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Cover Reveal – Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I


I’m so happy to take part in the cover reveal for my fellow Fall of Poppies authors, Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb’s upcoming novel, Last Christmas in Paris!

Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I

New York Times bestselling author Hazel Gaynor joins with Heather Webb to create this unforgettably romantic novel of the Great War

August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.

But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…

Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?

Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…

Pre-order today!

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Visit them on the web:

Hazel Gaynor – Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Heather Webb – Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

How College Girls Lived During the Gilded Age


Ladies Home Journal (June 1913) - illustrated by Harrison Fisher

One of the startling social changes of Gilded Age America was the increasing number of young women who attended colleges and universities. Though the most elite were the “Seven Sisters” established in the Northeast–Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe–dozens women’s colleges sprang up across the United States by the turn-of-the-century with the aim of providing middle-class young women with the necessary education for earning a living. These colleges were aware of the skepticism of higher education for women, as well as the burden of graduating young women who would prove the skepticism wrong, and operated much differently than traditional men’s colleges and even co-ed universities.

The difference between life at girls’ and at men’s colleges is just the difference between girls and young men. It is not the difference in curriculum, or lecture-room, or gymnasium, or team and track athletics. It is a difference in tone, and this tone is the effect of two causes:–

First. The seriousness with which the college girl regards her course.

Second. The thoroughly feminine consideration with which she regards her fellows.

Regarding the former, nine-tenths of the girls at college are there for the purpose of fitting themselves to earn a livelihood. They are aiming to become professors, tutors, lawyers, doctors, litterateurs. They are not, generally, the daughters of wealthy parents. These go to a finishing school, and study the limitations, rather than the possibilities, of society. The female college students are mostly drawn from those medium walks of life wherein ambition is given impetus by necessity. The college girl does not give up four or five years of her life for the purpose of being called “college-bred,” as many of her brothers do; nor to gain admittance to an exclusive university club, or those circles to which a college education is the open sesame; nor “to humor the governor,” at a large cost per annum for indulging his whim. The college girl takes up her course because she loves it, and because it is the means to a much-desired end.

It is this consideration for the feelings of others that gives to the girls’ colleges their distinctly feminine tone.

From the raw, self-conscious days of the sub-freshman to the passing out of the senior, the girl collegian finds cordial greetings and ready sympathy every where.

The “honor system” of self-government is in force at Vassar and several other colleges. According to this system, rules and regulations are abolished, and each girl pledges herself to retire at ten, with three exceptions each month if necessary; to attend chapel every day, and to take at least one hours’ exercise.

In all the large colleges, there are committees appointed to take charge of the new arrivals, each girl meeting her protegée at the railway station, at t e n d in g to the details of her luggage, and not leaving her until she has seen her safely settled in the new quarters. The seniors usually have first choice of rooms, preferring to be located along the senior corridor, into which no lower classman dares venture, unless accompanied by a senior. Rooms are divided into suites of four sizes: fire walls, consisting of four bedrooms and parlor; parlors, consisting of three bedrooms and parlor; doubles, with two bedrooms and parlor, and singles, consisting of one room.

 Anna Powers and Umeko Tsuda in a Bryn Mawr College dorm room
“Anna Powers and Umeko Tsuda in a Bryn Mawr College dorm room”. Bryn Mawr College. circa 1890. College Women. Web. Accessed March 19, 2017.

When three or four girls who are congenial occupy a suite, their college association can be made most pleasant. Fitting up her quarters will be regarded by the freshman as the most serious work of the term’s beginning. She will catch glimpses of senior rooms, disclosing revelations on art from the college viewpoint— which has nothing to do with art by any other standard. Her own rooms—the bedroom containing bed, bureau, table and chair, the parlor a “parlor suite”—will look woefully barren; but she soon realizes how little is required to gain the popular effect—a few outré posters, inexpensive etchings and prints in dainty frames, flags of men’s colleges, class colors, field pennants, tennis rackets, riding-whips, foils, orders of dance, college cushions, a tabaret, an India seat, a tea-table, couch, spirit lamp and chafing-dish. All these things may be purchased at a shop in the college town whose proprietor can tell the wants of the freshmen better than they can themselves: or there will be advertisements on the bulletin-board, for sale or exchange.

Often the members of the graduating class leave their room furnishings with “self-help” girls, to be disposed of on commission to incoming freshmen, who are very glad to get bargains. Meanwhile the freshman has chosen her hours for lectures and recitation—usually not more than four out of the eight hours, with two hours more for study. The hardest work of the college course comes in freshman year. Still there is time for relaxations and the forming of friendships. In September, or the early part of October, the sophomores formally welcome the freshman to college social life. The form of this entertainment varies at the different colleges.

At Bryn Mawr the year is opened by a series of informal teas in honor of the freshmen, which give good opportunities for new acquaintances to the girl socially inclined. Next after these comes the “Presentation of Lanterns.” This fête has become a tradition at Bryn Mawr, and is a very pretty one. Each freshman is presented with a lantern to light her on her way through college, and some of the presentation speeches are very clever and full of local wit. Six weeks later the freshmen reciprocate, entertaining the sophomores with return speeches and toasts, and singing their class song, which until this time ‘has been closely guarded. It is on this occasion that the freshmen are mentally and socially engaged by the older fellows, who are looking out for worthy acquisitions to their societies.

Wellesley’s “Floral Sunday” is an eloquent goodwill offering to the freshmen. The first Sunday after her arrival, each freshman finds at her breakfast plate a bunch of fragrant blossoms, tied with ribbons of the sophomore class color, with an accompanying card bearing the inscription, “Love one another, ” or “God is love, ’’ or whatever like theme has been chosen for the chapel address. On this morning the chapel is fragrant with flowers, the decorations being the result of sophomore effort and good will.

Smith’s “Freshman Frolic” is a very pretentious affair. The dance is held in the “gym,” which has been transformed by boughs and blossoms, palms and vines, national flags and college emblems. Each soph constitutes herself a cavalier for the freshman to whom she is assigned. She sends her flowers, calls for her, fills her order of dance, introduces her partners, fetches ices and frappés between dances and takes her to supper. The whole method of procedure is apt to impress the freshman ludicrously at first, except that the soph fulfils her duties with so much dignified seriousness. Nor does the new order of things stop with the close of the dance. Every soph sees her partner home, begs for a flower and changes orders for souvenirs, and if the freshman has taken advantage of the opportunity and made the desired hit, there are dates for future meetings and jollifications, and a good-night over the balusters, as lingering and cordial as any the freshie has left behind her. And if the gallant soph who lives in another hall runs away from her shadow on the way back to her own dormitory, it’s nobody’s business but her own. Her duties in knight-errantry are at an end.

At Vassar the girls go a step farther, those who fill men’s parts at the dances affecting bloomers, sack-coats disclosing a wide expanse of shirt-front, white lawn ties and buttonhole bouquets.

A chorus at the Barnard College Greek Games in 1908
Beals, A. Tennyson (photographer). “Greek Games Chorus, 1908”. Barnard College. 1908. College Women. Web. Accessed March 19, 2017.

By the time the freshman festivities are over, the upper classmen have judged the new stock, and desirable acquisitions are sought for the societies. These are legion, and they are the most fascinating phase of college life. First, but least exclusive, are the athletic societies; then the debating, literary, Shakespeare, dramatic, musical, historic, Greek letter;and, last but not least, the eating clubs.

These last are the most exclusive societies at the girls’ colleges. They are purely social, and no one is admitted unless thoroughly desirable and unanimously elected. If a new girl is popular, several of these societies will try to get her. Hence there is considerable electioneering at the beginning of the term ; dining-rooms, recitation-rooms and class corridors become stamping-grounds for fair lobbyists, and the more persevering become regular little ward heelers.

At the close of the first term, every one is located, and social life is at full blast. On Sunday evenings the dining-rooms are deserted, and the eating clubs hold sway. Alternately in the rooms of their members, the Nibblers, the Grubbers, the Epicureans, the Swallows, the Gobblers, the Friars, the Munchers, do wonderful things with spirit-lamps and chafing-dishes, accomplishing results delicious, savory, and more or less digestible. These Sunday evenings are dear to all college girls. At Wellesley, Monday is set apart as a holiday; but there is no record to show any connection with the eating clubs.

The curriculum in girls’ colleges is not complete; but the ‘‘higher education” is still in its infancy. Meanwhile the natural womanly instinct asserts itself, and the chafing-dish holds sway over all small entertainments. No book-shelf is complete without a cookbook, and the natural rivalry between hostesses encourages experiment. The cozy dormitory quarters give an added flavor to fudge, rarebits, newburgs and afternoon teas, the last being the most popular.

There is little work during the late afternoon hours. Between four and five-thirty the dormitories hum with gossip, and the tea-kettles make a lively tune. It is the general hour for relaxation, for the college girl arises early. The usual hour for the first bell is six-thirty, with breakfast from seven to eight.

At Mt. Holyoke the girls care for their own rooms, and in several of the dormitories at Smith’s and Wellesley the girls devote an hour each day to this sort of work in part payment for their board. At eight-thirty recitations begin, and the mornings are invariably busy. The day is divided into eight ‘‘hours,” and engagements made for first, second, third hour, et cetera, the time never being mentioned. Luncheon is usually from twelve to onethirty, after which the tension relaxes. During the afternoons the upper classmen find plenty of time for recreation.

All the girls’ colleges have splendid gymnasiums, but they are not popular. Open-air athletics are greatly preferred, and there is no time in the year when some outdoor sport is not available. During the winter there are skating, tobogganing and long tramps, with basket-ball practice necessarily confined to the gymnasium. As soon as the frost is off the ground, however, the basket-ball teams revel in field practice, the rowing-machines are forsaken and the shells launched with a glad hurrah, and running records are broken and made on good turf track. College girls are very enthusiastic athletes. Basket-ball is the universal favorite sport, and there is a general struggle to get on the teams.

Mount Holyoke Class of 1899 Basketball Team
“Mount Holyoke Class of 1899 Basketball Team”. Mount Holyoke College. 1899. College Women. Web. Accessed March 19, 2017.

There are many other sports, and all have their devotees—tennis, golf, lacrosse, swimming, riding, cycling, vaulting, highjumping and running events. Tramping, too, is a favorite pastime, and in many of the colleges “Mountain Day” is set apart for this purpose. At Mt. Holyoke the girls are great equestrians, and the objective points of their “little jaunts” and “constitutionals” are located eight and ten miles from the college-grounds.

As the Vassar and Smith girls look back to Chapter House dances and “Phil Proms,” so the Mt. Holyoke graduate cherishes tender memories of the Bluffs, the Larches, Titans’ Pier, the Pass of Thermopylae, Paradise, and Bittersweet Lane. “Field Day” at the colleges is the culmination of the year’s athletic work. It is always a gala day, and class spirit runs high. Vassar’s “Field Day,” occurring in May, is the most exciting event of the year. She has always maintained high records in track events, and the record-breakers of “Field Day” are exalted and fêted by their colleagues.

At Bryn Mawr the annual tennis tournament takes first place. It occurs early in the autumn, and lasts a week. The whole college is decked in festive attire. Pennants, class colors and flags float from the windows, the lawns are gay with teaparties; and class calls and the new cries of the freshmen are drowned in the general:

Hooray! Hooray for the gray!
Hooray! Hoorah for Bryn Mawr!

which is the favorite college cry, having been dedicated to President Taylor, who belonged to the Society of Friends.

Besides these annual athletic celebrations, there are regular fête-days observed by every college. At Vassar there are “Founders’ Day” and “‘Philolethian Day,” terminating with formal dances in the evening, and there is the annual trip to Lake Mohonk, a treat provided by “Uncle Fred” Thompson, one of the trustees.

“Float Day” is a fête peculiarly Wellesley’s own. The festivities begin at sunset, with the coming out of the floats decorated and fashioned in quaint design, sometimes suggestive of class jokes, sometimes bearing upon the eccentricities of the faculty, sometimes carrying out a theme in history or drama. Smaller craft follow the floats, until, as twilight deepens, Lake Waban is covered with a gay flotilla, hundreds of colored lights on the boats adding beauty to the scene. On shore, scores of lanterns hung in the trees transform the place to a veritable fairyland. The grounds are filled with guests, refreshments are served, fireworks make things brilliant, and then, in the first lull, the Wellesley college songs break out over the moonlit stillness, and “Wellesley, Our Alma Mater,” floats over the hills, eight hundred voices strong. The “Freshman Banquet” is the event of the year at Wellesley College, the “Junior Promenade” at Smith’s, and “Mountain” is sacred to Mt. Holyoke, when the whole college takes a holiday, the seniors monopolizing one of the mountain inns, where grinds and prophecies are read, old books burnt, toasts drunk over the bonfire in deep flagons of lemonade, and a pair of fiddlers engaged for a dance that lasts until midnight.

After the beginning of the second term, the seniors come into prominence. Preparations for commencement and class day exercises are put under way; farewell entertainments are given by the under classmen; the year’s dramatics, which have been a very popular part of the entertainment— and sometimes dangerously fascinating—are drawn to a close, and the seniors prepare to leave their alma mater. Almost invariably they are sorry to go, for the association of four or five years must result in ties and bonds not easy to break.

The senior supper, which is the last event of college life before the public exercises, is intended for a huge jollification; but it puts lumps in girls’ throats not so easily swallowed as the goodies specified on the menu. Here speeches are made which, despite the bright quips and witty allusions to incidents of college life, strike chords of deep feeling. In some of the colleges it is the rule for engaged girls to “own up” and receive the congratulations of their classmates; in others souvenirs are exchanged which will always remain treasured tokens; and at Bryn Mawr it is the custom of the lower classmen, who refuse to allow the occasion to be steeped in tears, to gather underneath the windows and sing class songs and shout class calls, until the seniors soften and pass out goodies through the windows.

Then come class day and commencement exercises, with their attendant excitement and pleasure—the receiving of degrees, with a justifiable flush of pride and satisfaction; the parting with chums and familiar landmarks, with the inevitable gulp and struggle for self-control; and then Stern reality.

–“A College Girls’ Life” by Lavinia Hart, Cosmopolitan (1901)

The Lady Journalist


Edwardian women typing in an office

At the turn of the century, women’s print culture exploded. Between increasing literacy and decreasing costs of printing, and the desire to circulate knowledge and ideas, the number of women entering journalism and starting newspapers and magazines changed the landscape of a predominantly male field. This isn’t to say that women weren’t marginalized in the field: in response to the growth in women readers (and the revenue from them), the majority of newspapers tended to only hire women to write “lady’s columns” that focused on domestic concerns such as childcare, fashion, cooking, etc. Nevertheless, women used their positions within traditional journals and those they founded to discuss, debate, and question many of their major issues of the day.

The Woman Question

As seen in a prior post about The New Woman, women at the turn of the century challenged long-held assumptions about gender roles. In a 1902 issue of The Lady’s Realm, Lady De La Warr asked: “Woman’s Position in the Present Day: Has it Improved?”. The countess’s editorial reveals the contradicting views some held of feminism and women’s emancipation, for she considers education of the lower classes a detriment to keeping housemaids and is anti-suffrage, but also states:

“The mere fact of its being dignified by the name of “The Woman Question” shows its importance, for no one has ever heard of a man’s question…But if we look at the question closely, we see that it resolves itself into some very simple ones, which are mainly these: “Has a woman a right to live in the world on the same terms as a man has—to work as he works, to be paid like him, and to govern with him; in fact, to use the world as he uses it, to be treated by it as it treats him?”…It does not rest with women to prove why they should have all these things, but with men to prove why they should not.”

The Lady’s Realm volume 12


In the United States, “muckrakers”–a word coined by President Theodore Roosevelt to describe the new journalistic trend of exposing the seedy underbelly of American business and society–were mostly men. The majority of women involved in such pursuits were considered “stunt journalists,” no better than entertainers at a circus; yet, women journalists were forced to undertake so-called stunts in order to break out of the “ladies columns.” Nellie Bly is the most famous (her heyday was in the 1880s), but other women took up the mantle of exposing the inequalities and iniquities that affected women and children, thus melding the domestic sphere in which they were supposed to be and the call for reform that was a muckrakers’ bread and butter. In 1903, sisters-in-law Bessie and Marie Van Vorst went undercover as workers in factories in major U.S. cities to recount the horrific conditions through which America’s well-to-do obtained their linens and other fine goods in The Woman Who Toils: Being the Experiences of Two Gentlewomen as Factory Girls, a collection of the articles they wrote for a magazine.

Labour appeared in the guise of a monster feeding itself on human lives. To every new impression I responded with indiscriminate compassion. It is impossible for the imagination to sustain for more than a moment at a time the terrible fatigue which a new hand like myself is obliged to endure day after day; the disgust at foul smells, the revulsion at miserable food soaked in grease, the misery of a straw mattress, a sheetless bed with blankets whose acrid odour is stifling. The mind cannot grasp what it means to be frantic with pain in the shoulders and back before nine in the morning, and to watch the clock creep around to six before one has a right to drop into the chair that has stood near one all day long. Yet it is not until the system has become at least in a great measure used to such physical effort that one can judge without bias. When I had grown so accustomed to the work that I was equal to a long walk after ten hours in the factory; when I had become so saturated with the tenement smell that I no longer noticed it; when any bed seemed good enough for the healthy sleep of a working girl, and any food good enough to satisfy a hungry stomach, then and then only I began to see that in the great unknown class there were a multitude of classes which, aside from the ugliness of their esthetic surroundings and the intellectual inactivity which the nature of their occupation imposes, are not all to be pitied: they are a collection of human individuals with like capacities to our own. The surroundings into which they are born furnish little chance for them to develop their minds and their tastes, but their souls suffer nothing from working in squalour and sordidness. Certain acts of impulsive generosity, of disinterested kindness, of tender sacrifice, of loyalty and fortitude shone out in the poverty-stricken wretches I met on my way, as the sun shines glorious in iridescence on the rubbish heap that goes to fertilize some rich man’s fields.

Racism & Lynching

Of the women journalists who wrote about racism and lynching, Ida B. Wells is the most known–and her writing straddles the lines between muckraking, race reform, and women’s suffrage, for she simultaneously exposed extrajudicial violence, racial discrimination, and the rights of black women. Writing at the same time was Rebecca Latimer Felton, a suffragist–and proslavery and pro-lynching activist. Both women’s writings and the backdrop against which they wrote is vividly detailed in Crystal Feimster’s Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching. Black women in particular found journalism the most expedient method of being heard above not only white men and women, but black men as well, and Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin’s Boston-based newspaper, The Woman’s Era was the first newspaper published by and for black women. In an editorial against lynching, Ruffin castigates American society for its lack of concern for certain lives in comparison to capitalistic concerns:

In his very admirable and searching address delivered in this city, April 16th, judge Albion W. Tourgee proposed as a remedy to prevent the lynching of colored people at the South, that the country where lynchings occur be compelled by law to pension the wife and children of the murdered man. This, he said would make murder costly and in self defense the local authorities would put a stop to it. At first blush, this is an attractive suggestion. But why not hang the murderers? Why make a distinction between the murderers of white men and the murderers of colored men? If the punishment for murder is hanging why hang the murderer in one case and in the other let the murderer go free and exact of the county a fine? If an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is the rule in one case why should it not be the rule in the other case? No, the truth is this, nothing is to be expected from the South. The colored people must look to the general government. It has a right to their services and lives in time of war. They have a right to its protection certainly in time of peace. It is idle to say that it must leave to state governments the protection of the lives of its citizens. Why not leave to state governments the punishment counterfeiters? If the United States government can protect money, the property of its citizens against destruction at the hands of the counterfeiter, it can protect the owners of the property against loss of life at the hands of the murderer. It is an astounding proposition that a great nation is powerful enough to stop white moonshines [sic] from making whiskey but is unable to prevent the moonshiners or any one else from murdering its citizens. It can protect corn but cannot protect life. It can prevent the sale of tobacco unless the seller pays a revenue to the government but it cannot protect its citizens at any price. It can go to war, spend millions of dollars and sacrifice thousands of lives to avenge the death of a naturalized white citizen slain by a foreign government on foreign soil, but cannot spend a cent to protect a loyal, native-born colored American murdered without provocation by native or alien in Alabama. Shame on such a government! The administration in power is particeps criminis with the murderers. It can stop lynching, and until it does so, it has on its hands the innocent blood of its murdered citizens.

“How to Stop Lynching” The Woman’s Era, May 1, 1894

Women’s Suffrage

The question of the right to vote preoccupied the writings of the majority of women on both sides of the Atlantic. In the Ladies Home Journal, Jane Addams declared that:

[M]any women to-day are failing to discharge their duties to their own households properly simply because they do not perceive that as society grows more complicated it, is necessary that woman shall extend her sense of responsibility to many things outside of her own home if she would continue to preserve the home in its entirety. A woman’s simplest duty, one would say, is to keep her house clean and wholesome and to feed her children properly. Yet if she lives in a tenement house, as so many of my neighbors do, she cannot fulfill these simple obligations by her own efforts because she is utterly dependent upon the city administration for the conditions which render decent living possible…a tenement house mother may see her children sicken and die of diseases from which she alone is powerless to shield them, although her tenderness and devotion are unbounded. She cannot even secure untainted meat for her household, she cannot provide fresh fruit, unless the meat has been inspected by city officials, and the decayed fruit, which is so often placed upon sale in the tenement districts, has been destroyed in the interests of public health. In short, if woman would keep on with her old business of caring for her house and rearing her children she will have to have some conscience in regard to public affairs lying quite outside of her immediate household. The individual conscience and devotion are no longer effective.


In a British journal, Constance Smedley argued for the right of married women to vote:

It can hardly be disputed that woman’s intelligence and practicality is equal in the main to man’s. If there were such a thing as an electoral examination women would not complain of having to pass it; nor would the voting register show an amazing preponderance of masculine names. Given two beings of equal intelligence, the plea of withholding the right to vote from one on the ground that she lacks an economic stake in the country, is rather a feeble one when applied to the woman who has often given up lucrative employment to look after a man’s house, bear his children, and make a home for him and them. If such a woman trusts her husband too completely to ask for a settlement from him upon her marriage, and consequently freely gives the myriad services of a wife and mother, nurse and housekeeper, in exchange for a home alone, I do not see that it follows that she should be disqualified from having a voice in her own and her children’s destinies, or from being directly represented in the Government which she must obey. If she is one of the most valuable of the nation’s citizens she should have a voice in its affairs.


Further Reading

Front-Page Girls: Women Journalists in American Culture and Fiction, 1880-1930 by Jean Marie Lutes
Ladies of the Press: The Story of Women in Journalism by an Insider by Ishbel Ross
Around the World in Seventy-Two Days and Other Writings by Nellie Bly, edited by Jean Marie Lutes
The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader by Ida B. Wells and Mia Bay
Taking on the Trust: How Ida Tarbell Brought Down John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil by Steve Weinberg