Wednesday, April 20, 2016

EVENTS OF 1888 by Edith Maxwell.

RHYS BOWEN: Edith Maxwell is one of our favorite and loyal Reds, so I was delighted when she
asked me to read this book, several months before it came out. And what it treat it was to have a chance to experience a small New England town seen through the eyes of a Quaker midwife, as told by another Quaker in the same town over one hundred years later.

So when the book came out, I asked Edith to become a Red instead of a commenter and tell us about it. Welcome Edith!

I’m delighted to be back on the front side of Jungle Reds. Thanks for inviting me, Rhys!

You did a post recently about the real events that happened while fictional Molly is alive, and I 
thought I’d echo that.

My Quaker Midwife Mysteries are set in 1888, which came about from a simple news story 
I read in our local paper in 2013. It described the Great Fire of 1888 in the mill town of 
Amesbury, Massachusetts, where I live. The fire, on the night before Good Friday, burned down 
many of the carriage factories – and Amesbury was world famous for producing graceful well- 
built carriages

 The town and neighboring Salisbury had been tussling about who was going to 
annex whom, so the municipal fire-fighting equipment hadn’t been updated. The fire raged,

spreading to the telegraph and post offices, so they couldn’t send for help to other larger towns.

Only an overnight rain helped reduce some of the damage.

I was walking to Quaker Meeting one Sunday morning after reading that article and a short 
story about a Quaker mill girl who solves the mystery of the Carriage Fire arson popped into my 
head. Poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier had a bit part in the story, too. And now I 
have a three-book contract for a series featuring Whittier, that mill girl, and her aunt Rose 
Carroll, our midwife-sleuth protagonist (ooh, and an Agatha-nominated story with the same 
setting and characters!).

It turns out 1888 is a really interesting time in which to set stories, even though I came upon 
it by accident. The germ theory of infection was beginning to be known, so Rose washes her 
hands a lot, and most babies were still born at home with midwives. There’s a recently built 
hospital across the river where Rose’s beau David Dodge practices medicine, and it even has the 
new chain-pull toilets.

Electricity was around, although it wouldn’t have been used in my midwife’s modest home. 
The first successful electric street railway was opened in Richmond, Virginia in 1888 by Frank 
Sprague, but the horse-drawn trolley in Amesbury didn’t get electrified until 1890.

Similarly, some of Rose’s more well-off clients had telephones in their homes – but not
Rose. She relies on the twice-daily mail service to communicate, or pays a passing boy to deliver 
a note for her.

George Eastman perfected the Kodak box camera in 1888, the first camera designed to use 
roll film. I wonder if George might not pay a visit to Amesbury in my next book! And speaking 
of pictures, Thomas Edison filed a patent for the first motion picture camera that same year. 

It’s been interesting researching police procedure of the era. Fingerprinting wasn’t yet used, 
nor was the technology to identify the exact weapon a bullet had been fired from. They didn’t 
know about blood typing yet, either.

The International Council of Women met for the first time in Washington, DC in 1888. 
Women leaders representing 53 women's organizations from 9 countries gathered to advocate for 
human rights for women. Susan B. Anthony presided over half the sessions, and Rose Carroll’s 
mother, a women’s suffrage activist, attended.

The Great Blizzard of 1888 had raged just a few weeks before Delivering the Truth opens in 
early April. The storm paralyzed the east coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine, shut down 
the railroads, and kept people confined to their homes for a week. Rose needed to strap on 
snowshoes to attend a birth after the storm ebbed.

What else happened in 1888? Jack the Ripper was leaving bodies around London, and 
Brazil abolished the last remnants of slavery. In America, the National Geographic Society was 
founded, the Washington Monument was opened to the public, a 91-centimeter telescope was 
first used at Lick Observatory in California, and Grover Cleveland won the popular vote for 
President but lost the electoral college vote to Benjamin Harrison. Of those events, the last is the 
only one that would have affected Rose’s life. Her irreverent friend, postmistress Bertie 
Winslow, rides a horse named Grover around town, and I’m sure Bertie’s not going rename him 

Readers: What do you know about the late-1800s? Do you have a favorite historic event of 
the era, or invention? I’ll give away a copy of  Delivering the Truth to one commenter!

Delivering the Truth, Quaker midwife Rose Carroll becomes a suspect when a difficult 
carriage factory manager is killed after the factory itself is hit by an arsonist. Struggling with 
being less than a perfect Friend, Rose delivers the baby of the factory owner’s mistress even 
while the owner’s wife is also seven months pregnant. After another murder, Rose calls on her 
strengths as a counselor and problem solver to help bring the killers to justice before they destroy 
the town’s carriage industry and the people who run it.


Agatha-nominated and Amazon best-selling author Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker 
Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries, the Country Store Mysteries (as Maddie 
Day), and the Lauren Rousseau Mysteries (as Tace Baker), as well as award-winning short crime 
fiction. Her story, “A Questionable Death,” which features the same 1888 setting and characters 
as Delivering the Truth, is nominated for a 2016 Agatha Award for Best Short Story. 
Edith is Vice-President of Sisters in Crime New England and Clerk of Amesbury Friends 
Meeting. She lives north of Boston with her beau and three cats, and blogs with the other Wicked 
Cozy Authors. You can find her on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, and at her web site,


  1. The new book sounds fantastic, Edith! Love having you back.

    And of course midwives are hot and anything Quaker fascinates me. It's so interesting the way research can inspire fiction -- pick up a strand and start digging and sounds like you struck gold.

  2. Thanks so much, Hallie. Yes, I'm always finding strands of ore to follow!

    Um, there were six comments up here until a few minutes ago. Any idea where they went??

  3. apologies to anyone whose comments got deleted this morning! If you're out there, please come back and tell us what you said... we love you! Just trying to function without enough morning coffee. :-(

  4. Edith, you know I am thrilled about this book and dying to get my hands on a copy. This is the year when my beloved grandmother, whom I called "Nanna," was born on May 4th not long after the blizzard of 1888. Ninety years later, my husband and I had to drive to Scituate to rescue her after the blizzard of 1978. Nanna lived to be 108! You can imagine the stories she could tell and the span of history she enjoyed. I am really looking forward to returning to that era with Rose, whose own history sounds fascinating. And can I add how terrific the cover is?

    1. I remember the Blizzard of 1978. I was stuck on campus. No Classes and no one could find their cars.

  5. Edith, I am looking forward to reading this book. The history of the North Shore is in my blood going back to Salem and Ipswich near your home, I think across the marsh.

    The Great Salem, Massachusetts Fire of 1914 was caused by an explosion at the Korn Leather Factory. It destroyed over 250 acres and 1,376 buildings in the city. Twenty thousand people lost their homes and over 10,000 people lost their jobs, because so many businesses were destroyed.

    At that time much of my family lived in Salem included 3 grandparents and 3 sets of great-grandparents. When I was a girl my grandfather Jean wrote his memories for me. "My father said hurry. Leave the coins. The fire is coming down Lafayette Street. So I had to run and leave everything in the house. I was almost 8 years old. Everyone lived in tents at Forest River Park. That's where I got a job during the depression. I fed the deer."

    Responsibility for deer in my family originated hundreds of years ago in France near the caves of Lascaux. They left it behind there, but coincidence? brought it back to my grandfather in Salem, Massachusetts.

  6. What an amazing life, Michele! Hope you enjoy my story as much. And yes, Midnight Ink nailed that gorgeous cover. (Thanks for reposting your comment, by the way.)

  7. Edith Maxwell has left a new comment on the post "EVENTS OF 1888 by Edith Maxwell.":

    Fascinating story, Reine - it sounds like you still have those written memories from your grandfather. Such a treasure!

  8. That is some treasure, to have your grandfather's written memories, Reine. There were so many disastrous accidents in those days when he was young.

  9. Congratulations on the first book in a new series Edith--it is a beautiful cover. I know next to nothing about the late 1880's, unless I saw it in Downton:). And very clever to use a midwife as sleuth--so much built-in drama right away!

    Reine, the deer story is priceless...

  10. The Blizzard of '88 was what inspired the first of my quartet of mysteries featuring scandal sheet reporter Diana Spaulding, Deadlier than the Pen. There are some fascinating books written about that storm. It did, as Edith said, reach as far north as Maine, but only southern Maine. Just like the recent April snow in southern New England, the worst of the blizzard went out to sea in Massachusetts and left most of Maine enjoying a sunny spring day. Trivia about 1888: Passenger cars on the railroads used wood stoves for heat.

  11. Thanks, Roberta! A midwife works so well as a sleuth - think of all the places she goes where a male officer can't - and the secrets she hears from women in labor.

  12. I'm going to try posting this again . . . .

    Your book sounds delightful, Edith; I’m looking forward to reading it.

    1888 . . . so many exciting “happenings” in the world . . . here’s a couple more:

    California got its first seismograph on June 1st, but the Rio de la Plata Earthquake [measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale] is in Argentina and Uruguay on June 5th . . .

    On September 7th, Edith McLean becomes the first baby placed in an incubator [what would midwife Rose think about that, I wonder?] at State Emigrant Hospital, Ward’s Island New York . . .

    Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony premieres in Saint Petersburg on November 17th . . .

    But the stars get my attention every time, so the 91-centimeter telescope at the Lick Observatory in California is my favorite historical moment of that year.

  13. Thanks, Joan! I think there will definitely be talk of incubators in book three. ;^)

  14. Functioning without morning coffee--what a crazy idea!

    My earlier comment was a compliment on the gorgeous cover. Midnight Ink did a beautiful job.

    Second, I particularly like the prickly relationship between Rose and Kevin Donovan, the police officer who is in turns ally and impediment. Kevin's attitudes about husbands and wives are appropriate for the place and period, which means he makes me grind my teeth from time to time, but he's a positive character in that he wants justice. Never any doubt about that. He and Rose work well off one another.

    The midwife aspect...while Rose is wonderful at her job, may I just say how much I appreciate modern medicine?

  15. And what could possibly go wrong with a wood stove on a passenger car, right, Kathy? Wow. Great tidbit. Folks - Kathy read my book early on, shared her historical bibliography with me, and wrote a glowing review that helped me sell this series! Thanks, Kathy.

  16. Thanks so much, Ramona. Everybody - Ramona edited this book and much, much improved it.

    Yesterday I dropped off a copy of the book for the real Kevin Donovan - a local police sergeant who has helped me with several contemporary police scenes in my other series!

    Modern medicine - which interferes in so many normal births these days, but also rescues some birthing women who might have otherwise died.

  17. Congratulations Edith. And what an honor to join the writers here.

    My grandfather was born in 1888, the 13th child of English immigrants, on a dirt farm in NE Kansas. He was the only one of the children born here. Right now I am looking across the room at a water color of the house he was born in. It's a prairie house, long low porches on two sides, sheltered by elm trees. There was no electricity, no indoor water, no plumbing at all. I can't imagine how my great grandmother managed to feed and care for that huge family or how different her life was after she left England. My grandfather lived to see two world wars and a man on the moon. And they say old people can't tolerate change!

    I am very interested to read your book. In another life I was an OB nurse, worked with midwives on the Navajo reservation in Arizona and delivered many of those babies myself. Birth is fairly routine 99% of the time and sheer terror for that 1%. Every day I thanked God for the privilege of being present at a birth. And for Semmelweis!

  18. It looks like all the comments of all prior posts are gone, poof!

    I can't think of any favorite moments of the late 1800's, except that my paternal grandfather was born in 1888 or thereabouts. He was in his 90's when he died in 1976 or so. Grandpa was a foundry worker, and he was 36 when he married my grandmother, who was 18 at the time. Can you imagine? She was not even born until he himself was 18. And then he outlived her by about eight years more.

    Edith, I'm very excited for you and for this series. Love the premise to pieces. I'm recommending it to a friend who lives in Amish country, and who is just retiring from a long career of midwifery.

    1. Karen who is your midwife friend? I went to midwifery school with someone who went to work in Amish country.

  19. Thanks so much, Ann. Yes, it's always an honor to jump from the back blog here to the front page! Thirteen children - wow. And what history your grandfather saw.

    Ignaz Semmelweis, for those who don't know, was the early pioneer of antiseptic procedures and reduced "childbed fever" by promoting hand washing, especially by doctors going from performing autopsies to delivering babies. His fellow doctors didn't like it a bit.

    1. No they did not. The midwives washed their hands a lot and their patients did better. I think Johns Hopkins and women's and children's had separate floors for OB (MD) patients and midwife patients back in the 1880's. The midwife patients rarely came down with "childbed fever" as they washed their hands before and after touching a patient. No the doctors did not like Ignaz Semmelweis idea of unseen bacteria and germs. They disbelieved it. Love the history.

  20. Thanks, Karen! I am hoping for a big reading audience among midwives, if the word can get out to them. Occasional commenter here and huge mystery fan Risa Rispoli vetted all my birth scenes, since I'm a couple of decades past when I worked as a childbirth educator and doula.

  21. Edith, I so enjoyed your post. I am currently reading your book and enjoying it immensely. I think about my visit to your town and try to remember the places as I'm reading. I am so happy for you and look forward to more in this series.

  22. Great cover, Edith. History is full of interesting story threads once you start looking, isn't it?

  23. You bet, Mary. So much history, so little time!

  24. Edith, congratulations on the book--and that cover is a stunner!

    I love the time period in which it is set. So much happening in the world--so much change on the doorstep--my Great-grandfather O'Bryan was born in 1877 and my Gr-grandmother in 1884 and both lived into the 1960s. My gr-grandmother Georgeann was born when Grover Cleveland was elected to office and lived to see John F. Kennedy handle the Cuban missile crisis. From horse-and-wagon days to nuclear warheads!

    Can't wait to get a copy of this book in my hands!

  25. Thanks so much, FChurch! My own grandparents were born in the last half of the 1890s. They saw SO much change.

  26. Wonderful cover, Edith. Quite perfect.

    My half-sister is a midwife--I will pass the word! (Are they called CNM?)

    Tell us about your walking tour!

    1. Some of are CNMs. some are CMs. Some are LM or CPM. Hank I didn't know that fact. I probably know her if she is a CNM.

    2. Her name is Mairi Breen Rothman. How funny if you know her!

  27. Edith, love the cover, love the premise, love the period. Can't wait to read this! And always so glad to see you on this side of the page!

  28. Thanks, Hank! Certified Nurse Midwife - yes, please pass along the word.

    Ah, the walking tour. Last Sunday sixty people showed up in Amesbury to follow me, dressed in late-1800s Quaker gray dress, around town for an hour. I pointed out historical landmarks that were in play when the book takes place - and pointed out places like, "The first murder victim was found on the rocks there on the lower falls." We had a reading inside the historic Friends Meetinghouse where Whittier and Rose worshiped (and where I spend my own Sunday mornings) and inside Whittier's home, now a museum, where I am a docent-in-training.

    It was a splendid day. My out-of-town adult sons came for the weekend to support me and act as walk captains, and we all ended up at a restaurant in the old train depot building for a book party - with cake! Stay tuned for the link to the youtube video in a week or two. You, too, can take the tour.

  29. Hi Edith! Sorry my earlier comment was deleted. I think I said something witty and fabulous. Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. But in all seriousness, it's just such a great concept, execution, cover -- the whole package. Can't wait to dive it!

  30. I just looked up events of 1888 for New York, my home state, and discovered this: "Oscar F. Beckwith died at the end of a rope in the blustery mid-morning of March 1, 1888, six years after killing his partner in a hapless gold mining venture—and allegedly eating him—whereupon he fled to Canada." Evidently the last man to be publicly hanged in the state was known as "The Cannibal of Austerlitz." I suggest reading the whole article at the "Cornell Law School site, it's a delightfully grisly tale. And Edith? The cannibal was originally from Massachusetts!

  31. Thanks, Susan! Yes, your earlier comment was brilliant. And mentioned something about more coffee... ;^) Thanks for your kind words - well, the cover is Midnight Ink's, but I agree, it's a great one.

  32. Ooh, Julia, I love it! Cannibals in the Commonwealth. Thanks for the tip.

  33. We even had that blizzard in Indiana, Risa!

  34. Thanks, Debs. That means a lot! Hope you enjoy the story.

  35. Replies
    1. You are welcome. I love medical history which is one reason I loved Delivering The Truth. Murder, Mayhem and Midwifery. What could be better? 😀

  36. Hello Edith,
    Nice to read your post and learn a lot about the 1800's.
    I'm downloading Delivering the truth

  37. This was a fascinating day of blog post and comments. You managed to make it work despite the little delete problem. Very engaging.

  38. What a wonderful synopsis of the age. I have often longed to live in that time. Silly, I know. My mother used to rail at me that it was before penicillin--her mother died of peritonitis and penicillin was experimental at the time. Her doctor asked for it, but it was reserved for military personnel so they say.

    As for me. I have a personal history. My great grandfather established his farm in upstate New York in the late 1880s. My early childhood was spent there, off and on. The farm had never been updated, no running water (hand pump in the kitchen), no sanitary facilities in the house (guess what in the backyard behind the berm), no heat but for the fireplaces and the Queen Anne Stove, refrigeration was an icebox and in the heat of summer we would open the spigot to empty the water tray and let it run over our feet. I learned to feed chickens, milk cows, drive a carriage, ride bareback, and plow a straight furrow behind the blind horses. My great grandfather couldn't afford sighted ones, he bought the blind ones at the auction in Albany as they were destined for what they called the glue factory and were quite cheap. Yes, I am at home in the era. It's part of why I love Maine. I have 167 acres in the crown of Maine and I can practice many of the economies I learned at great granddad's. When he died at the ripe old age of 106 the historic society purchased his farm. It was right on the Erie Barge Canal and it was untouched by modern conveniences. I loved him, and I loved it on the farm.

  39. Roberta, thank you. Several years ago, Steve and I spent a lot of time driving around France on an ancestor hunt. We found the deer park close to Tourouvre where the current "keeper" was the mayor of Tourouvre... and a distant cousin! I was studying family history at the time and hoped to do the family local history program at either Oxford or one at Dundee. I decided to do something different back in the States, but spending time in Tourouvre and visiting the places where so many ancestors were from got me to think in other directions. Especially gripping I found the La Rochelle heritage, where my New France bound ancestors lived when the Huguenots were able to be there in peace for a very short while until the Siege of La Rochelle.

  40. Thanks, Anonymous!

    Reine, it was a fun day, wasn't it? Love your Toulouse history, too.

    Kait, you totally lived the 1880 life on that farm. What wonderful skills to know, and memories to cherish, too. I spent a weekend in Livermore, Maine on the Washburn Norlands living history farm as part of my research a couple of years ago. We lived the life of a 1876 farm family, with wood cookstove, pumping water, and even chamberpots. I also loved it, and it came in very useful for writing this series.

  41. Coming in late again today. My day to pick up my granddaughters from school and spend time with, and my best friend's daughter had a baby today. Lots of good stuff.

    Edith, I have read Delivering the Truth and loved it. I still have to write my review, which will be done this week. You created such an amazing 1888 setting, and the characters are so interesting. I haven't read much about midwifery, and I'm fascinated by Rose's practice. Is midwifery making a comeback? My friend's daughter who delivered today had a midwife and loved it. I'm looking forward to more of this great series.

  42. Thanks so very much, Kathy. Midwifery is slowly but surely making a comeback. Probably supported by the insurance companies, I'd guess, because their services tend to be less expensive. Even home births attended by independent midwives are making a comeback. All for the good, as far as I'm concerned!

  43. Congratulations to FChurch, winner of a signed copy of DELIVERING THE TRUTH! Please email your snail mail address to edithmaxwellauthor at gmail dot com.