Saturday, February 26, 2011

Guest Author - Pamela Schoenewaldt

Pamela Schoenewaldt is the author of When We Were Strangers, the book I last reviewed. You can tell by my rants and raves that I absolutely adored this novel and that it touched me deeply because of my own Abruzzi roots. 

I'm especially thrilled today to have Pamela join us and talk a little about herself and her journey as an author.

 1. Welcome to History and Women. Can you tell us a little about your novel?

It is the early 1880s. Irma Vitale, a young needleworker, lives in a mountain town of Opi, in Southern Italy. Opi is all she has ever known and all who leave it come to grief. Yet circumstances force her to leave Opi, to go down the mountain and make her way to the difficult cities of America. There she will create a new family and forge a new life and different work built on her extraordinary skill with a needle.

Village of Opi


(Both pictures courtesy of Viaggio In Abruzzo)

2. What inspired you to write a novel about a woman in this period of history?

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of immigration. What situations and facts of character force some to leave what is known and go to the unknown? Whether we speak of the great immigration waves of modern history – and the late 19th Century was one – or the exodus from Africa 40,000 years ago, some moved and some stayed and endured. Some kept moving. Some found peace and some who were successful in the old world utterly failed to adapt. Why? I’m attracted to the late 19th Century also because in rural Italy you had timeless agrarian traditions pushed up against the roar of industrialization. How does a young woman with so painfully little experience of the modern world make that shift? And more, how does she apply the skills she has -- shepherding, needleworking – and her own character in a world that is so vastly different from what she knows? I was interested in what happens when you totally strip away a support system as well as things like money, connections or physical beauty that can ease any path. Why will a character like Irma endure and thrive when someone like her brother Carlo, who seems better adapted, flounders and probably fails?

And finally, I saw Irma. I actually conjured a still, cloaked figure when I was walking around Opi on a cold twilight. She was silhouetted against a darkening sky, quite alone, and I wanted to see her face and follow her journey.

3. What hardships did women face in this particular century and what lessons can today's woman learn from it?

Of course there were physical discomforts. Medicine was still primitive. Birth control and contraception were little understood and women suffered. I discovered that many women of all classes in Irma’s time might have had up to 10 abortions, as well as endured life-threatening induced miscarriages to control family size. They faced high risks of death in childbirth. They faced a society which did not have strong models for sexual relationships based on equality. Many women around the world still face these dangers.

But aside from these dramatic differences, the fact of leaving what is known and going to the unknown is part of every woman’s life today. We leave home or a hometown. Enter a relationship or leave one. Change jobs. In each case, so many of the skills we had in one situation become irrelevant in the new. Yet there are basic truths and basic strengths that can help us. Thus Irma manages to pull from the memory of a pushing through the hard work of sheep shearing, for instance, to sustain her in other hard work. Her memory that sometimes a tree torn out of a mountain can re-root and thrive buoys her up. Irma is not afraid to work hard, yet holds out for work that affirms her gifts and her sense of her best self. She struggles to read the characters of strangers carefully and trust when she can, serves when she is able. These values are still with us, I think.

4. Can you describe a typical writing day?

I work three days a week, writing for an agency, so I try to get in as much writing as I can the other days. I get up about 6 am to work before breakfast and work in the later afternoon or after dinner. I’m in a writing group which read every chapter of When We Were Strangers until I began submitting it. I was also sending chapters to other trusted readers. My sister has a doctorate in immigration history so she checked many facts. Other readers read as well and I listened carefully. So at any one time, I might have been blocking one chapter and revising the earlier two or three. Normally I begin each session by revising what I wrote in the earlier session. I kept notebooks and post-its to write down ideas that came between sessions. The flow and rhythm of sentences is very important to me, as well as the authenticity of imagery, so there was just a vast amount of revision, adding, taking away, like the frog that jumps two feet from the bottom of a well, falls back a foot, and so forth. But if you keep at it, you do see daylight.

5. Can you tell us briefly about your other novels and any new novels in the works.

This is my first novel that has been published. I wrote a medieval novel earlier that started falling apart under its own weight. I’ve learned a lot since then and am working again in the medieval age, but with a fictional main character who becomes entwined in the household of the Holy Roman Emperor and slowly creates an independent life for herself.

Thank you Pamela, for taking the time to tell us a little bit about yourself.

For more details about Pamela, please visit her website at:

Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Giveaway - When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt

Everyone is raving about the book, When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt.

Contest details: 

1.  Visit Pamela Schoenewaldt's website and find the name of her philosopher. 

2.  Visit History and Women on February 26 and read Pamela's interview.

3.  Leave a comment with the philospher's name and why you would love to read this book.  Ensure you provide me with your email address.
4.  Winner will be announced on February 27!

Here is a clue:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lady Morgan Quote

Lady Morgan, the Irish novelist, witty and captivating, who wrote "Kate Kearney" and the "Wild Irish Girl," when speaking of the laxity of a certain bishop in regard to Lenten fasting, said:

"I believe he would eat a horse on Ash Wednesday. A very
proper diet if it were a fast horse."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Book Review - When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt

If you love a good tale interwoven with both heart-break and dreams, loss and success, you will truly enjoy When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt.

Irma Vitale is a poverty-stricken young woman of marriageable age who lives in the small village of Opi nestled in the Abruzzi mountains of Italy. Her brother and closest friend departs for America, hopeful to escape poverty. He tells her he is going to Cleveland and departs soon afterwards. As more and more youths from Opi and neighbouring villages depart for America, Irma’s chances at making a good marriage dwindle. Her aging aunt encourages her to go to America, find her brother, and make a better life for herself. And so, with a secret stash of money passed down from mothers to daughters in the family, Irma sets out and boards a ship to America. The reader is then swept into a heart-wrenching and intriguing tale depicting the hardships of immigrants from the crossing to the desperation and struggles they face the moment they take their first steps into the new world.

I could not help but be touched by this story - my own mother and aunts also immigrated alone to the new world from their own small town in the Abruzzi region of Italy for the same reasons and alone, like Irma. I became wholly immersed in this credible tale of poor Irma, finding parallels with the stories my relatives repeated to me of their own shocking experiences. Every detail of this novel felt authentic – from Italian village life, to the struggles with finding work, to being cheated, and finding a friend or two along the way to help.

It is an inspiring tale of strength, determination, and courage, paying homage to the many women who bravely faced the pain of loss of hearth and kin to scrape out a new life in a land brimming with hope. Vivid detail, heart-felt emotion, and highly developed characters make this novel stand out, lending believability and vividness. I loved this novel and it is most definitely one of my all-time favourite books of all time. I highly recommend it!

This book is part of The Italy in Books Reading Challenge 2011 at:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

50 Best History Blogs

I'm so thrilled to announce that History and Women has been voted as one of the top 50 Best History Blogs by Zen College Life.  I've added a badge to the right sidebar!  Thanks to all my readers and followers for reading what I write and for all the wonderful comments you leave.  

For a complete list of all the others in the top 50, please click here:

50 Best History Blogs

Friday, February 18, 2011

Olympe de Gouges

From the time of the French Revolution, French citizenship was limited to only men.  It was made clear in The Declaration of Rights of Man and of the citizen written by the National Assembly brought into law in 1789.  .

Olympe used her talent as a playright to pen The Declaration of the Rights of Women and of the Citizen in 1791 and mirror it after the male one. 

In her document, she asserted woman's ability to reason and make moral decisions, and pointed to the feminine virtues of emotion and feeling. She made woman man's equal partner.

As one can predict, her document did not go over well.  How dare she assume that women had the right to act as members of the public.  By doing so, she violated the precious boundaries that the revolutionary leaders had worked so hard to declare and initiate.

Her declaration stated that women had the right to free speech and the right to reveal the identity of the fathers of their children, something unheard of at the time.  She declared that children born out of wedlock be given the same consideration and equality as those born in marriage.  This stirred up ire for it insinuated that women too had the freedom to satisfy their sexual desires outside of marriage and that men need not fear any responsibility. 

In July 1793, four years after the Revolution, Olympe de Gouges was arrested for her assertations and declarations and also for her refusal to be silent on the rights of women.  She faced the guillotine in November of that year.

Documents in the case against her cite:

"Olympe de Gouges, born with an exalted imagination, mistook her delirium for an inspiration of nature. She wanted to be a man of state. She took up the projects of the perfidious people who want to divide France. It seems the law has punished this conspirator for having forgotten the virtues that belong to her sex.  In the midst of a Revolution to extend rights to more men, Olympe de Gouges had the audacity to argue that women, too, should benefit. Her contemporaries were clear that her punishment was, in part, for forgetting her proper place and proper role as a woman."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Queen Elizabeth I Said

"Though ye be burly, my Lord Burleigh, ye make less stir than my Lord Leicester."

Queen Elizabeth I

Friday, February 11, 2011

“Italy in books” - reading challenge 2011

Not only am I an avid reader of Italian historical fiction, I am also a collector of it, lining my bookshelves with them.  I stumbled upon the Italy in Books Reading Challenge 2011 quite by accident.  This challenge have been written just for me.  So I will be entering the challenge which requires me to read one Italian fiction novel each month this year.  I'll post my reviews here and hope that you read along with me or take a peak at some of the books I'll be reading.

For more information on the reading challenge, please visit:

Some of the books I plan to read are:

When We Were Stranges by Pamela Schoenewaldt
Sins of the House of Borgia by Sara Bower
The Devil and Maria d'Avalos by Victoria Hammond
Botticelli's Secret by Marina Fiorato
Dolce Agonia by Nancy Huston
The Devil's Queen by Jeanne Kalogridis
The Scarlet Contessa by Jeanne Kalogridis
Sealed in Stone by Toni Maraini and translated by A.K. Bierman

So please do check back monthly for my reviews.

Queen Christina of Sweden

In 1933, the great Greta Garbo portrayed my life in a film entitled Queen Christina. Here is a short clip of the movie.

I was born to King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden and Maria Eleanora of Brandenburg.  I was an only child and therefore the only heir.  Because of this, my father took a great interest in me and saw that I had the best education, just as a boy heir would have enjoyed.  In fact, he ordered that I be brought up as a boy.

King Gustavus

Maria Eleanora of Brandenburg

My mother was a woman of distraught temperament and her attempts to make me feel guilty for the difficult birth prejudiced me against wishing to produce an heir to the throne one day myself.  

In 1632 my father was killed in battle and I assumed the throne.  I was six years old. A man named Axel Oxenstierna acted as my regent until I reached maturity.

He continued as my adviser afterwards. Although he advised me against it, I put an end to the Thirty Years War and made peace with Westphalia in 1648.

I named my cousin, Carl Gustav (Karl Charles Gustavus) as my heir and successor.

Karl Gustav

Rumours abounded that we were in love, but we never married.  Other rumors began to circulate regarding Countess Ebba "Belle" Sparre, my lady-in-waiting. It was said we were lovers.

Ebba Sparre

 I know that letters have survived between us which demonstrate our high regard for each other. At times, we even shared a bed together. Our relationship was curtailed when the Countess married and left my court, but the passionate exchange of letters continued.

I was a great patroness of art, theater, and music.  I faced many difficult political situations including taxation, governance, and strained relations with Poland.  The pressures proved too difficult for me to bear.  In 1651, I proposed my abdication.  My council did everything they could to talk me into changing my mind and staying.  The additional strain caused me to suffer some sort of breakdown and I confined myself to my rooms where I received consultation from Father Antonio Macedo.

Finally, in 1654 I could no longer bear it and I officially abdicated.  The true reasons for my abdication continue to be controversial and argued about to this day by historians.

I changed my name to Maria Christina Alexandra, and disguised as a man, departed from Sweden a few days later.  I travelled to Rome where I resided in a palazzo that I filled with beautiful art and books.  Here I established a salon which became a popular center of culture.

I also became Roman Catholic and was much respected and liked by the Vatican and aligned myself with a particularly free-thinking branch of Roman Catholicism. Slowly I found myself drawn into political and religious intrigue between the French and Spanish factions in Rome.

My peaceful existence soon faded.  In 1656, I aligned herself with the French and launched an attempt to become Queen of Naples.  The Marquis of Monaldesco, a trusted member of my  household, betrayed my plans to the French to the Spanish Viceroy of Naples.

My vengeance was swift.  I had Monaldesco executed in my presence and claimed it was my right to do so. For this act, Roman society turned a cold shoulder and  did their best to avoid me.  As time passed, however, I became involved again in church politics.

This time, I set my sights on becoming Queen of Poland.  My attempt failed. Then I attempted to win the Papacy for my confidant, advisor, and lover, Cardinal Decio Azzolino. Again, I failed.

I died in 1689 at the age of 63.  I named Cardinal Azzolino as my sole heir. I was buried in St. Peter's, an unusual honor for a woman.

I gained notariety because I often dressed in men's clothing and my personal relationships which led to rumours about my sexuality.
In 1965, my body was exhumed for testing, to see if I bore the signs of hermaphroditism or intersexuality, but the results were inconclusive.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

An Ancient Greek Woman Said

When offered some old wine in a tiny glass by her miserly host, who boasted of the years since it had been bottled, the Grecian woman inquired, "Isn't very small for its age?"

Friday, February 4, 2011

Anna Ella Carroll

Anna Ella Carroll is a heroine of the State of Maryland and one of the most important women of the nineteenth century.

She was the daughter of Gov. Thomas King Carroll (1830) and the former Juliana Stevenson, born at the family plantation home on August 29, 1815.

In the 1850s Carroll became active nationally in the Whig and American (Know-Nothing) political parties. The Know Nothing party in Maryland was the progressive party in the state as it was not proslavery, and was prolabor and pro-Union. Catholic and Episcopalian slaveholders could lead the Irish and German Catholic vote in Baltimore to establish a proslavery state government, which was in good part what the Know Nothings were trying to prevent. Presbyterians like Carroll opposed the growing political strength of the Catholic Church that also ruled Italian provinces, on the grounds of free speech, temperance, Sabbatarianism, and being antislavery and prorepublican.

In 1857 Carroll was the publicist for Gov.Thomas H. Hicks, Maryland's pro-Union governor in his first bid for that office. During the secession crisis of early1861, strong secession forces in the state pressed Governor Hicks to call a secession convention which he refused to do. Carroll flooded the press with articles defending Hicks's pro-Union stance. Ultimately Hicks wrote that Carroll's writings did more than any others to elect a Uniongovernor in November 1861.

After the circulation of her reply (to Sen. John C. Breckinridge) pamphlet in the summer of 1861, Pres. Abraham Lincoln requested that Carroll continue to write on behalf of his administration. Asst. Secty. of War Thomas A. Scott entered into a verbal contract with Carroll for this, under his general authority as a government official. Carroll produced three more pamphlets, outlining the war powers of the president and the federal government. Carroll later wrote one of the few most ably argued pamphlets on the Emancipation Proclamation. Still Lincoln detractors do not understand that the proclamation was a military order. Therefore it could only be enforced by military officers in areas ruled by martial law, that is, the revolted states, not the loyal ones. In October 1861,

Carroll traveled to St. Louis with secret agent Lemuel D. Evansto gather intelligence. As a result of an interview conducted with a Union riverboatpilot, Carroll submitted a plan that advocated a Confederate invasion upon the Tennessee River. Twenty years of Congressional testimony clearly show that the Lincoln administration adopted Carroll's plan and Edwin M. Stanton was appointed secretary of war to implement it. With that said, research also shows that MG Henry W. Halleck and Lincoln were simultaneously and separately planning thesame movement without each others's knowledge, Lincoln's plan based on Carroll's  submission.

As William Safire pointed out long ago, Carroll was the only person to put the Tennessee River plan before the president. After the war, Carroll went to the Congress to try to get reimbursed for $5,000 still owed her for her publications. Four military committees that were convened through 1890 all voted in her favor. Only one did not recommend payment, on spurious grounds. Likely one major reason why no bill ever passed the Congress was that Carroll represented the perfect reason why women should get the vote, and she was supported by the nascent suffrage movement at the time. Some have distorted the facts of Carroll's role in the war effort and her congressional claim. However, the idea that four military committees of the US Congress could be all wrong regarding Anna Ella Carroll's contributions to the war effort is silliness at its height.

Anna Ella Carroll died on February 19, 1894, supported by her sister, Mary, and funds raised by Union veterans and women's organizations. She is buried in the graveyard of the Old Trinity Episcopal Church
in Church Creek, Dorchester County,Maryland.

Biography written by C. Kay Larson
Great Necessities: The Life, Times, and Writings of AnnaElla Carroll, 1815-1894

Phila.: Xlibris Corp., 2004

Click here to purchase

Book #20452 available soft and hard cover at

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Said

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

"There is only one reason I am glad I am a woman: 
I should never have to marry one."
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