In my world, every day is Women’s Day, and every month is Women’s History Month. But every March the world joins me in celebrating untold stories of women in the past. If you’re a follower of this blog, you know my novels are based on real members of my family, women who exhibited strength and independence unusual for their era. Although I love stories told from the point of view of famous women, or women married to famous men, it’s the stories of real unsung women that really touch me. Today I’d like to introduce you to the women of my novels.
Emma (Beach) Thayer (1849-1924) (pictured on left)went on the cruise to the Holy Land that would become the basis for Mark Twain’s novel The Innocents Abroad. She was a lifelong friend of Mark Twain and might have married him, but her father made it clear he did not want a ‘Western rough-neck’ for a son-in-law. She married the great painter, Abbot Thayer, and lived in an art colony where Mark Twain spent his summers for years. Emma had no children of her own, but I am a direct descendant of her great aunt, Mary Ely Day. Emma is a main character in my Work in Progress, The Innocents at Home.
Nina (Churchman) Larowe (1844-1921) (pictured at right) also went on the Holy Land cruise with Mark Twain. Nina, however, hated him afterwards. She is the other main character in The Innocents at Home. She became an actress in New York and later lived in California and Oregon. She also had no children, but her half-sister Emily Miree is my direct ancestor. A short story I wrote for Unlocked: a Paper Lantern Writers Anthology is a look back at Nina’s life from the perspective of Emily’s granddaughter.
Samantha (Lockwood) Churchman (1806-1880) was Nina Larowe’s mother. She lived at Fort Snelling in Minnesota, where she befriended Sarah Knox Taylor, daughter of future U. S. president Zachary Taylor, and Sarah’s husband-to-be, Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederacy. Later, Samantha and her family went to California for the Gold Rush. Samantha is a main character in my novel The River Remembers.
Carmen (James) (Medeiros) Rodrigues (1915-1999) (pictured on left)was the inspiration for the character of Dolores in my novel The Aloha Spirit. She was my husband’s grandmother, a woman who overcame a rough childhood and abusive alcoholic husband to successfully raise three daughters and truly embody the aloha spirit. Carmen was born in Hawaii and came to California after Pearl Harbor was bombed.
Ellen (Perkins) VanValkenburgh (1827-1922) (pictured on right) came to California with her family during the Gold Rush. She married there and was widowed when her husband was killed by a falling tree branch. She ran his company while pregnant with their third child. In 1872, she sued for the right to vote long before it was legal for women to do so. Ellen is a main character in my novel Under the Almond Trees. She is my great-great grandmother.
Eva (VanValkenburgh) Walters (1889-1977) (pictured at left) was my grandmother, the one who told me stories about the women in our family. She chose to marry and have a family rather than buck the social trends of the times like her relatives. When her husband refused to pay for their daughter’s college education, however, she opened her own photography business to pay for it herself. Eva is a main character in my novel Under the Almond Trees.
Emily Williams (1867-1942) (pictured on right) was born in a gold mining town in California, the granddaughter of Samantha Churchman. Emily fought to become an architect at the turn of the century and lived openly with her life partner Lillian Palmer, a coppersmith. The two women built houses along the California coast. Emily is the third main character in my novel Under the Almond Trees.
As I researched my upcoming novel, The River Remembers (June 2023), I encountered other women who intrigued me. They aren’t related to me, but they became point of view characters in my novel and are definitely women who deserve remembrance during this celebration of women.
Harriet (Robinson) Scott (1821-1876) was a slave in a free territory. Her owner brought her to Fort Snelling from his plantation in the south. She met Dred Scott at the fort and married him in 1836. Later, she and her husband sued for their freedom based on the time they spent in a free territory. Harriet is the third main character in my novel The River Remembers.
Day Sets was one of seven children of the Dakota chief Cloud Man. They lived in a village founded by the white Indian agent near Fort Snelling in what is now Minnesota. She and two of her sisters married white men and had children by them. Cloud Man believed his people had to live closely with the white men in order to survive. Despite his efforts, his tribe was sent to a reservation before the Civil War. Day Sets is a main character in my novel The River Remembers.
Those are the women I have written about or am currently writing. Keep in touch for future tales of my ancestors. I have quite a few!
Linda Ulleseit is the award-winning author of The Aloha Spirit and Under the Almond Trees. Her next historical novel, The River Remembers, will be published in 2023. To interact with her and other historical fiction authors and readers, join PLW’s Facebook group SHINE.
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