Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to muse about why the passage of the 19th Amendment was so important and how things have changed for writers because of it.
Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest. Kathleen’s newest book in the series, Dressed to Kill, was released in the UK on August 1, 2019 and in the US on November 1, 2019.
100 years ago last month, women couldn’t vote. But then the 19th amendment was passed. Women could vote. White women. Black women had to wait a little longer. But that amendment changed a lot more than just giving women the vote. Men were afraid it would open a Pandora’s box. They were right.
100 years. That was a long time ago. Wasn’t it? I did a little math and realized that women won that privilege only 16 years before I was born. Just 16 years. Somehow, it doesn’t seem so long ago after all.
Voting wasn’t the only right women didn’t have then. Their own bank accounts, the right to buy and sell property without the permission, or addition on title, of a man, their choice of careers other than that of wife and mother, were just a few. Sometimes wife and mother wasn’t their choice, either and I don’t think many people thought of it as a career.
The very idea of equal pay for equal work was scoffed at. Women couldn’t do what men did, in any profession, so why were we talking about equal pay? Besides, women didn’t have a lot of career choices. Teacher was probably first on the list, then nurse or secretary. Secretaries were discreetly, and sometimes more forcefully, told not to think of trying to go any higher in the company, though. Women weren’t welcome in the board room unless they were serving the coffee. If being a secretary, or any of the other careers I’ve mentioned wasn’t a possibility, you could always sell towels at Penney’s or clean houses.
However, it’s hard to keep a good woman down, especially if she wants to write. And write many of them did. They wrote poetry, suspense fiction, mysteries, and literary fiction, a field they were told they could never aspire to. Women, well, just didn’t have the brains. They wrote anyway and much of it was good. Getting it published was something else. Those lucky, or talented enough to get their books considered by a good publisher were told to change their name to that of a man, or to use initials so no one would know the book was written by a woman. A few women were finally able to push open those closed doors and proclaim their womanhood, think Bronte sisters, and gradually more women were acknowledged. Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Dorothy Canfield for clever and intelligent mysteries, Louisa May Alcott, Virginia Wolf, they all pushed the door open a little wider so women like Margaret Atwood and Sue Monk Kidd could slip through. .
However, those earlier women writers were considered anomalies and many really good writers, even though published, couldn’t even get reviewed, a big handicap in getting known and in selling books. Along came some brave women who created the group, Sisters in Crime. An organization dedicated to women crime writers to help them promote themselves and their books, to put pressure on publishers and reviewers to recognize women authors equal in talent to men. They have been hugely successful. It is largely through their efforts that the cozy mystery, a form of mystery that relies on an amateur sleuth who solves a puzzle with little sex or gore involved, became popular. These were, and still are, written almost exclusively by women. Then an odd thing happened. Men saw the spike on sales of these books and decided to give writing them a try. Could a man write from a women’s viewpoint? Turns out that some of them could. You’ll find some of them turning out successful cozy series today but using a pen name. A woman’s, of course. Really. I know a couple and their books are good. Go figure.
It’s been an eventful and interesting 100 years, especially for women and I wonder what the next 100 will look like. But I’m fairly sure people, both men and women, will keep on writing and we’ll keep on reading. There are still a lot more stories to tell and a lot more to say.