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Guest Post & Giveaway: Denver’s Progressive and Colorful Past by Elaine Russell

Today, I have a guest post from Elaine Russell, author of Across the Mekong River (my review) and Montana in A Minor (my review), who has a new novel forthcoming this month, In the Company of Like-Minded Women.

About the novel:

In the Company of Like-Minded Women explores the complexities of bonds between sisters and family at the start of the 20th century when women struggled to determine their future and the “New Woman” demanded an equal voice. Three sisters are reunited in 1901 Denver following a family rift many years before. Each sister faces critical decisions regarding love, work, and the strength of her convictions. The story is set against the backdrop of the fight for women’s rights.

Doesn’t this sound interesting? I love books that have roots in history, and this sounds dramatic.  Please give Elaine a warm welcome and stay tuned for a giveaway:

The increasingly shrill discourse and events of 2018 have heightened political divisions and revealed the distasteful behavior of many men in America. As a result, women are speaking out, running for political office, and fighting for social justice in greater numbers than ever before. I thoroughly enjoyed stepping back over a hundred years to write about another generation of brave women, who fought for women’s suffrage and other basic rights for women and children. These progressive advocates faced incredible opposition from men in power and moneyed business interests—just as women do today.

The inspiration for my new novel, In the Company of Like-Minded Women, originated with my paternal great grandmother, Dr. Elizabeth B. Russell. In 1907 she became one of the early women doctors in Denver, Colorado. In researching the era, I discovered Denver’s rich and colorful past, full of outspoken and accomplished women, along with others involved in more unsavory activities. A number of these famous and infamous women stood out, demanding a role in my story.

I chose to set the novel in 1901 at the start of a new century, a time of tremendous change and promise. More and more women were earning college degrees and entering male-dominated professions—not without considerable resistance from the men, of course! This mirrored the mounting fight for the women’s vote and major reforms to protect women and children from the grave injustices of the time. The industrial revolution had brought a number of time saving inventions for the home, such as washing machines and electric lights. Middle and upper class women had more free time and turned their attention to other endeavors. Women’s clubs thrived, organized for everything from literary and music appreciation to providing aid to the needy and advocating for social change.

Colorado led the charge on many fronts. Denver had transformed itself from a rough and tumble, Wild West center for Rocky Mountain mining towns into a mostly civilized city, known as the Queen of the Prairie. Progressive women from the three major political parties banded together to win a stunning victory in 1893, convincing a majority of the State’s men to approve a constitutional amendment granting women the vote—a full twenty-seven years before passage of national suffrage in America. Only the Territory of Wyoming had preceded Colorado in this bold move in 1869.

By 1901, the rest of the country watched with interest to see how women’s suffrage was playing out in Colorado, challenging women leaders to defend their accomplishments since obtaining access to the ballot box. I found it particularly heartening to learn how Republican, Democrat and Populist women continued to work together for national suffrage and social reform, often in opposition to their political parties.

In June 2016, I made my first ever visit to Denver. At the History Colorado Center’s Research Library and Denver Public Library’s Western History Section I poured through everything from newspapers, city directories, magazine articles, theater programs, and restaurant menus to individual collections of well-known women leaders, such as Ellis Meredith and Minnie Reynolds. What a thrill to read the original letters to Ms. Meredith from Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Lucy Stone. I visited the Molly Brown House Museum (the Unsinkable Molly Brown of Titanic fame) and toured neighborhoods where houses from that era are still in use.

My research revealed a treasure trove of fascinating people, places, and events, a wealth of material for my story. Denver had a booming red light district with houses of ill repute run by notorious madams like Mattie Silks. Denver police and city officials turned a blind eye after receiving generous “donations” from the madams. Denver’s Chinatown was known for its laundries where many Denver residents brought their washing. But the small community was better known for Hop Alley—hop being a term for opium—attracting many of Denver’s well-to-do men and women to opium dens and gambling parlors. Denver’s more refined side included, among others, the grand Tabor Opera House (unfortunately long gone), the still popular Brown Palace Hotel, and the Union Railroad Station.

The biggest task was figuring out how to integrate the diverse elements of Denver’s past into a story that painted an accurate picture of the era and the lives of my characters. For me, the writing process is a bit of magic, as pieces suddenly fall into place in ways I never anticipated.

About the Author:

Elaine Russell is the award winning author of the novel Across the Mekong River and a number of children’s books, including the young adult novel Montana in A Minor, the Martin McMillan middle grade mystery series, and the middle grade picture book, All About Thailand. Her new novel, In the Company of Like-Minded Women, comes out this month. Elaine lives with her husband in Northern California and part time on the Island of Kauai. See her website.

GIVEAWAY:

Please leave a comment below with an email so I can contact you. Leave your comment by Oct. 24, 2018, at 11:59 PM EST. You can win 1 Kindle copy of In the Company of Like-Minded Women.

**For another chance to win, visit Diary of an Eccentric.

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