D. E. Ireland:
Those Exciting Edwardian Women
The beauty of writing a book set in 1913 is that it serves as a bridge from the privileged world of the Edwardians to the upheavals of the 20th century. Although the Edwardian era officially began with Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 and ended in 1910 with the death of King Edward VII, the years 1910-1913 seem little more than an extension of the Edwardian period. It is not until the outbreak of WWI in 1914, that radical social change is visibly seen. By the time ‘the war to end all wars’ ended in 1918, the world was a much different place. We find writing about this time period fascinating – especially for our female characters.
In Move Your Blooming Corpse, we included two groups of Edwardian women with totally different aims: the Gaiety Girls who took to the stage, and the Suffragettes who took to the streets in political protest. Gaiety Girl Diana Price kicks off the deadly action in our second book by being too beautiful – and too curious – for her own good. And we introduce suffragette Sybil Chase to our permanent cast of characters. Engaged to marry a Scotland Yard detective (who also happens to be Eliza Doolittle’s cousin), Sybil manages to stay one step ahead of the arresting police during her own political protests… at least so far.
Gaiety Girls – Beginning in the 1890s, pretty young women looking for an exciting career found work as chorus girls in London’s musical theater world. Because they were showcased at the Gaiety Theatre, these women became known as Gaiety Girls. Unlike the actresses who appeared in earlier burlesque shows, the Gaiety Girls were viewed as respectable young women. The rich men of London flocked to their performances, waiting eagerly outside the theater afterward for their favorite chorus dancer. Their admirers grew so plentiful, the term ‘Stage Door Johnnies’ was coined.
Both men and women looked upon the elegant Gaiety Girl as a feminine role model. The top clothing designers of London created costumes for their shows, turning the Gaiety Girls into style icons. Photographs of them in their latest outfits became a staple of fashion periodicals. Many of these young women went on to have successful acting careers; one even became a member of Parliament. But marriage was still the key to social mobility, and many Gaiety Girls married aristocrats.
Although titled families were often less than thrilled by such marriages, several Gaiety Girls married not once – but twice – into the peerage. One of them, Denise Orme, became wife to a baron, and later a duke. And no Gaiety Girl was photographed more than Gertie Millar. The beautiful singer/dancer married composer Lionel Monckton, who wrote many of the shows for which she became celebrated. Following his death, the irrepressible Gertie went on to become a countess when she married the Earl of Dudley. The Gaiety Theater was demolished in 1903 and rebuilt in a new London location. It continued to provide a showcase for the beautiful Gaiety Girls until it finally closed in 1939.
Suffragettes – Women began campaigning for the right to vote before Queen Victoria sat on her throne. Social reformer Richard Pankhurst tirelessly fought for many liberal causes, but it was his wife Emmeline, along with their daughters Christabel and Sylvia, who became the leading figures of the suffrage movement. In October 1903, Emmeline formed the Women’s Social and Political Union, which quickly gained notoriety for its extreme civil disobedience. This October, Meryl Streep will portray Emmeline Pankhurst in the film Suffragette.
The militant protests of the suffragettes caught the world’s attention: chaining themselves to the railing at No. 10 Downing Street, smashing windows, arson, and disrupting political meetings, even in Parliament. English society was forced to take sides, especially after the tragic death of Emily Davison, who deliberately ran onto the racetrack at the 1913 Derby and was trampled to death. In our second book, we utilized the true copycat incident of Harold Hewitt, a supporter of women’s rights, who rushed out onto the track a few weeks later at Royal Ascot. Although Mr. Hewitt survived, Emily Davison did not, and, her funeral prompted thousands of suffragettes to follow the hearse through London’s streets.
World War I put suffrage on hold. While soldiers fought on the front lines, women contributed to the war effort by taking on jobs normally held by men. It was their stellar performance in shouldering these wartime responsibilities that gained widespread respect for the suffrage movement. The U.S. passed full voting rights to women in 1920, and England passed full rights in 1928. The struggle took far too long, but was well worth the fight.
This is only one stop on the MOVE YOUR BLOOMING CORPSE Mystery Virtual Book Tour. For other stops on this tour, CLICK HERE. You can also read more about Eliza and Higgins in WOULDN’T IT BE DEADLY, the first book in the St. Martin’s Minotaur mystery series.