My favorite time period to write about is between 1880 and 1890. In many ways, the cowboys of yesteryear struggled with some of the same issues we currently face and that’s what makes the time period so fascinating to me.
For example, technology in the way of telephones and electricity changed the way people lived in the 19th century, just as new technology does today. The Victorians even had their own Internet. It was called the telegraph, and this opened-up a whole new world to them.
What, for that matter, is a text message but a telegram, the high cost of which forced people in the past to be brief and to the point?
Sears and Roebuck was the Amazon of the Gilded Age. The catalogue featured a wide selection of products at clearly marked prices. No more haggling. Customers were drawn to the easy-to-read, warm, friendly language used to describe goods, and the catalogue proved an instant success. Our ancestors could even order a house through the catalog and that’s something we can’t do on Amazon.
The Victorians worried about books like we worry about iPhones. We worry about screen time damaging the eyes. Victorians were certain that the mass rise of books due to printing presses would make everyone blind.
Then as now, women fought for equal rights. Our early sisters fought for property ownership, employment opportunities and the right to vote. Women have come a long way since those early days, but challenges still exist, especially in matters of economics and power.
Nothing has changed much in the area of courting
Almost every single I know subscribes to at least one dating site. These are very similar to the Mail-Order Bride catalogs of yesteryear.
Did our Victorian ancestors worry about climate change? You bet they did! The Florida Agriculturist published an article addressing the problem in 1890. The article stated: “Most all the states of the union in succession of their settlement have experienced a falling off in their average temperatures of several degrees. A change from an evenly tempered climate has resulted in long droughts, sudden floods, heavy frost and suffocating heat.”
Nothing much has changed in the world of politics. Today, the Republicans and Democrats are still battling it out, just as they did in the nineteenth century. We still haven’t elected a female president, though Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood tried to change that when she ran in 1884 and again, in 1888.
What about environmental concerns? Today we’re concerned that plastic bags and straws are harming our oceans. Our Victorian ancestors worried about tomato cans. That’s because a German scientist told the New York Times in 1881 that the careless deposit of tin cans was “bringing the earth closer to the sun and hastening the day of the final and fatal collision.”
During the 1800s, horses were taken to task for messing up the streets. (Oddly, enough, it was once thought that automobiles were good for the environment.) Today, cattle are under fire for the methane in their you-know-whats. Oh, boy, I can only imagine how that would have gone over with those old-time ranch owners.
We have Coronavirus, but that’s nothing compared to what our ancestors battled. The 1894 Hong Kong plague was a major outbreak and became the third pandemic in the world. The rapid outbreak and spread of the plague was caused by infected fleas. Repressive government actions to control the plague led the Pune nationalists to criticize the Chinese publicly. Sound familiar? The plague killed more than 10 million people in India, alone.
As the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Reading how people in the past survived and, yes, even prospered during tough times inspires me and gives me hope for the future. I hope it does the same to my readers.
This list is nowhere near complete, but what did you find the most surprising?
Attorney Ben Heywood didn’t expect to get shot on his wedding day–and certainly not by his mail order bride.—Pistol-Packin’ Bride/Mail Order Standoff collection.