adventure, and survival. It is a story of resilience and empowerment on the Oregon Trail.

Claim your copy now and re-immerse yourself in a tale of high-stakes survival, unexpected alliances, and the indomitable spirit of Dorcas Moon.

David Fitz-Gerald writes westerns and historical fiction. He is the author of twelve books, including the brand-new series, Ghosts Along the Oregon Trail set in 1850. Dave is a multiple Laramie Award, first place, best in category winner; a Blue Ribbon Chanticleerian; a member of Western Writers of America; and a member of the Historical Novel Society.

Alpine landscapes and flashy horses always catch Dave’s eye and turn his head. He is also an Adirondack 46-er, which means that he has hiked to the summit of the range’s highest peaks. As a mountaineer, he’s happiest at an elevation of over four thousand feet above sea level.

Dave is a lifelong fan of western fiction, landscapes, movies, and music. It should be no surprise that Dave delights in placing memorable characters on treacherous trails, mountain tops, and on the backs of wild horses.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Ruth deForest Lamb and the FDA's Chamber of Horrors

Good morning, dear readers. I have such a great guest for you today! Lucy Santos has extensively researched the history of cosmetics and some of the dangerous products people have used in the quest for beauty. If you were touched by the story of the radium girls in Luminous, you won't want to miss this story of a woman who was working at the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to protect consumers from dangerous, unregulated products - like cosmetics infused with radium. I confess that I had not previously heard of Ruth deForest Lamb, so I appreciate Lucy sharing her story with us as part of the Women's History Month celebration.

Welcome, Lucy!

~ Samantha


Ruth deForest Lamb and the FDA's Chamber of Horrors

Guest Post by Lucy Santos

I am a beauty historian specialising in the ways in which cosmetics intersect with science and technology. A lot of my work is around the toxicity of ingredients – I even wrote a book which examined (amongst other aspects of the elements uses) the ways in which radium was used in cosmetics. 

And because of this fascination I do a lot of research into the various ingredients, beauty companies, places you can buy these products and deep dives into the ways they were marketed. 

When Samantha kindly asked me to do a post for Women’s History Month I knew there was only one person I wanted to write about – so let me introduce you to Ruth deForest Lamb.

Born in 1896 in Hallstead, Pennsylvania Ruth graduated from Vassar College and was one of the first women working in advertising – which, in the years after the First World War was an emerging industry. A bit off topic but if you haven’t read Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L Sayer I highly recommend it for a flavour of what it was like to work in advertising during this period. 

By 1933 Ruth was working for the U.S Food and Drug Administration as their first Chief Educational Officer and one of her initial huge projects was to put together a display for the 1933 Century of Progress International Exposition, held in Chicago during 1933 and 1934.

The FDA’s contribution to this massive exhibition was an exhibit of 100 products that they considered ‘dangerous, deceptive or worthless’ but had no legal authority to ban. The products encompassed dodgy medications, foods with unlabelled substitutions and cosmetics with dangerous ingredients. 

This was actually a huge problem at the time because, despite some progress via the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, the US consumer was largely unprotected and the FDA largely powerless to change the situation. Even worst cosmetics were not covered by the regulations at all. 

This name, shame and educate campaign was carried out across seventeen display boards illustrated with ‘large, vivid pictures coupled with spare, terse prose’ – detailing the problems and the effects of these unregulated products. So Othine, a cream made with ammoniated mercury which promised to lighten the skin was highlighted as was dinitrophenol, a chemical that was sold as a weight loss tool but could cause fatal blood disorders. 

But two of the most shocking products were produced by the companies – Lash-Lure Laboratories, Inc of LA and Koremlu Inc of New York. Lash Lure was a synthetic aniline dye (a component of coal tar) that was designed for dying eyelashes and eyebrows. Koremlu was a hair removal product made from the toxic element Thallium.

Both of these products were widely available in beauty salons and Koremlu was even sold in the biggest department stores in New York City. 

They had been popular products until their users started to fall ill, and it was these victims that were featured heavily in Ruth deForest Lamb’s ‘Chamber of Horrors’ exhibit in Chicago. The stories of the suffering caused by these products were particularly gruelling – especially that of Mrs Brown, a woman who had been persuaded into dying her eyelashes by a beautician and ended up with her ‘laughing blue eyes’ being ‘blinded forever.’

Koremlu’s panel exposed Kora B Lublin, a beauty salon owner, who had begun manufacturing her hair removal cream after reading an article about how thallium acetate prevented the regrowth of hair. Ignoring the warning about the dangerous nature of the ingredient (which is a poison) Lublin had her assistants make up jars of product by hand with no controls in place to even achieve a standard dose.

When users began to fall ill with thallium poisoning it was at an inconsistent rate as some batches of the cream were more dangerous than others. Hospitals throughout the US began seeing patients presenting with symptoms including paralysation of lower limbs, nausea, blindness and loosening of their hair on other parts of the body that hadn’t been treated. 

It were these types of products that the FDA were powerless to stop and deForest Lamb in particular felt the injustice of a law with so many loopholes and the frustration of working for a toothless regulatory organisation. By drawing attention to specific products at such a prominent event as a World’s Fair, deForest Lamb’s intention was to expose the companies that made them and, ultimately to change the laws surrounding their manufacture and sale. 

After the exposition finally finished on 12 November 1933 the exhibition was packed up and returned to Washington D.C where it went on display at the Department of Agriculture. Again deForest Lamb made sure that the spotlight remained on the horrors they were exposing and there was another flurry of publicity when the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited it. Time magazine reported on her reaction when presented with photographs of the women blinded by Lash-Lure: ‘I cannot bear to look at them.’

A few years later deForest Lamb went on a leave of absence from the FDA and turned the exhibition into a book, The American Chamber of Horrors. Whilst this used all the material from the exhibit as well as other sources from the FDA’s archives she stated that she wanted to write the book as a private citizen rather than an employee as it would make the argument more powerful. 

Not only did she make the case for the strengthening of a law that left Government officials with ‘no real power’ to prevent tragedies caused by products currently on the market but she dedicated the book to the other organisations that were fighting for change. In effect she was advocating for a new type of consumerism – one where users were not just passive victims and officials were given the power of real regulation. 

It took a few more years but deForest Lamb’s advocacy and awareness raising helped to ensure the passing of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) of 1938. And whilst this wasn’t by any means perfect it was the first time that cosmetics had been regulated at a federal level and gave much more protection to consumers.

Under this law Lash-Lure was taken off the market as well as action taken against other, non toxic but misleading products. For example the FDA ordered Elizabeth Arden to change the name of their ‘Skin Food’ to ‘Skin Cream’ because the ingredients were not nutrients and the company had been advertising that they would ‘furnish nourishment to the skin.’

There was, however, no need to take Koremlu off the market – consumer action had already done that when users started to sue Cora Lublin. By the time she removed Koremlu from sale in 1932 she been sued for $2.5 million and closed her beauty salon shortly after.

Ruth deForest Lamb left the FDA in 1942 and died in 1978.

Connect with Lucy Santos

Specialising in the late 19th and early 20th century Lucy Jane Santos is a freelance historian examining the crossroads of health, leisure and beauty with science and technology.

Lucy has appeared as a contributor on TV and radio, and her historical research has been featured by History Today, BBC History Revealed, Jezebel, LitHub, New York Post, Vogue, and on the BBC2 documentary, Makeup: A Glamorous History. Her most recent project is as Creative Consultant for the documentary Obsessed With Light a film that tells the story of the performance artist Loïe Fuller.

Lucy’s debut book was Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium (Icon: 2020, Pegasus: 2021). Half Lives was shortlisted for the BSHS Hughes Prize in 2021. Her next book, which is a history of the element uranium, will be published in 2024.

Connect with Lucy through her website, substack, or Instagram.

COVER REVEAL! The cover for Lucy's newest book has just been revealed, so you are among the first to see the new cover art for Chain Reactions: A Hopeful History of Uranium

Tracing uranium's past—and how it intersects with our understanding of other radioactive elements—Chain Reactions aims to enlighten readers and refresh our attitudes about the atomic world.


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