Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Women's Temperance Movement and Prohibition

Nineteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: Section 1. The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

The temperance movement, beginning in 1893, was greatly influenced by some women who believed strongly in Prohibition. One such woman was Carrie Nation. She was married to an alcoholic and left him. Believing she was given a vision, she destroyed many saloons with an ax. The prohibition law was passed by Congress in December 1917. Women didn’t have the right to vote for two more years, though many claimed women greatly influenced the prohibition law. Slowly, the nation realized the injustice against women in denying them the right to vote. The Nineteenth Amendment was passed in 1920--too late to vote for the Eighteenth Amendment, but early enough to vote for the next President, Hubert Hoover, who was for Prohibition.

The “Ladies of Logan” sing hymns in front of a bar in support of the temperance movement.
Copyright State Historical Society of Wisconsin

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sirens: Mobsters, Molls, and More

This month I'm featuring an amazing writer and a fellow Women Writing the West member, Janet Fox. Janet's recent release, Sirens, takes place in New York, 1925. Earlier this month, I quoted a piece from her book referring to 1920's actress, Clara Bow.

Josephine Winter, seventeen, is sent to live with relatives in New York City after her bootlegging father receives a threat, but bookish Jo harbors her own secrets. She finds friendship with lively Louise O’Keefe and romance with sweet jazz musician Charlie. But haunted by the spirit of her missing brother, Jo uncovers a nest of family lies that threaten everyone she loves, and Lou, in the thrall of the dangerous, seductive gangster Daniel Connor, is both Jo’s best friend and potential enemy. As Jo unlocks dark mysteries and Lou’s eyes are opened, the girls’ treacherous paths intertwine. Jo and Lou together will have to stand up to Connor in order to find their hearts and hang onto their souls in the “decade of decadence.”

Janet, congratulations on your novel! Tell us where the idea and inspiration came for this book.

Thanks so much, Erin!

SIRENS is a result of my response to a request from my publisher to set a novel in the 1920s. I don’t always say “yes”, but this time it was easy – I’ve always been fascinated by the Roaring Twenties and was anxious to research.

When I start a new novel I try to look for some twist – something different – that will anchor my plot, and the real inspiration for this story came one evening as I was listening to a radio discussion about the magician Howard Thurston and the Spiritualism movement of the 20s. I’m drawn to questions about the unknown, and that seemed like a perfect way to explore something richer about what went on during the 20s, something other than gangsters and Prohibition and flappers.

Why did you decide to write for young adult readers?

Call it a case of arrested development: my mindset resides in those years. These are the books I like reading, this is the age group I feel most aligned with. I remember all too vividly what it felt like to sit alone at the lunch table, or to suffer a broken heart. So I love writing about kids feeling the same things (even in a different era) because, maybe, it’s my way of changing my own past, rewriting my personal history.

How much of the book is realistic?

Well, none of it in the sense that nothing is based on history except the peripheral things like Thurston and the Algonquin Round Table and of course the city of New York. But my characters, including the gangster Danny Connor, are entirely fictitious. But plausible.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I’ve been a writer since 3rd grade! Seriously, my first poem was published in my hometown newspaper when I was in 3rd grade, and that did it for me. Ever since I’ve made it my goal to write and publish.

Who/what motivates you to write?

It’s kind of like breathing for me. I can’t live without writing. Or maybe it’s like exercising – you know when you haven’t exercised for a few days and you begin to feel like a schlump, all logy and tired and crabby? That’s how I feel when I don’t write. Like a part of me is missing. I have to go into that mindless and vast space or I would just wither up and die.

Are there any writers (living or dead) that have influenced you?

Almost too many to mention! Every time I pick up something new I’m influenced. I love reading new work and I try to keep current. Suzanne Collins, MT Anderson, Lauren Oliver, Libba Bray...I could make a very long list. I love reading literary, high quality writing, and I favor either historical or fantasy.

What do you find particularly challenging in writing?

If I don’t have a good idea where my plot is going from the beginning I have a much harder time of it. Plotting is my weakness. I’m a pantser, and I like to follow my instincts as I write. So I need to have at least an idea where I’ll end up – a final scene that wraps it all up. Then I can drive for that scene.

But without that point in my line of sight, it can be a real struggle. I’ve read every plotting craft book on the market.

Do you have advice for beginning writers?

Be persistent, and keep working at the craft. Read constantly. Know that you will feel like your work is total bunk, but keep going and believe in your vision. And always write from the heart.

Are you working on another project?

Several! At the moment I have a YA science fiction project going, and two middle grade fantasies. Someone where down the road I have an idea for one more historical YA, but I want to stretch and try some new things at the moment.

Where is the book available?

Everywhere. (Publisher: Speak/Penguin Group, 2012, ISBN 978-0-14-242430-8)

Janet Fox is the author of award-winning books for children and young adults. FAITHFUL (Speak/Penguin Young Readers 2010), set in Yellowstone National Park in 1904, is a YALSA Best Fiction for YA nominee and an Amelia Bloomer List pick, 2011. FORGIVEN (Speak 2011), set in 1906 San Francisco during the great earthquake, is a Junior Library Guild selection 2011, and a 2012 WILLA Literary Awards Finalist. Her most recent novel, SIRENS (Speak 2012), is set in 1925 New York and is told from alternating points of view of two girls who must confront a gangster and uncover dark secrets. Janet is a former high school English teacher and received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2010 (Vermont College of Fine Arts). Janet lives in Bozeman, Montana but you can also find her at

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Clara Bow: A 1920's Actress

In the 1920's going to the movies was the thing to do. Approximately half the U.S. population attended movies weekly. And one of the most famous 1920's actresses was Clara Bow, who starred in mostly silent films.

Born in the slums of New York and rising to stardom, Bow became the idea of the flapper during the roaring twenties. It was her spunky spirit and her willingness to defy convention that gave her this title.

Copyright MovieGoods

With a star cast including Clara Bow, a silent movie filmed in the southwest corner of Colorado certainly drew attention as is demonstrated in this article of the 1925 Durango Evening Herald:


The “Scarlet West” the picture which was made at Dolores, Colo., was originally called the “Pony Express” or “The birth of the West” but was changed to “The Scarlet West” by the First National, one of the largest distributors in the world. The picture depicts the pioneer days of ’59 and ’61 and was sponsored and financed by the Colorado Manufacturers and Merchants association. This stupendous and dramatic film with scenes that vividly portray early western life was shown recently to capacity attendance at the Colorado theatre in Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Salt Lake City, Ogden and other cities have also contracted for this film. It is understood that it will be shown in Durango in the near future.

Dolores was selected as the ideal location for the production of such a picture and Mr. Carroll the producer was successful in securing an all star cast from Hollywood to take leading parts in “what we believe to be on of the greatest outdoor moving pictures ever filmed.” Notable amongst these actors and actresses are Robert Frazer, Clara Bow, Robert Edeson, Walter McGrail, Helen Ferguson, Gaston Glass, Johnny Walker, Ruth Stonehouse, Martha Francis and Florence Crawford. Several well known San Juan basin residents are also shown in the picture.

Durango Evening Herald
Sat. August 15, 1925

With news like this, I knew I needed to include a little bit of Clara Bow in my 1925 Historical Fiction, Moonshine Murder. Below is a scene from the novel:

Lenora glanced back. Several feet away, Rusty watched.
“Come on.” The officer prodded her in the back.
She swiveled around and tramped along beside him to his idling car and stepped onto the running board, then into the leather backseat. The officer cranked the gears and they drove off.
“I’m with Mr. Strickson,” she said.
“Sure, and I’m dating Clara Bow.” He slapped his chubby hand on the steering wheel.
Lenora tugged against her handcuffs. If she could just reach the door handle, maybe she could jump.
“People have died bailing out of moving vehicles.” The officer studied her in the rearview mirror.
“Better than your company.” She glared at the back of his balding head.
The officer snorted. Lenora slouched back in the seat.

Moonshine Murder isn't the only novel that cites Clara Bow. Janet Fox, in her newly released Young Adult Historical Fiction novel, Sirens, often makes references of the famous Clara Bow. Jo Winter, the main character in Sirens, "could've been a star. Another Clara Bow. She had the looks for it. And the smarts."

To learn more about Moonshine Murder visit my website. And come back and visit in a couple weeks to learn more about Janet Fox, author of Sirens.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Writing Moonshine Murder

This Friday, January 11, I will be a guest blogger over at a fellow Women Writing the West member's page. Heidi Thomas is published by Treble Heart Books as well, and won the WILLA Literary Award for her YA novel, Follow the Dream.

Stop by and find out a little bit more about Moonshine Murder and my writing routine.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Boxing in the 1920’s

“Many wise ringworms are ready to mortgage the old homestead on Harry Greb, if the “Windmill” get a crack at Georges Carpentier’s light heavyweight crown.

Greb beyond all doubt is the best his weight and a real freak but he would have a battle against the hard hitting Frenchman.

Tom Gibbons and Gene Tunney will vouch that no fighter who has to set himself to punch is going to whip Greb. Carpentier who, can hit on the fly, looks to be the only one outside of Dempsey who has a chance to flop the Pittsburgh boy and he would get mussed up before he succeeded.

Some dirt is always spilled before a big fight: Whispers are now going up and down “Tin Ear Alley” that the Leonard-Tendler lightweight championship fight is going to be “one of those things” (Durango Evening Herald, June 28, 1922).

Boxing was a popular sport in the 1920’s as is attested to in this Durango Evening Herald excerpt. In rural areas, like Durango, Colorado, many were not able to attend boxing matches. They were, however, astutely listened to on the radio.

The photograph below is of Jack Dempsey from Manessa, Colorado. He was known as the “Manassa Mauler.” Here, he is fighting Andy Malloy in the Gem Theatre on the corner of Tenth and Main, Durango. Jack Dempsey went on to win the National Championship in 1919, and held it for five years.

Photograph copyright Center of Southwest Studies

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Prohibition in Colorado

On January 16, 1920, the “Noble Experiment” went into effect. This was an attempt to outlaw the manufacturing and sale of alcohol. The government was unable to regulate the sale and or reduce the consumption even though they closed down nearly all alcoholic beverage companies. Only a few companies stayed running, Coors being one of them, producing alcohol for medicinal use only as well as soft drinks.

Instead of teaching morality, which was one of the goals, Prohibition created lawlessness in the form of illegal alcohol, often referred to as moonshine and illegal bars, called speakeasies. Because there was no regulation of the illegal business, many gangs were created around moonshine and the process of selling it, called bootlegging. Crime rates increased as well as deaths related to alcohol. Much of the home-brewed drinks were unsafe, containing high contents of lead from using old carburetors as stills. Sometimes wood alcohol, methanol or
other noxious materials such as household cleaners were added to speed up the process and save money. Blindness was not an uncommon occurrence after drinking “bad” moonshine.

The biggest “booze” raid in the history of Colorado, took place in Denver 1922, when seventy-three agents of the United States government, fifty-five of them sworn in from the ranks of the Colorado Rangers, made simultaneous raids on twenty-five hotels, rooming houses, cigar stores, soft drink parlors and private homes, most of them in the heart of the city’s business district, looking for evidence of violations of the national prohibition law (The Denver Post, March 17, 1922).

Homemade moonshine distillery on display at the Notah-Dineh Museum - Cortez, CO

On the southwest side of Colorado, many of the gold and silver mines in the San Juan Mountains were closing down because of the lack of minerals. This provided the perfect location for a still. The moonshiners would hide the still back in a closed mine shaft and be able to make their moonshine without being caught. They would then ship the moonshine out to the surrounding areas. One method for peddling moonshine in Durango was to paint milk jars white, and then fill the jars with moonshine.

Though many citizens made their own brew, perhaps in a basement, moonshine was a relatively good business during the depression era toward the end of the 1920’s. The Eighteenth Amendment making Prohibition legal was repealed on December 5, 1933.
The author, Erin, and her son, Ethan