The Alexandra Limp

In 1869, a new fashion took hold among the young ladies of England: they began limping. They might intentionally snap the heel off one of their shoes or even buy a set of shoes designed to give them a limp. The important thing was to be seen shuffling unevenly around Hyde Park or the theater.

Speaking as someone who always walks with a limp, this would have been very uncomfortable. Walking unevenly strains your muscles and skeletal structure and leads to chronic pain. High heels and bras – or corsets – are not always comfortable, but this was an extreme sacrifice for fashion. So, why did the Victorian ladies do it?

The answer is Alexandra of Denmark, the Princess of Wales. She was immensely popular and a fashion setter in Britain. She wore chokers to disguise a scar on her throat, so chokers became popular among British ladies. In 1867, Princess Alexandra gave birth to her third child and became very ill with rheumatic fever – a complication of strep throat and scarlet fever that was sometimes deadly in the days before antibiotics. Princess Alexandra survived, but she had to learn to walk again using walking sticks, and she continued to limp. Ever anxious to follow their social leader, the fashionable ladies of England hurried to break their shoes and limp after her.

I’m not sure what Princess Alexandra thought about this, but the newspapers howled in outrage at the silliness of watching able-bodied young ladies limp all over London and other British towns. Perhaps thanks to the painful side effects of constantly limping, the fashion faded after a year or two, and ladies found other ways to torture themselves for fashion. Of course, people who had real limps didn’t leave them behind so easily. Princess Alexandra limped for the rest of her life.

A portrait of Princess Alexandra in a fashionable white dress.
Princess Alexandra in 1864

Princess Elizabeth in World War II

The death of Queen Elizabeth II marks the end of a 70-year era full of conflict and change. Born in 1926, she is the same age as actors Marilyn Monroe and Andy Griffith, dictator Fidel Castro, author Harper Lee, and musicians Miles Davis and Chuck Berry. She is part of a generation that came of age during World War II, and as with many of that generation, the war was a defining experience in her life.

Princess Elizabeth was thirteen when World War II broke out in 1939, and like many London children, her parents sent her away from the city for her safety, though she lived in Windsor Castle and still saw her parents often. The future Queen Elizabeth II made her first public speech during this time, addressing the other children who were separated from their parents by the war. Her parents stayed at Buckingham Palace in solidarity with the people of London, and the royal residence was bombed by German planes during the Blitz.

When she turned eighteen in 1944, Princess Elizabeth enlisted in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, which was the female branch of the British Army designed to shift some non-combat military jobs to women to free men to fight. Her royal title didn’t earn her an automatic advancement, and she served as an auto mechanic and driver with a junior officer ranking. She was among 200,000 young women serving in the ATS, of which 335 were killed in the line of duty, and many others injured.

Princess Elizabeth wasn’t wounded in the line of duty, and the war ended in 1945. Probably breaking quite a few rules, she took to the streets to celebrate with everyone else, keeping her uniform hat pulled low so no one would recognize her. She linked arms with her future subjects and marched in celebration, and some rumors even say she danced in a Conga line.

Princess Elizabeth maintained an enjoyment of driving and engine repair into her reign as Queen Elizabeth II, and also an ability to connect with many of the citizens of her country. Some people credit her as the first royal British woman to serve in the armed forces. This ignores many medieval and Renaissance queens who took active roles in defending their countries, but it’s fair to say that Princess Elizabeth’s role in the war set a positive example for British women – royal and otherwise.

Princess Elizabeth in overalls changing a car tire.
Negative (H 41668) Original wartime caption: At a Vehicle Maintenance Class, Princess Elizabeth changes the wheel of a car. She is wearing overalls. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205513022

Dance Fans

Regency dances were complicated, involving many steps that participants had to remember. And the ballrooms were crowded with people dancing energetically, making them very hot. Clever ladies solved both of these problems by carrying fans decorated with fashionable dance steps. The examples below are from the Jane Austen cottage in Chawton.

This fan shows the steps of the quadrille (each circle is a different “figure” created by the dancers, so they all had to know their places and how to move in the circle so they didn’t crash into each other).
And this one has the music to several country dances.

With the help of fans such as these, ladies of Jane Austen’s time could stay on top of the latest dance steps and stay cool.

Guardians and Wards: A Medieval Practice that Lingers Today

Guardianship has been in the news lately as singer Britney Spears successfully fought to be freed from hers. The term “ward” wasn’t used to describe her, but that’s essentially what she was. I think before Britney Spears, the most famous ward was probably Maid Marian, sometimes said to be the ward of King Richard and/or Prince John in the Robin Hood stories. So, if the term “ward” makes you think of a singing animated fox in a pseudo-medieval gown (like it did for me), that’s not surprising, but it disguises a long and ugly history of wardships that continues today.

Olivia de Havilland as King Richard’s ward, Maid Marian

The medieval and Renaissance ward in England was a young nobleman or woman whose father had died before they reached their majority (21 for men, 14 for girls). Because the young person’s holdings reverted to the crown on their father’s death, the crown claimed guardianship of the ward and their holdings until they were old enough to take charge of it themselves (for men) or be married off (for girls). Generally, the crown didn’t really want to take care of all those children, so they would auction the kids off to the highest bidder – a guardian who benefitted from the lands of the ward and usually arranged the ward’s marriage to the advantage of the guardian (such as marrying them to a family member). Note that the mother or other family members might still be alive but would have to fight to be the guardian of the child and seldom succeeded. This was a financial arrangement for the crown and the best interest of the child rarely came into it. I found this both interesting and horrifying, and I wrote about it in Wishwood. This form of wardship was so frustrating to English noble families that it was one of the practices decried by insurgents in the British Civil Wars of the 1640s, and when the monarchy was restored after the war, medieval wardships were not.

Wishwood cover
In Wishwood, Kate’s guardian forced her into an arranged marriage, a situation many real-life wards would have faced.

Wardship in the English-speaking world didn’t end with the Restoration in 1660. There were and are situations where a person needs a guardian because their age or health makes them unable to care for themselves, either temporarily or permanently. Children might be wards of the court or wards of the state if their family is not able to care for them. Adults can also enter a guardianship or conservatorship if they are deemed unable to manage their own affairs (as Britney Spears was at the start). We would hope that, in our modern system, guardians are selected who care about their ward and that we’ve left the abuses of the past in the history books, though.

Sadly, this is not the case. In the US, guardianship rules vary by state, and some states make it VERY easy to put someone in a guardianship. As in, a practical stranger can have you declared incompetent and take over all of your financial affairs, up to and including putting you in a group home and selling your house and possessions to pay themselves for the trouble. In some states, there is a lucrative industry revolving around this practice and involving lawyers, judges, and long-term care facilities. Your family will have no say in the matter. And neither will you, because the horrifying part of guardianships is that the ward, being declared incompetent, essentially loses their personhood. They can’t go to court without the approval of their guardian who, obviously, is not going to let that happen. For a tale more terrifying than any ghost or horror story, read about how this has played out in Nevada (a state I would NOT recommend retiring to until they fix this!), then find out what the laws are in your state and if there is a way to protect yourself from this medieval practice that needs serious updating.

The New Yorker: How the Elderly Lose Their Rights

AP News: Guardians of the Elderly, Part One

AP News: Guardians of the Elderly, Part Two

And some potential solutions, especially if enough of us pressure lawmakers on behalf of the elderly and those with disabilities:

NPR: Unlike Britney Spears, others remain stuck

Utah WASP and other flying women

Happy Veteran’s Day, and thank you to the brave men and women who have served and sacrificed for our freedom.

And happy book birthday to Utah Women: Pioneer, Poets & Politicians!

To celebrate both, I’m writing today about the female Civil Air Patrol pilots and WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) of World War II.

My grandfather, Frank Brooksby, was a pilot over occupied France during World War II, and his brother Victor was killed in action flying on the Pacific Front of the war. The Brooksby family seems to have been drawn to the sky, and the Brooksby girls were no exception. Family photos like the one below of three of my great aunts during World War II always interested me, and I’ve finally found out a little more about the experiences of the Brooksby girls and other female WWII pilots.

1944 July 2; Edith, Vivien, IsabelleAmerican women didn’t fly in combat in World War II (though the Russian “night witches” did!). Instead, they flew missions stateside, freeing up men to fly overseas. WASP women tested and repaired airplanes and shuttled planes, people, and cargo around the country. Women in the WASP program even flew planes hauling targets so the male pilots could practice shooting live ammo!  Thirty-nine of the slightly over 1,000 WASP volunteers died in service to their country.

The Women Air Service Pilots were not granted status as veterans until 1977 when they petitioned Congress to have their service officially recognized by the history books. Though their recognition came late, they played an important role in proving that women’s minds and bodies could handle the complexities of flying, even during menstruation (yes, that was in serious doubt at the time). Latino, Asian, and Native American women flew with the WASP program, also proving their capabilities, though black women were segregated out of WASP by their race and out of the history-making, all-black Tuskegee Airmen by their gender.

Many other women served with the Civil Air Patrol. Started just before the US entered World War II, the Civil Air Patrol formed to utilize the skills of civilian pilots in protecting the United States. CAP pilots patrolled over land and sea, performed rescue missions, and worked as couriers. It was open to both sexes and all races.

But, I wondered, how did the Brooksby girls from little Fredonia on the Arizona Strip (the patch of Arizona above the Grand Canyon, just south of the Utah border) learn to be pilots? They might have seen the occasional barnstormer or cropduster, but I doubted that planes were common in Fredonia.

Like most female pilots of World War II, I found, they trained at college-based Civil Pilot Training Programs. At least some of the Brooksby women attended Dixie Junior College (now Dixie State University) in St George, Utah (Southern Utah is known as Utah’s Dixie for the early attempts to grow cotton there). There, they took the classes to learn to fly through the Civil Pilot Training Program and then went to the Provo Flying School under the direction of Merrill Christopherson to complete their training. Once they had the necessary solo hours, they worked with the Civil Air Patrol ferrying planes across the country.

After the war, WASP women were dismissed as no longer needed by their country. Commercial airlines would not hire female pilots. Some pilots, like Utah transplant Marjorie Redding Christiansen, became air traffic controllers. Others continued to serve with the Civil Air Patrol or other community organizations. Their service was forgotten by many for a number of decades, but today we can remember their bravery and determination to serve their country.

(Below, the Brooksby pilots, minus Victor Brooksby, who was already MIA in the south Pacific.)

1944 Summer; Vivien, Isabelle, Frank, Edith

Utah Women: Pioneer, Poets & Politicians

I LOVED working on this project – Utah history has so many inspiring stories and amazing women – and I’m excited to have a release date and cover! Utah Women: Pioneers, Poets & Politicians coming November 2019 from The History Press.

Trailblazing in Untamed Territory

Representing lawmakers and lawbreakers, artists and adventurers or scholars and activists, the women of Utah defied stereotypes. At the crossroads of the West, they found new challenges and opportunities to forge their own paths. Emma Dean explored the Rocky Mountains with her famous spouse John Wesley Powell. Martha Hughes Cannon defeated her husband to become the first female state senator. Maud Fitch drove an ambulance under German artillery fire to rescue downed pilots in World War I. Author Emily Brooksby Wheeler celebrates the remarkable Utah women who, whether racing into danger or nurturing those who fell behind, changed their world and ours.

UtahWomenFrontCover

Current Events

I try not to get political here, but I’ve been watching the sexual harrassment in kidlit/Salt Lake FanX fiascos unfold, listening to the various viewpoints expressed, and I need to share my current takeaway.
tl;dr: It’s time for society to really embrace the facts that we are more than our bodies and that our bodies don’t belong to anyone but ourselves. (And if you think your masculinity depends on your access to or power over women, you need to look around at the many good examples of men who are strong without pushing others down.)
A couple of hundred years ago, women in Western society were regarded more or less as the property of the men in their lives, without the rights to own property or businesses on their own, express their voices in politics, or have a say over their own bodies or their own children. But we’ve finally been fixing that over the last century or so, and the process has made men reevaluate their own roles in society. Most, I think, have seen the value in treating women like partners instead of dependants, in allowing women their voices and their autonomy, but a large minority have been socially/culturally trained to think that they’re not men if they don’t have power over the people–and especially the women–around them (and that’s the TOXIC part of toxic masculinity).
Now, are there radical man-haters out there? Unfortunately, yes. Are they the majority? No. I think a lot of women feel the way I do. We appreciate the men in our lives: our fathers, brothers, husbands, friends, co-workers, etc. We appreciate their desire to protect and care for the people they care about. We’re not asking men to go away or to put aside their positive traits and instincts. What we’re asking for is to be listened to and respected as human beings.
Most of this is pretty simple: Learn to see us as more than a set of body parts. Don’t get in our physical space without our permission. Don’t assume we’re stupid or have some evil agenda because we have two x-chromosomes. Don’t act like our bodies or our time belong to you. If we can root out that sense of entitlement, I believe a lot of these issues with school shootings and sexual harrassment and physical violence against women would end, and that men as well as women would be happier.

World War I is getting closer…

Okay, I actually mean the centennial of the U.S. entering World War I. The “Great War” started in August of 1914, but the U.S. entered the war April 6, 1917–99 years ago today.

Like a lot of people, I didn’t know much about World War I except trenches, the Spanish Flu, and Snoopy’s dogfights with the Red Baron. But, fellow author and USU history MA, Jeff Bateman, got me interested in the story of Utah during World War I, and we’ve co-authored a book about it called No Peace with the Dawn, coming out in November of this year in time for Veteran’s Day.

We’ve woven a lot of history into the book (along with adventure and romance), and I’m going to be sharing tidbits here as we count down to the centennial, as well as on a web site dedicated to information about the war (coming soon!). Though the book, and our research, was focused primarily on Utah in World War I, most of the information applies to the U.S. and World War I in general.

For today, I’ll start with this U.S. propaganda poster from the war. Women at this time were still fighting for the vote in most parts of the United States (they already had it in Utah). One of the arguments against letting women vote was that only those who might fight for their country should be allowed a say in how it was governed. Women played a huge part in the war effort at home and on the front (I’ll go into more detail in future posts). The government generally downplayed their role overseas, particularly with the suffrage movement going on, but I guess it couldn’t resist the urge to tie in Joan of Arc, another woman in a man’s world who served (and saved) her country, especially since most U.S. soldiers served on the Western Front in France.

JoanArc