As a writer I’m plagued with too many ideas. They all rattle around my head until one eventually fights its way too the top and screams ‘Victory!’ So while I’m waiting for my brain to finish its version of King of the Hill, I have been scribbling scenes in my notebook for the third Ravenwood Mystery. I get flashes of scenes that play out in my mind like movie previews. And when I feel like I have enough of these cool preview flashes, it’s my job to figure out how everything is connected, which involves sitting down and writing my way through the book.
Along with my scribblings, I also peruse newspaper archives: circa 1900 in the San Francisco Call. I LOVE newspaper archives. I love the advertisements, the help wanted ads, the rooms for let and the lost and found. I love being able to look up the weather, words that were (or were not) in use, and consulting the tide charts and ferry times.
In short: newspapers are like time machines! If slightly slanted time machines. It was common for newspapers to accept bribes from politicians and ‘yellow journalism’ was prolific, but still I find the coolest articles!
This one was of particular interest to me because I love underground spaces. As a child, my younger brother and I once discovered a drainage grate with a missing bar. We were so excited that we promptly squeezed through the gap and landed in a large network of drains, which we explored (with no flashlight). And then kept going back for a few days until an adult caught on.
So you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover this article:
Here we have a woman reporter in 1899, who dressed in male clothing, and climbed down into the San Francisco sewers with the expert at the time. That’s a whole lot of stereotype breaking in one article. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard ‘women didn’t do this or that in Victorian/Edwardian times’. UGH. Yes, and in the 1970s men were still claiming a woman’s uterus would ‘fall out’ if she ran a marathon.
Truth is, Victorian/Edwardian women did a whole lot of things (they even competed in bicycle races). And we have this cool drawing to prove that not only were women in San Francisco adventurous, but her dressing in trousers didn’t even cause a stir.