Thursday, March 15, 2018

Rosie the Riveter and Lilly Ledbetter

The posters of Rosie the Riveter were created to encourage more women to join the wartime labor force and fill traditionally male jobs in the Defense Department left vacated when men went off to fight the enemy in World War II. Yes, I said POSTERS. Most people identify the iconic image of Rosie with her polka dotted bandana and “We Can Do It” motto, illustrated by J. Howard Miller and produced by Westinghouse in 1943, but it was not the only one. In fact, Norman Rockwell’s illustrated version of Rosie for the Saturday Evening Post in 1943 was far more popular. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the original Rosie was adopted as a feminist symbol of strength as the movement took hold and women everywhere got on the bandwagon for parity.

The identity of the original Rosie was also a subject of contention. Two women claimed to be Rosie. You can read more about that here: Rosie the Riveter Inspiration and Rockwell’s Rosie here: Norman Rockwell - Rosie the Riveter
Rosie, and what she represented, changed the American way of life. Women left the kitchen or mundane jobs for work in the higher-paying defense industry, increasing the work force by fifty percent. They were paid only sixty percent of what their male counterparts were making, though it was more than they made in their previous jobs. (We’re still fighting that one.)

Women from all walks of life contributed to building the planes, tanks, and weapons that helped win the war, unleashing a new work force on the American landscape, breaking down racial barriers, and necessitating child care centers. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a stalwart supporter of women’s rights encouraged this phenomenon by being a role model to women everywhere.

When Johnnie came marching home again-―yes, I know the song is from the Civil War – latitude, please―they also marched right back into the jobs they left, and the women who wanted to stay were harassed and forced to leave. According to the State Department, the women were fillers, and now they were discarded to find other jobs. But the "damage" had been done.

Employment for women never fell to pre-war levels, and for the millions of women working today, we’ve never quite matched men in pay or respect. Though the Equal Pay Act, signed into law by John F. Kennedy in 1963, abolished pay disparity based on sex, women still make seventy-nine cents to every dollar earned by a man and ten thousand dollars less on average per year.

Image result for lilly ledbetter

Lilly Ledbetter, an employee of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, filed and won a three million dollar suit for wage disparity that went all the way to the Supreme Court, which overturned the lower court’s decision.

Ledbetter will never receive restitution from Goodyear, but she said, "I'll be happy if the last thing they say about me after I die is that I made a difference." I'm sure she has. Her suit created the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed into law by President Obama.

We need lots of Rosie the Riveters and even more Lilly Ledbetters to fight for women. We’ve come a long way, baby, but not long enough.

Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Look at Amazing Women

Recently, I have been binge-watching episodes of Turn: Washington's Spies on Netflix. The story is set in and around New York during the years of the American Revolution, and it has been fascinating to look back at this period in history, even knowing that not all the details, or characters, are true to the facts. The series is based on a book, Washington's Spies: The story of America's First Spy Ring, which was known as the Culper Ring. The book was written by Alexander Rose, who focuses on the true historical facts instead of the dramatized version of events seen in the television series.
Photos courtesy of  AMC
What is true is the Culper Ring, headed up by Abraham Woodhull of Setauket, New York.

Set primarily in New York where the spy ring started in the town of Setauket, the story does cover key places and people in the fight for Independence throughout the Colonies.

One of the aspects of the story I have enjoyed the most is the way the strength of women is portrayed, especially, Mary, Abraham's wife, Anna Strong, and Peggy Shippen. When Abraham gets into dangerous situations, coming close to being exposed as a spy for Washington, Mary and Anna band together to formulate  plans to get him out of that danger. Both women gain more and more strength as the story evolves, especially Mary who attempts to kill Major Simcoe, a ruthless man who relishes killing and torturing Colonial sympathizers and takes up residence at Woodhull Manor, the home of Setauket's magistrate, Abe's father.

Peggy, from a prominent Philadelphia family, is first aligned with the British and falls in love with Major Andre, the head of intelligence for the Queen's Army. Andre convinces her to renew her friendship with Benedict Arnold in order to gain intelligence on the Continental Army. The plan goes awry when Arnold mistakes her overtures of friendship as romantic interest. Peggy goes from being manipulated by what high society expects of women, as well the men in her life, to taking a stand and aligning herself with the Patriots.

I looked online to find information about how much of the dramatic elements of the story are true, but couldn't find hard facts other than the formation of the spy ring and key players, and some television critics have suggested reading Rose's book for accurate historical facts. Since I do love to study history, I will do that at some point, but in the meantime I will enjoy the rest of this series that highlights such strong women. All of them suffered great hardship before finding their inner strength and that is what attracted me to their characters.
For some time now, I have used the tagline "Writing books that celebrate strong women" as part of my brand, and that started after the release of One Small Victory. The central character, Jenny, is based on a real woman who infiltrated a drug ring in a small rural town in Michigan and helped to bring down a major supplier. This followed the death of her oldest son in a car accident, and she used the depth of her grief to find the strength to bully her way onto a drug task force, rising out of hardship to do something amazing.

When I read the news item about this woman in The Dallas Morning News many moons ago, I was struck by her ability to channel her grief that way. She was a single mother of five children, and I couldn't imagine how a woman, a mother, could find that kind of courage. I don't think I could. But then, we don't know how strong we can be until we are faced with a significant challenge.

What about you? What challenges have you faced down, in your writing or your everyday life? I think we take strength from knowing what others have accomplished, so please do share.

Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. She won her first writing award at age twelve with a short story in the Detroit News Scholastic Writing Awards Contest and continues to garner recognition for her short stories, books, and screenplays. You can find out more about Maryann and all of her stories at her Amazon Author Page  * Website   * Blog  and follow her on Facebook and Twitter. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Twelve Fascinating Fe/male Spies

History is written by the victors, mainly male victors, leaving the tales of heroic women buried in the sands of time.

A simple search for female spies led me to a hundred different heroines whose stories deserve to be told.  I present a few of the most fascinating.

1. Mary Bowser and Elizabeth Van Lew

Mary was born a slave on a plantation in Richmond, Virginia owned by the Van Lews. Upon Mr. Van Lew's death, Mary was freed but remained as a servant of the household. She was sent to the Philadelphia School for Negroes by Elizabeth Van Lew and learned how to read and write. That would make a riveting literary tale, but it gets better. Elizabeth was unpopular for her Union sympathizing and pretended to be crazy to deflect from her efforts to aid a spy ring and hide escaped soldiers on her estate. Mary adopted the pose of a feeble minded servant to spy on Jefferson Davis in his own home. These two actress activists deserve at least fifteen minutes of fame.

2. Belle Boyd

Belle was a confederate spy caught after she killed a Union soldier. Instead of ending her days in a dark prison, her Union captor became her lover and let her go. They reunited in England and married but later returned to the United States. Belle trod the boards as an actress but her lover died in prison. Truth really can be stranger than fiction.

3. Sarah Emma Edmonds

Sarah Edmonds was destined for an arranged marriage, but escaped with her mother's help and traveled as a man to the Connecticut colony. Sarah's disguise allowed her to serve as a male field nurse during the Civil War. She used many disguises, even posing as a black man to infiltrate and spy on the Confederates. She developed malaria and left her post to avoid discovery. When her alter-ego was outed as a traitor, she simply reverted to being female and continued to work as a nurse/spy.

4. Chevalier Charles Genevieve d'Éon

The Chevalier was a gender-fluid spy, French diplomat, and freemason, at times posing as male and others as female as needs suited. He was part of a secret network of spies, Secret du Roi, employed by King Louis XV. He posed as a woman to infiltrate the Russian court to work against the Habsburg monarchy. As Lea de Beaumont, he served as a maid of honor to the Empress of Russia. He returned and resumed his male identity to fight in the Seven Years' War. d'Éon claimed to be born female but raised as male because of inheritance issues. At his death, doctors found he had "male organs in every respect perfectly formed," but also feminine characteristics.

5. Zora Fair

Zora lived a short but adventurous life as a spy. She disguised herself as a black servant to infiltrate Sherman's headquarters in Atlanta. Little is known about her life and sources disagree about whether she was caught and questioned by the Union Army. She died in North Carolina shortly after the Civil War ended.

6. Eileen Mary "Didi" and Jacqueline Nearne

This sister duo worked as Britain's Special Operations Executives (SOE) during World War II. Eileen worked as a home-based signals operator, receiving secret messages written with invisible ink on the back of typewritten letters. Eileen was caught and tortured by the Germans. She escaped and fled to Leipzig until the arrival of US troops. Meanwhile, Jacqueline was sent to France to work as a courier. She was trained in Morse code and was outfitted with a suitcase radio. She also had parachute training. She carried spare parts for radios inside her cosmetics bag. She spent fifteen months aiding the French resistance and returned to Britain in 1944.

7. Cecile Pearl Witherington

Cecile was born in France to British parents. Along with her mother and three sisters, she escaped occupied France and went to London. Like the Nearne sisters, Cecile joined Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE) where she became an expert marksman. She was parachuted into France in 1943 and worked as a courier posing as a cosmetic saleswoman. When her boss was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944, Cecile became the new head of SOE Wrestler Network. With the help of her fiancé, Henri Cornioley, she played an important role in fighting the German army. The Nazis issued a one million pound bounty for her capture. Her small force was attacked by thousands of Germans in June of 1944. She escaped, regrouped, and launched a large-scale guerrilla attack on the Germans. She ultimately presided over the surrender of 18,000 German troops.

8. Violette Morris

Violette challenged female stereotypes and sexual norms. She was born in 1893 and raised in a convent. She married briefly, then lived life on her terms. She was real-life super hero (or villain) material depending on your point of view. Any sport a man could do, Violette claimed to do better: shot put, discus, women's football, water polo, boxing (defeating men), road bicycle racing, motorcycle racing, car racing, airplane racing, horseback riding, tennis, archery, diving, swimming, weightlifting, and wrestling. She earned two gold and one silver medals at the Women's World Games in 1921–1922. Her smoking, swearing, and bisexual lifestyle got her banned from the 1928 Summer Olympics.

She was invited to attend the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin by Adolf Hitler and became a German spy. She served as a military nurse during the Battle of the Somme and a courier during the Battle of Verdun in WWI. She is credited with gifting the Germans with partial plans of the Maginot Line, strategic points in of Paris, and schematics of the French army's Somua tank S35. She lived through the German occupation of France in a houseboat on the River Seine and worked against the British SOE. She was sentenced to death in absentia and was murdered by members of a French resistance group on 26 April 1944, at the age of 51.

9. Loreta Janeta Velázquez

Loreta was born in Cuba but raised and educated in New Orleans. She dodged an arranged marriage by eloping with a Texas soldier. With the outbreak of the Civil War, her husband joined the Confederate army. Upon his death, Loreta posed as a male to enlist. After fighting in major battles such as Bull Run, her disguise was blown. She changed identities and locations and reenlisted. Her second cover blown, she turned Confederate spy/double agent working at times as a man, others as a woman. She died in 1923  in a public psychiatric facility.

10. Majda Vrhovnik

Madja was raised in Ljubljana, Slovenia. While enrolled in medical school, she joined an underground Communist movement. She became a courier during the occupation of Yugoslavia and was sentenced to life in prison in absentia. Her parents were held hostage for months as leverage. She continued her work organizing a print shop for the resistance and carrying manuscripts. She assisted her brother in setting up a bunker in May 1943 reproducing copies of The People's Justice and the Slovenian Reporter. She then turned to instructing students for Young Communist League of Yugoslavia (SKOJ). In the fall of 1944, she disguised herself as a peasant girl and spent months organizing committees for the Liberation Front. She was betrayed and arrested, tortured, and killed by the Gestapo but lives on as a people's hero in Yugoslavia.

We rarely hear about the hundreds of brave women who served during the wars, much less the successful spies. Beyond biography, you can bring their stories to life through Literary Fiction, Historical fiction, Suspense Thriller, or screenplay. There is no shortage of intrigue to work with.

I love a story where a character is undercover with the possibility of exposure around every corner. Stories that encourage me to learn more earn bonus points. Stories that highlight history's forgotten female heroes earns higher bonus points.

Continue Reading:

New Stories

History's Mysteries

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Strong Women Helped Shape History

March is Women's History Month, and we at BRP are honoring prominent women both historical and present-day. When I began to consider this topic, several names came to mind. I whittled the list down to three, but I couldn't in good conscience eliminate any of those because of their impact on history.

Queen Esther, an orphan girl living in Persia during the reign of King Ahasuerus, descended from Jewish captives and grew up in the city of Shushan. The king sought a replacement for the disobedient queen he had banished, and he ordered the beautiful virgins in the land to appear before him so he could choose her successor. Warned not to divulge that she was a Jew, Esther was chosen to be the new queen and soon earned the reputation of treating her husband with great humility and respect. When she learned the Persian prime minister plotted to kill all the Jews and, in fact, had authorization from the king to do so, she humbly but urgently appealed to her husband without first gaining permission to speak with him—an unlawful act that could have resulted in her being put to death. As a result of her courage and the humility and respect with which she approached the king, the Jews were not only spared annihilation, but they eventually were released to return to their homeland.

Harriet Tubman, born Araminta Ross, later adopted the name of Harriet in honor of her mother and kept the surname of her first husband, John Tubman. As a child, she was hired out to various masters and beaten regularly. One master, throwing a heavy metal weight at a runaway slave, instead hit her in the head, fracturing her skull and leaving her with lifelong headaches and seizures. Determined not to be deterred by what some would today declare as disabilities, she escaped the fetters of slavery to become an abolitionist and humanitarian and serve as a spy and scout (as well as nurse and cook) for the North during the Civil War. She rescued some 70 slaves—family, friends, and others—and helped them escape captivity via the Underground Railroad. A courageous leader, she headed an armed raid that ultimately freed some 700 slaves. After the war, she retired to care for her aging parents in a home on property she had purchased in New York. Years later, working alongside suffragettes such as Susan B. Anthony and Emily Howland, she spoke widely and publicly in favor of giving women the right to vote. She was also keynote speaker at the first meeting of the National Federation of Afro-American Women in 1896. Harriet Tubman died in 1913 in an old folks' home for elderly African Americans she had helped to establish years earlier.

Marian Anderson, American contralto born in Philadelphia in 1897, was reportedly declared by famed conductor Arturo Toscanini to possess "a voice heard but once in a century." She began singing in church at the age of six and was soon earning 25 to 50 cents for singing at local events. As a young teenager, she received as much as four or five dollars per performance, a significant wage in the early twentieth century. Denied entry into the Philadelphia Music Academy because of her color, she studied privately through the black community and won first place in a singing competition sponsored by the New York Philharmonic, which earned her a concert performance with the orchestra in 1925 and won raves from attendees as well as critics. Despite her incredible talent, however, racial prejudice prevented her from achieving the success she so richly deserved. Even a stellar performance at Carnegie Hall in 1928 didn't open the doors of opportunity, and she made her European debut in London in 1933. Back in the States in the late thirties, she performed in some 70 concerts but was still not allowed lodging and meals in a number of establishments. In 1939 the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her manager's request for a performance at Washington DC's Constitution Hall, where DAR policy permitted only white performers. The backlash from this denial reverberated throughout the country, led by Eleanor Roosevelt, who withdrew her membership from that organization in protest of its racial prejudice. The public uproar resulted in an invitation to perform at the Lincoln Memorial; that open-air performance was attended by over 75,000 people and heard by millions more on the radio. In 1955 Ms. Anderson became the first black person to appear on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. She sang the national anthem at Kennedy's inauguration in 1961, and two years later, he presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Among other awards and recognition for her immense talent and her contribution to the acceptance of future black entertainers, she received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1977, the National Medal of Arts in 1986, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991. Marian Anderson died at age 96 in Portland, Oregon.

These three women paved the way for others to follow in their paths. Role models in their lifetimes, they indeed deserve their place in history. What women past or present do you admire?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Most of her novels fall into the women's fiction category, but she will be venturing into the thriller realm with a new book scheduled for release late this year. You can contact her through her websites: and

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Women’s History Month: Stories of Tragedy and Survival

Ordinarily, when I think of Women’s History Month, I tend to look at the stories of great women whose accomplishments were often overlooked during their lives, or those whose achievements were noteworthy because of the obstacles overcome along the way.

Recently, however, when researching Illinois history sites, I stumbled across a story of women whose health was damaged while they worked diligently to earn a living for their families in the 1920s. The article was called The Radium Girls: An Illinois Tragedy. I’d never heard of the women who died of radium poisoning years after working at a radium dial company, painting dials with a special mix that glowed in the dark. The article suggests perhaps thousands of people, mostly women, died from the poisoning. Kate Moore wrote a book called The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women (2017) and discusses women who worked at similar companies in other states as well.

Consider another great tragedy that affected a large number of people in 1911, most of them young, female immigrants from Europe. This disaster is well known, and the whole horrible story can be found on the OSHA website. The factory was in the garment district of New York City, the workers located on upper floors of a building with only one fire escape, many locked doors, and a firefighting crew whose ladders were too short to reach the fire.

You can search for “triangle shirtwaist factory fire” on Amazon to see how many books have been written about this fire over the years.

To come back to Illinois history, is there anyone who does not know the tragic story of Richard Speck and the 1966 torture, rape, and murder of eight student nurses at a hospital in Chicago? and other sites have the story, and numerous books have been written about the tragedy and the murderer.

The site is a great resource for those who love history. This is where I read more of the details of the army and navy nurses taken prisoner in the Philippines when the Japanese took over the islands in 1942 (the Angels of Bataan). Although the numbers vary according to different sources, approximately 80 nurses were taken prisoner and held until 1945. In spite of disease, near starvation, and unfathomable fear, these strong women kept each other alive. All returned home, although some never fully recovered physically or emotionally from the trauma.

Again, several books have been written about these nurses, both non-fiction and fiction. I first learned of this story from my mom who in 2014 wanted to read a recently released book for young readers called Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific. As a civilian nurse (pregnant with me at the time) working in an Army Hospital in 1942, she knew many of the nurses who’d gone overseas, but her knowledge of what they went through was limited to what she’d read in newspapers at the time.

Non-fiction writers take note. Fiction writers as well. Exploring history can reveal the tales that shock readers, teach what went wrong in the past, and help implement change. We could spend years discussing all the sad events that have faced women throughout history, but learning the stories help put today’s benefits and today’s disasters in perspective. Doing the research and writing about these events continue to educate long after the events have occurred.

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017).

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.


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