When Housewives Volunteer

Last week, I got a title on the book I wrote this past summer.  THE CATTLEMAN’S UNSUITABLE WIFE will be released in May, 2009, and will be the featured western in Harlequin Historical’s 60th Anniversary line-up.   Yee-haw!

You might recall I wrote a blog about researching for this book.  Despite what the title implies, it’s about sheep.  The heroine’s family are Basque sheepherders, and her brother is the bastard son of a cattleman.  Sheepherders and cattlemen clashed and made for some mighty strong feuds back in the Old West days, and it was fun to write Trey and Zurina’s story.  Now that the book is finished and winging its way into the edits stage, it’s time for me to think about my next project.

This one will be a Christmas anthology that I’ll be sharing with our own Elizabeth Lane and Carol Finch.  Our theme is “Coming Home for Christmas”, and it’ll be released in October, 2009.  Since that will be only 4 months after THE CATTLEMAN’S UNSUITABLE WIFE, I wanted to give Zurina’s brother his own story while he’s fresh in readers’ minds.  I’ve paired him up with another character in THE CATTLEMAN’S UNSUITABLE WIFE, the lovely and slightly inebriated Allethaire.  

Which of course, threw me into another bout of researching.  With Allethaire being wealthy and having no need to work to support herself, I had to give her something to do.  That something was community service.

Men got all the glory when it came to settling the frontier, but it was the women who worked behind the scenes to give their towns personality and life.  They volunteered countless hours shaping their communities into a place where their children would be educated and their families would prosper.  As one Utah pioneer claimed, the men “built the bridges and killed the bears,” but “women worked just as hard in their way.”  A Colorado woman in the 1800’s wrote how “women were the backbone of the church, the backbone of the family, they were the backbone of social life–everything.”

Whether they lived on the range or were comfortably settled in town, housewives banded together to raise funds to create and maintain institutions that would fill educational, religious, medical and social needs.  They formed women’s groups (or clubs, if you will) that accomplished amazing things–and empowered them all along the way.  Here’s a few of the women’s clubs I found:

The State Housekeepers Society of Bozeman, Montana.   With a motto of “Our Kingdom is Our Home,” these ladies preserved history and organized endeavors to improve lighting on city streets and in parks.

The Helena Improvement Society kept sidewalks clean, tended trees and trails and formed a city park system.

The Deep Creek Ladies Aid of South Dakota worked hard to collect money to build a Norwegian Lutheran Church.   They furnished and maintained the pews, the pulpit, the altar ring, and baptismal font, then went on to support the parochial school teachers, bought books, then zealously and without fail attended every service.

The Montana Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs improved playgrounds and housing for blacks, and eased racial tensions when needed.  Most notably in the Northwest, their gatherings enriched the black woman’s life through church groups, literary, art and musical groups.  Also, self-improvement societies, auxiliaries, sororities and reform associations. 

The Morman Female Relief Society formed on behalf of Brigham Young’s desire to keep his followers self-sustaining.  These women organized silkworm associations which taught how to raise the worms, then weave the silk into fabric for their own dresses, handkerchiefs, stockings, thread and lace.

Of course, I can’t not include the women’s temperance groups like The Women’s Temperance Prayer League in Portland and the infamous Women’s Christian Temperance Union who fought and risked their lives to eradicate alcohol and saloons.  Likewise, groups similar to Seattle’s Female Suffrage Society who became politically involved to give themselves and their sisters the right to vote.

Ladies clubs continue to thrive and are as diverse as the women themselves.  Ranging from junior leagues to sports associations, women’s groups have made America the fine country it is today!

So how about you?  Are you currently in some kind of a woman’s club?  What has been your favorite?  Your most meaningful?  Most fun?

For me, the first one to come to mind is La Leche League.  Back when I was having my babies, I was a die-hard nursing mom.  Those years were happy ones, when I was surrounded by other moms just like me with the same ideals for raising and caring for our babies.   🙂

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Pam has written 30 romances, most of them historical westerns. Her newest sweet historical romance, HARRIETT, was the launch book for the popular Cupids & Cowboys series, More books are coming! Stay up on the latest at www.pamcrooks.com

25 thoughts on “When Housewives Volunteer”

  1. I was in the La Leche League, too, Pam. When I had my first daughter, in 1979, it’s amazing how unusual was my choice to breastfeed. I ran up against an almost pathological resistance to it. Strange.

    Ummm I belonged to an Extension Club for a while. We had a lot of fun.

    Our church has a ladies group but I’m not very active.

    when the kids were in school I worked really hard for the One Room Country School they attended, did a lot of volunteering and was on the school board for about twenty years. Then when they went on to high school I did a lot of work there, too, on committees.

    I’m in writer’s groups which are predominently female but that’s not exactly what you’re going for is it?

    Okay, I fail.

  2. Hi Pam!

    I, too, was in the La Leche League when I had both my daughters. I also nursed both my daughters, although I nursed my second child more than I did the first.

    That’s about it for me, outside of Romance Writer’s of America.

    Fascinating post, Pam

  3. Hi, Mary,

    I was so into LLL. I held a state office and everything! It’s amazing how when women stick together, we all succeed when something isn’t quite so popular. Nowadays, nursing is really encouraged, if only for a few days. I’m sure LLL is the reason.

    Thank you for stopping by!

  4. Hi, Kay!

    Another LLL’er! Yay! Now the hospitals call them Lactation Consultants or something, but I really loved the friendships I made and the comaraderie we shared at the meetings all those years ago!

  5. Hi Pam, interesting post. As if those 19th Century women weren’t busy enough LOL. Other than RWA, I’m not in any official group, although I sometimes participate in a little writing group. (It’s in hiatus right now, though.) There’s five of us and everybody writes something different: bio, poetry, women’s fiction, memoir. So it’s fun to read different works. We had a guy for a while LOL.

  6. Pam, interesting blog. I love books where the heroine is part of some women’s league. In actuality, women did amazing things and civilized the most rough and tumble towns.

    This brings to mind Linda Lael Miller’s book “McKettrick’s Choice.” The heroine was a member of the Benevolence Society and got kicked out because she burned her wedding dress on main street in front of the courthouse. There was a funny, touching scene with the women of the society.

    Locally, we have a Women’s Forum League but I’ve never been a member. They seem kinda stuckup and look down their noses. But, they host a yearly adult spelling bee to benefit the literacy council among some other other worthwhile projects. Maybe I’ll try to join one of these days. Problem is, I’ve never been much of a joiner. lol

    Great post!

  7. Tanya, good morning!

    The 19th century ladies were very busy! But they were also isolated and female companionship is a powerful driving force. Plus, they knew and saw the things that needed to be done to improve the quality of their lives. So they rolled up their shirt sleeves and got ‘er done!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Linda, I’ve always been a joiner, especially in high school and when my girls were young. I’m an organizer, I guess, so I enjoyed getting involved. But in recent years, I’ve mellowed and plumb run out of time to do those fun volunteer projects.

    Sororities are really popular here. I’ve never joined one, but I think once you’re inducted, you’re always a member. Some ladies stay connected for years and years.

  9. Hi Pam, I’m a poor organizer LOL but hope to be more involved in animal rescue groups in near future. Both my son and daughter were in the greek system in college and yes, those ties bind for a long time. He had an interview once and the boss was of the same fraternity…my son thinks that helped him land the job LOL.

  10. Hi Pam–I didn’t know about the history of all these women’s organizations. It must’ve been fun and rewarding to get involved back then, if a woman got lonely on the frontier. I’m not involved in clubs, but I do stuff for UNICEF–donating a portion of sales for every book, from the very first one I had published, to poor children’s causes around the world. Makes me feel better. Like most of us here, there just isn’t enough time in the day to do everything I’d like to. I guess that’s the point–every little bit counts. Thanks for the inspiring post!

  11. I’ve been a non-working Mom for most of our married life – Honey says that should read “non-salaried” because I’ve worked as a volunteer for all those years! My volunteer totals: 34 years with our parish, 25 years with our school district, 30 years with our High School Reunion Committee, and multi-number of years with a variety of civic groups. I’ve never belonged to
    a group that was strictly a woman’s club. My favorites: choir and reunion committee. Most meaningful: president of parish council, president of H.S. band parents association. Most
    fun: choir, reunion committee, being honored by
    the school district, having two volunteer awards named in my honor!

    Pat Cochran

  12. Hi Pam,
    Congratulations on your May release being included in the 60th Anniversary lineup! That’s great.

    I’m not much of a joiner, but I have worked for the March of Dimes, Operation Gratitude and various other charities when I can. I also, back in the day, belonged to La Leche League! It’s amazing how many of us online have! Of course, I’m a big advocate of breastfeeding.

  13. Tanya, you know–I wouldn’t be surprised about that frat brother of your son’s and that he got a job. Corporations look at Eagle Scouts the same way. My neighbor is a former Eagle Scout who now does recruiting for a major corporation. He says it’s the first thing he asks a potential employee.

  14. Glad you found the info informative, Kate! I only touched the tip of the iceberg with the women’s groups. There would have been bunches of them, and some buried in history. Like I said, men got the glory, and if a club didn’t keep records that exist today, women and their accomplishments often didn’t get the press.

    And you know, I tithe with my writing income, too. 🙂

  15. WOW, PAT!!!! What a gem you are! I’m sure your school and parish would be lost without you. Having always been part of a parochial system, I know for a fact how they depend on their volunteers. What a gratifying gift you’ve given.

    Bravo!

  16. Charlene!! Another LLL’er. LOL. I had no idea–but then, we’re all about the same age, and LLL was in full force back then. I’m not familiar with Operation Gratitude–but I love the name!

  17. As for ladies clubs, nope. Closest I’ve come is my WAP pals — Twenty frustrated unpublished authors creating a ladies club of sorts 😉 We banded forming a yahoo group where we could gripe, rant and encourage one another as we worked on our goals of publication. They defintelly helped to get me through tough rejection times and to keep the faith and keep writing in the face of adversity 😉

  18. My sister-in-law in New York joined the La Leche League for a while. But they were really sort of politically active, like there used to be resistance to public breastfeeding and weird stuff like that and they’d fight about that and hold ‘nurse-ins’ in places that had hassled nursing mothers.

    My brother called them Militant Breastfeeders.

  19. Adding my congrats on being a featured pic, Pam!!! Fantastic 🙂

    Fifteen of our twenty PlayPals have published since we started our group–two new first sales just in the past week 😀 Takes a lot of iron grit to make it to that published side 😉

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