Tag Archives: feminism

#BOAW2018: 10 (Unusual) Things That Make Me Feel Beautiful

Hey Women!

What makes you feel most beautiful? I have a hunch it has nothing to do with what we’re constantly being advertised. Never in my thirty-two years have I, or any of my female friends, said “You know, mascara makes me feel the most beautiful ever,” or “This smooth glide tampon makes me feel so freaking beautiful I can’t handle myself!” Damn, I wish I heard that sentence more often. Most of the time, we’re taught periods are a pain (and they definitely can be), but we’re not taught they make us beautiful.

I’m not knocking makeup or modern conveniences. I enjoy both of them too. There’s a place for them, sure. But what really makes you feel the most beautiful? When I think about that question, the answer has little to do with my body.

Author, blogger, and podcaster, August McLaughlin, is hosting her annual Beauty of a Woman Blogfest. She’s asking women all over the world to talk about what beauty means to them. And since she’s also the fab creator of GirlBoner, (“Where Good Girls Go For Sexual Empowerment”), some bloggers are writing about sexuality too.


I’ve been a participant in both categories over the years. If you want to check out one of my past posts, I recommend Heavy Petting is a No No: Sex Education for the Saint of Heart. 😉

This year, I wanted to talk about beauty as a woman in her thirties. At a time when your body starts changing (like, not bouncing back in ways it once did), it can be a mind shift to still feel beautiful in a world that emphasizes outer beauty and youthfulness so highly. My body changed, and so did my style.

There are some things that remain constant, though. That will always make me feel truly beautiful and empowered in my own skin.

10 (Unusual) Things That Make Me Feel Beautiful

1. Learning something new. 

Is there anything quite like the joy of learning something new? There’s that moment when you’ve really put time and energy and sometimes expense into understanding something that didn’t come naturally, and then…it finally clicks!

Damn, that’s a gorgeous moment.


2. Reading books out loud. 

What can I say? Words are my love language.

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3. Making art for the fun of it. 

I believe adults don’t PLAY enough. When’s the last time you picked up your ol’ Crayola 64 pack (dating myself there) and just colored? Or used a paintbrush? Or even doodled? I’m not “an artiste,” but playing around is therapeutic and relaxing for me when I remember to leave judgment at the door.

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4. A damn fine blazer. 

I’m a sucker for a power suit. Alas, I rarely get to wear them anymore. But why not give yourself a Try Day Challenge and write about it? I did.

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5. Travel

A friend of mine coined the term “wonderfully uncomfortable” and it has forever stuck with me. Traveling somewhere outside your comfort zone is a great opportunity to meet new people, hear new stories, and gain a bigger picture of the world. I always leave feeling grateful and humble afterwards. Aren’t those beautiful, genuine emotions?


6. Going for a walk. 

Cool breezes on your skin, your feet pounding the pavement or hiking the trail. I never get clarity like I do when I’m on a solo hike.

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7. Genuine, consensual touch. 

You know people who are huggers? Like good huggers, not creepy uncle huggers? There’s something beautiful and comforting about being with someone who just knows when to give you a hug or reach for your hand. Science even supports that hugging longer has positive effects on the endorphins in the brain! I value a good hug from a friend or loved one.

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8. Recognition

Who doesn’t appreciate when someone finally notices how damn hard you work?! You go, grrrl! I see you!

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9. Eating dessert for breakfast. 

Because I’m an adult. Because I can. Because I’m worth it.

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10. Not buying into all the ageist, objectified patriarchal bullshit. 

Cause ain’t no one got time for that!

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What makes YOU feel truly beautiful? 


*This post is part of The Beauty of a Woman BlogFest VII! To read more entries, and potentially win a fun prize, visit the fest page on August’s McLaughlin’s site between today and 11pm PST March 9th.


9 Women Who Made History You Probably Didn’t Know About

March is Women’s History Month so it’s the perfect time to celebrate the women in your life, and the ones who’ve come before you. We’ve all learned about our fearless, feminist ancestors like Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger, and Julia Child. Yes, Julia Child! Before she was known for her cooking, she worked as an intelligence officer in the OSS, and she spoke four languages! She was a total badass.

Still there are many whose names we don’t know by heart, yet reap the benefits of their hard work and determination every day. So prepare for some speed dating y’all, cause it’s time to meet 9 women who made history you probably didn’t know about.

9 Women Who Made History You Probably Didn’t Know About

victoria_woodhull1. Victoria Woodhull

It amazes me we still ask the question “Is America ready for a woman president?” Um, yes. And we’ve been trying to elect one since 1870. Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for president, and she did so before having the right to vote herself. In fact she spent election day in jail. Campaigning under the Equal Rights Party, her running mate was none other than abolitionist Frederick Douglass. She was also very outspoken on the issue of “free love,” which back then referred to a woman’s right to divorce her husband. No one knows how many votes Victoria received because the bastards running the patriarchy refused to count them.

henrietta_lacks_1920-19512. Henrietta Lacks

Gaining popularity and recognition thanks to a book by Rebecca Skloot, Henrietta Lacks is the reason we have most vaccines and medical advancements today. At the time of her death in 1951, medical consent forms didn’t exist, so without her permission or that of her family, doctors took samples of Henrietta’s cells. The healthcare industry was desperately trying to find cures for diseases but keeping test cells alive was impossible. Until Henrietta. The cells from Henrietta’s body, known as HeLa cells, were the first ever to be kept alive and grown, resulting in great medical advancements including the polio vaccine.

f7553b57e46042a33. Elizabeth Smith Miller

Did you put pants on today? Yoga pants and jeggings count! Well you have Elizabeth Smith Miller to thank for that. She was the first woman to wear pants in 1851. Finding the long skirts and dresses of the 1800’s too confining for her hobbies, she created an early version of the skort. At least that’s what I’m calling it. Technically she wore pantaloons with a wrap skirt over them, but we all know it was a skort, or at the very least a skant.

61964-004-d4cdcf034. Sarah Josepha Buell Hale

Think you know the story of the first Thanksgiving? Think again. Thanksgiving, as a national holiday, wasn’t celebrated until 1863, over 240 years after the pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians held what we consider the first Thanksgiving. Wanting to unite our war torn country, Sarah wrote to the president and members of congress every year for 17 years asking for a national day of gratitude. In November of 1863, President Lincoln announced the first national day of giving thanks, done so at Sarah’s subtle nudging.

mte4mdazndewmdyxmtk4odyy5. Pauli Murray

Pursuing higher education in the 1930’s and 40’s when women were often barred from many colleges because of their gender, Pauli Murray became the first African-American woman to earn a graduate degree from Yale University and went on to become a civil rights lawyer and feminist. She is the co-founder of NOW (National Organization of Women) which still seeks to address issues of gender equality and women’s rights. In 1977, she also became the first black woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest.

220px-patsy_mink_1970s6. Patsy Takemoto Mink

Patsy grew up  watching and experiencing racism against Japanese Americans following WWII. She was determined to better the lives of all people regardless of their race or gender or education level. She studied medicine and law and was an active political figure in Hawaii before it was an official U.S. state. In 1964, she became the first Asian American woman elected to the House of Representatives. Patsy is most widely known for the passing of Title IX, or the Equal Opportunity in Education Act, which she helped author. The act prohibits gender discrimination in any federally funded schools and largely opened up opportunities for women in athletics.

dix-dorothea-loc7. Dorothea Dix

Dorothea was born in 1802, and at the age of 14 she started teaching. A job in a women’s prison led Dorothea to start researching the care of the mentally ill in hospitals and penitentiaries. The documentation she presented to legislative figures allowed for larger budget allocations that improved conditions in the institutions as well as built new ones. Her diligent work improved or founded over 30 hospitals for the mentally ill. She was appointed Superintendent of U.S. Army Nurses in 1861.

ada-left-and-minna-everleigh-c-19058. Ada and Minna Everleigh

The Everleigh sisters, Ada and Minna, are some of Chicago’s most notorious historical figures. During the late 1800’s, they opened up one of the finest brothels in the country, featuring a gold piano, right on Dearborn St. Before you sneer at their historical achievement, you should know how they changed the game. At a time when women’s only opportunities outside the home were teaching or prostitution, if you had to get a job, your choices were limited. And many women were actually getting drugged and kidnapped, forced into the sex industry with violence. Ada and Minna’s “butterflies” were kept in the lap of luxury with fancy clothes, education, and 3 square meals a day. As for their patrons, the Everleigh sisters were also great businesswomen who actually demanded proof of their client’s bank accounts before entrance and tolerated zero violence in their establishment.

lillian_moller_gilbreth9. Lillian Gilbreth

Lillian is the queen of professional women. Not only did she raise 12 children, she became the first female inducted into the Society of Industrial Engineers. She earned a degree in psychology and spent years working as a business consultant for top clients like Macy’s, General Electric, and even the President of the United States. You’re probably familiar with some of her inventions such as the shelves on refrigerator doors and the foot pedal on garbage cans.


So there you have it. Nine talented women who made history, and often aren’t recognized. Happy Women’s History Month!

5 Ways You Can End Violence Against Women and Girls

Listen. Dance. Rise!

That’s the beautiful theme for this year’s One Billion Rising campaign, part of a global movement to end violence against women and girls.

Super Scary Fact: 1 in 3 women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. Globally, that equals ONE BILLION women.

That’s one billion too many of our sisters, mothers, daughters, mentors, and friends.

Super Awesome Fact: It doesn’t have to be this way, and you can help change things.

Let me tell you a story about vaginas. Yes, vaginas. Back in 1994, there was a totally bomb-ass playwright named Eve Ensler who published a little show called The Vagina Monologues. In it, she shared the stories of over 100 women’s feelings toward their vaginas. Some were happy stories of women discovering themselves, meeting someone who appreciated their body, and affirming their self-love through that admiration. Some were sad stories about the bad experiences that caused them to close up shop forever and forget their bodies could be sources of pleasure. And some were downright brutal stories of rape and mutilation, both here and abroad.

After Ensler performed The Vagina Monologues, women from all over were coming up and reaching out to her, and it seemed they had a lot more to say.

The collection of these stories and experiences make up VDay: a non-profit, global movement to end violence against women and girls. VDay officially falls on February 14th, or Valentine’s Day, but from February through April, campaigns rise to include artistic events, from performances of The Vagina Monologues, to lobbying around government buildings to demand change in rape legislation and to denounce genocide in developing worlds. Additionally, many educational resource fairs provide outreach tools to interested individuals and organizations.

VDay group shotIn 2012, VDay examined the still startling numbers on gender-based violence in the United States and around the world, finding that this violence impacts over one billion women and girls worldwide. Founders and activists rallied to begin the One Billion Rising campaign as a revolt against the violence, using strikes and dance to get people’s attention turned toward this serious issue.

For many women who’ve survived sexual assault, the aftermath can be just as devastating as the trauma itself. Dance has become an integral part of One Billion Rising, because it allows women to reclaim their bodies for themselves. Even though dialogue in the US is improving, rape and sexual abuse are still largely stigmatized, and we’ve seen – even recently with examples in the NFL – how violence against women is treated as a nuisance rather than a human rights issue.

So what should we do? How do we support the revolution to end violence against women and girls?

1. Get Educated

It’s hard to create change when we don’t understand the issue. And the issues are vast and interconnected: human trafficking, female genital mutilation, victims confronting their perpetrators and escaping abusive relationships, just to name a few.

There are over 200 countries participating in VDay events. Remember: ONE BILLION women need your help, so find the closest VDay event to you and join the revolution. Don’t see one in your area? Why not start your own?

2. Make a Donation

VDay signVDay is a non-profit organization based in California, and 89 cents of every dollar donated goes toward ending violence against women and girls around the world. You can also choose to donate to a specific VDay campaign through their website.

Or you can give to your local women’s shelter, family planning clinic, YWCA, or drug rehabilitation center. Many of these agencies are the first to notice signs of domestic abuse, human trafficking, and assault, and all of them help women in crisis.

3. Volunteer

Money from local donations goes a long way, but so does the generosity of your time when you volunteer. Crisis hotlines are always in need of individuals willing to be trained and respond to emergency calls. Community outreach and education are other ways to get involved. Some agencies cover more than one county in their state, but do so with little extra funding or staff. When volunteers get involved, the agency can participate in more events and opportunities to engage the public and share service information. Every bit helps.

4. Be a Social (Justice) Butterfly

VDay dance teamPost photos of your local VDay movement or share a social justice selfie with a sign that reads “Today I rise…” with your personal story or message. Everyone loves a good coffee shop photo or kitten video, but infuse your Instagram page and Twitter feed with messages of support and calls for action, too. Follow @VDay to stay informed, and share your social media using the hashtag #OneBillionRising. Spread the message of respect and social justice for all until the violence stops.

5. Tell a Friend

This one is two-fold. If you’ve been a victim of gender-based violence and have not shared your story, I encourage you to speak up. Today, tomorrow, a year from now –as soon as you are able. Tell a trusted friend, advocate, health care professional, or authority figure. You are not alone.

Lastly, talk to your friends about gender-based violence. It comes in so many forms and can be overwhelming to tackle alone. What do you want to learn more about? Where do you want to make your personal impact? Do you want to see an end to human sex trafficking? Do you want to change the legislation around rape crimes or improve restraining orders? There’s so much work to be done, and it’s always more uplifting when you have a friend beside you.

Remember: this includes men! Some pretty spectacular campaigns like HeForShe and 1 is 2 Many are sprouting up, and I commend the male voices speaking out. Get your father, your brothers, your friends, and your lovers involved.

So start a flash mob, write a letter to your local officials, send some inspiring tweets, and share some from women across the globe. Be there for your fellow sisters at upcoming VDay events, and all the days after until the violence stops.

Do you or someone you love need help with this intense issue? While The Indie Chicks offer awesome advice, we aren’t licensed therapists or trained crisis counselors. We care about you, so please take care of yourself by using the following hotline number to get the help you need:

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7244 or 1-800-787-3224
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
Teen Dating Abuse Hotline: 1-866-331-9474
Love is Respect

*Originally published on The Indie Chicks, February 27th, 2015. 

I’m participating in One Billion Rising this year!
Are you? 

I’m a Feminist. Now What?

feminismWhat does it mean to be a modern day feminist? Do you have to stop shaving your legs? Do you have to hold picket signs? Does it mean you can’t wear skirts and dresses anymore?

Ever wondered where the new wave of feminists are? You’re in luck, cuz they’re out there!

AND because I’m blogging about it at one of the coolest new e-zines for badasses out there, The Indie Chicks.

Today I’m guest posting on the conundrum: I’m a Feminist. Now What?

Learn what it really means to be a feminist – Guys, that includes you too – and find out five ways you can make a difference starting now.

Every view, comment, like, and share helps me out because The Indie Chicks are currently looking for contributing writers. And I’ll tell you a secret, so scooch in…


So please tell me I’ll see you there!




To Conceal and Carry…My Muffin Top, That Is

Flickr Creative Commons - Smileycreek

Flickr Creative Commons – Smileycreek

I’m making a confession today. I have a muffin top.

*phew* There, I said it.

I feel better now.

It started about a year ago when I quit my job. Don’t get me wrong, that is STILL the best decision I ever made. But I didn’t account for what would happen while transitioning from a 50-60 hour job where I was on my feet doing laps inside a mall…to sitting at a computer working, then coming home to…sit at a computer writing.

My diet habits changed drastically. While in retail, I worked so many hours and had interrupted breaks that I didn’t eat much at all for the 9-10 hour days I was there. But sitting at either my work desk or home desk, both conveniently right next to the kitchen…it’s a lot easier to snack throughout the day.

Without working out to balance my new lifestyle, my weight has fluctuated between 4-12 pounds in the past year. Now, I’m a rational person, and on a scale, that still has me at a perfectly normal and healthy weight for someone my size.

The problem is that it all sits on my middle.

I’m only 5’2″. I need all the length I can get, so adding width to my torso, not only isn’t working with my current wardrobe, but it’s affecting my self esteem.

Congratulations-Its-a-BurgerI might have been able to nip the weight gain in the butt tummy, if all I had to do this summer was lose a couple pounds. But I’m planning a wedding! And I’m on deadline to submit my book to potential agents.

My downfall has been that I want to go work out, but then I feel guilty that I’m not writing or working on wedding stuff, so I go home, but then I’m so stressed out I don’t know where to start and I end up moping around and wallowing the night away, making poor food choices on top it.

It’s tough to admit I’m still in transition. A whole year later and I haven’t magically “figured it all out.” As women, we grow up believing that on our wedding day we’re going to be the most beautiful woman in the room.

But I don’t feel beautiful.

All I see right now are my flaws. When I look in the mirror, I see my gut protruding over my pants and I see blemishes on my face.

And it makes me so sad and angry.

Sad, because I know deep down I’m pretty. And I hear my fiance tell me so. But I don’t listen, and worse, I’ve started countering him by pointing out my flaws.

Angry, because I have a degree in women’s gender and sexuality studies, so I know I’m suffering from body dysmorphia and yet, I don’t know how to turn that off.

But requiring two people to zip you into your wedding dress is a sure-fire way to put that doubt into hyperdrive.

I am a perfectly healthy and talented woman. But I’m struggling with doubt.

I am really struggling with doubt right now.

Is it just me? Is it the wedding? Is it the looming date of my 30th birthday and saying goodbye to the resilient body I had when things were good and I was still 25?

Is it potato chips? I have a hard time saying no to potato chips.

And what about society’s role in all this? My low body image issues have made me angry at society. Why have we invested so much energy into praising women for their looks rather than their brains? Why are more pages in women’s magazines filled with products for me to buy that will change my appearance “for the better” than there are articles about women making real strides for gender equality?

Aren’t we doing ourselves a disservice? Why does something as small as 4 pounds make a woman question her worth? Imagine if we spent half as much time renovating our education or health systems as we did staring in mirrors, avoiding mirrors, picking at our faces, being insulted by cat-calls, being insulted at our lack of cat calls, and only wearing open-toed shoes when our toenails are properly painted?!

We’d have solved the fucking issues by now! But instead, if you’re like me, or if you’ve been there before, we are too busy concealing that extra bit of weight we’ve gained.

 ~Sincerely, Miffed and Muffin-topped,







Beauty of a Woman Blogfest: 1 Billion Rising

Happy Beauty of a Woman Blogfest Day!

Today, women and men of all ages are posting around the country on the topics of women’s beauty and sexuality. It’s a celebration of what each individual connects with, be it their favorite body part, a life changing epiphany, a female mentor they have, their desires for the future, and more!

The blogfest’s creator is August McLaughlin, a writer, dear friend, and founder of the #GirlBoner movement – in which she blogs and hosts a radio show surrounding women’s sexuality.

She’s amazing. You can follow her on Twitter @AugstMcLaughlin or check out the conversations around Girl Boner or Beauty of a Woman at the following hashtags: #GirlBoner & #BOAW3.

You can read all of the posts in the Beauty of a Woman blogfest by clicking here and seeing the full list of participants on August’s blog! Guest bloggers and readers are eligible to win gift card prizes between $5 and $50!

For my part in the blogfest, I wanted to share with you a movement called 1 Billion Rising that I’ve been involved with. It stands for 1 Billion Rising for Justice, and it’s partnered with the V-Day organization. The V-Day organization was started by author and playwright, Eve Ensler, who wrote The Vagina Monologues. As a women’s studies minor in college, I took part in the annual Monolgues show to raise money for our local women’s shelter every Valentine’s weekend.

The goals of both V-Day and 1 Billion Rising are to end violence against women. Now, every February 14th, these organizations host events for victims of violence and those who support them to gather in public spaces and seek justice. The events include everything from meeting with city officials to the more emotional release of artwork and dance.

This year 1 Billion Rising is also hosting a challenge on Instagram. Using the hashtag #instaRISE, they’re calling for photos that demonstrate your inner activist – showing off the quotes, body parts, artwork, dance moves, friendships, and more so the movement keeps on rising!

It’s not to late to get involved!

Here is the #instaRISE photo challenge:


For this year’s Beauty of a Woman blogfest, I thought I’d share my #instaRISE photos because being a part of a national movement that celebrates women and stands up against violence is important – and beautiful – to me!

Day 1: Justice – Show off your inner activist! – We sold these t-shirts when I president of the Women’s Studies Student Association in college. 


Day 2: JustSPEAK – Share a phrase that inspires you. – Adrienne Rich’s collection of poems, The Fact of a Doorframe, was my Bible for years. 

Adrienne Rich quoteDay 3: My Short Skirt (from The Vagina Monologues story, My Short Skirt)

My Short Skirt

Day 4: V-Day – Show off your Rebel Red

rebel red

Day 5: V-Girls – Power Pink – A shade for every mood you’re in: sophisticated, flirty, sporty, confident, girlie?


Day 6: JustUs – Friends – Me with the cast of The Vagina Monologues, 2006 – I performed ‘The Vagina Workshop’ which is one of my favorite stories.

vagina monologues

Day 7: JustMe – Selfie


Your turn! Get involved! Today’s post is JustBe – a shot of outdoors.
Share your own #instaRISE photos; I’d love to see them! You can connect with me on Instagram here or twitter: @jesswitkins.

And don’t forget to check out the other Beauty of a Woman blog posts!
What makes you feel beautiful?

Interview with NYTBS Author Karen Abbott: Why She’s a Better Writer Than Lifeguard

I’ve been hinting at it for weeks now.  And the day is finally here!  I’m so pleased to welcome New York Times Bestselling Author Karen Abbott as a Featured Writer on the Happiness Project.

Karen is author of the historical nonfiction hits, Sin in the Second City and American Rose.  Now, I’m a big fan of history as it is, but if you ask me, Karen has some of the coolest stuff around illustrating her research and her passion for this genre!  Her websites are some of my all time favorites!  There’s KarenAbbott.net, SinInTheSecondCity.com, and AmericanRoseTheBook.com.  Just look at her book trailer for American Rose!  She’s got blurbs from authors Kathryn Stockett (The Help) and Rebecca Skloot (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.)

Before I reach total fangirl overload, I better let you meet Karen for yourselves.


Describe yourself in three words.

12th House Pluto (it’s an astrological aspect in my natal chart–I’m a bit of an astrology buff). But if you read the descriptions it’s very fitting… 
Tell us about your first job.

I was a lifeguard for a small pool at an apartment complex when I was in high school. I was easily the worst lifeguard ever–more interested in reading and tanning than in potentially saving lives. I got fired after a resident called to complain that I was “rotating with the sun.” My first real job (in journalism) was as a listings editor at a weekly newspaper in Philadelphia. 
What led you into journalism?
I’d always wanted to be a lawyer, but during my junior year I got an internship at Philadelphia magazine, and fell in love with journalism. I worked as a journalist in Philly for six years before trying my hand at book-length narrative nonfiction.
How’d you come across the story of Ada and Minna Everleigh?  
As a journalist in Philadelphia, I wrote about crime, murder, sex, shady politics, and plenty of characters with charismatic sleaze—but never about history. My interest in the past began with a piece of family lore: in 1905, my great-grandmother and her sister emigrated to America from Ljubljana, Slovenia. One weekend the sister boarded a train for Chicago and was never heard from again. On a whim, I began going through that year’s archives of the Chicago Tribune, and stumbled upon the murder of department store scion Marshall Field Jr. When I read the rumor that he’d been shot in a luxurious brothel called the Everleigh Club, I forgot all about my missing relative and started researching the Club’s enigmatic proprietors, sisters Minna and Ada Everleigh, and the national culture war that erupted when a motley crew of reformers tried to shut them down.
You must have had an amazing time doing research!  What kinds of fun places did you go?

One of my favorite collections was at the University of Illinois at Chicago–it’s called the “Lawrence J. Gutter Collection of Chicagoana,” and it includes the “Vic Shaw Family Album.” (Vic Shaw was another madam in the Levee district and the Everleigh sisters’ greatest nemesis; she tried to frame them twice for murder.) The album features a picture of Vic Shaw’s “whipper”–the person in charge of disciplining the prostitutes. Her name was “Lil the Whipper” and she looked more like a prim headmistress than a savage enforcer: hair in a bun, horn-rimmed glasses, thin, tight-lipped smile. But the caption beneath reads: “Lil the Whipper: Beat 1,000 prostitutes bloody.” Apparently it was a badge of honor. 
I’m convinced the Everleigh sisters were feminists of their day!  What do you think made them so successful?

I think both the sisters and Gypsy Rose Lee tapped into a fundamental element of human nature: we’re always going to want most what we can’t have. The sisters, for example, were the first cathouse proprietors to apply the inverse formula for success: The more difficult it is to gain entry to an establishment, the greater the number of people who vie to do so. And Gypsy, of course, because famous for being the “Intellectual Stripper” whose act was more tease than strip. I first became intrigued by Gypsy from a story my grandmother told me. Her cousin went to see Gypsy perform in 1935. “She took fifteen minutes to peel off a glove,” the cousin reportedly said, “and she was so damn good at it I would’ve gladly give her fifteen more.” Who else but Gypsy could make the simple act of peeling off a glove so compelling that one would be willing to watch it for a full half hour? 
You made the city of Chicago just as much a character as the Everleigh sisters.  How did you go about defining place so descriptively in your book?

I’d never been to Chicago before I began researching Sin in the Second City, but I fell in love with the city right away. I spent countless hours in the historical society and the library, going through archives and old newspapers. I also walked around the city, looking for locations I mention in the book. The former address of the Everleigh Club is now the site of the Hillard Homes, a public housing project.
You’re also a contributing writer for the Smithsonian.  How’d you get involved with them?

They approached my friend, author Mike Dash, who writes really fantastic, incredibly researched historical narrative nonfiction. They needed another blogger, and he very kindly suggested me. I really enjoy writing for them. It gives me a chance to explore little pockets of forgotten history that would probably never work as a full-length book. 

Your newest book tells the story of burlesque sensation, Gypsy Rose Lee.  You were able to actually connect with both her son, Erik Preminger, and her sister, June Havoc.  What was that like?  (See full story here.)

Erik was really generous with his time and insights, telling me anecdotes that had never been published before. For example, Gypsy’s memoir contains a scene in which her mother accidentally shoots a cow while they’re camping. Erik implied that it wasn’t actually a cow at all but someone who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time… And talking with June Havoc was like time traveling back to the 1920s. The first time I met her she was 96 and had been bedridden for years; I couldn’t imagine how frustrating it must’ve been for someone who had been dancing since the age of two to lose the use of her legs. She had her white hair done up in these little pigtails and was eating her favorite snack of Oreos and milk. She was still gorgeous but fierce; I had the feeling that, if she were so inclined, she could leap up from that bed and strangle me with her bare hands. She shared many stories about her relationship with Gypsy–they were sort of death bed confessions. I was the last person to interview her before she died, and it was truly an honor. 

Were you nervous to write about such legendary women – the Everleighs and Gypsy?

There are always moments when I feel like the project is impossible. I think it’s inevitable for any writer. Some days you just wake up and feel like a fraud.
What was most rewarding about depicting these women’s prodigious lives?

Bringing them back to life, even for just a little while. I wish I’d been able to live their lives, but writing about them is the next best thing. 
You’ve achieved every writer’s dream – New York Times Bestselling Status! What was your first thought when that happened?

My editor immediately called me and just said one word, “Bask.” I tried to do that as best as I could, but I’m not a natural bask-er. I did have some champagne, though–before noon!–and got the page framed.
How do you stay up to date on our rapidly changing industry?

When I’m in the midst of drafting a book, I try to unplug from that as much as possible. If I get too caught up in the business aspect of publishing, I just end up obsessing over things I can’t control. The book is the only thing I can control. 
What writers/bloggers are you currently following?

I’m immersed in Civil War material–just finished 1861 by Adam Goodheart. It’s a fascinating, multi-layered perspective of the first year of the war. 
What’s the best writing advice you ever got?

This, from novelist (and fellow former Philly journalist) Jennifer Weiner: Write to please yourself. Tell the story that’s been growing in your heart, the characters you can’t keep out of your head, the tale that speaks to you, that pops into your head during your daily commute, that wakes you up in the morning. Don’t write something just because you think it will sell. Tell the story you want to tell, and don’t give up. 
What writers have you met on your career that have been the most inspiring?
Probably Erica Jong. She’s brilliant, a feminist icon, and also so warm and supportive and generous. The Everleigh sisters and Gypsy would’ve loved her. Also Erik Larson. Knowledgable about journalism, history, and the best way to make a martini. 

What do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment to date?

Professionally, hitting the printed New York Times bestseller list. Personally, managing to keep my husband (and college sweetheart) around for 16 years…
What’s next on your goal list?

Currently I’m trying to polish up a draft of the year 1862. One of my spies has just been arrested. Another, disguised as a man and serving in the Union army, is falling in love with a fellow soldier. 
What’s the best joke you know?

I found this joke while researching American Rose. When NYC Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia called burlesque “entertainment for morons and perverts” he was referring not only to striptease, but also to burlesque comedy. Here’s an example of a typical burlesque joke (warning: it’s neither lewd nor funny!) 

MAN: Baby, when are you gonna marry me? 

WOMAN: I can’t marry you–it’s Lent!

MAN: Well can’t you get it back for a few days? 

*cue groaning* 

In the 1980s, shortly before he died, burlesque impresario Morton Minsky wrote a letter to the New York Times saying he wished LaGuardia had lived to see what happened to Times Square in the 1970s: the live sex shows, the open prostitution, the general seediness, etc. He said the mayor might have then reconsidered his complaints about burlesque. He had a point…
Any lasting words of advice?

Get out of your own head as much as possible.
Karen Abbott is the author of Sin in the Second City and American Rose, both New York Times bestsellers. She is a featured contributor to Smithsonian magazine’s history blog, Past Imperfect, and also writes for Disunion, the New York Times series about the Civil War. A native of Philadelphia, where she worked as a journalist, she now lives in New York City with her husband and two African Grey parrots, Poe and Dexter. She’s at work on her next book, a true story of four daring (and not entirely scrupulous) Civil War spies who risked everything for their cause.
It ain’t over till the fat lady sings!  Karen is offering one lucky commenter a FREE copy of

American Rose!  

Leave a comment before Thursday, 5pm CST, and winner will be announced on Friday’s post!

Oops, there’s Vic Shaw, guess the party’s over!  See you in the comments section!

For more fun, check out Karen’s interview with Beauty and the Book owner, Kathy Patrick!  They go vintage shopping together!  Learn how to make your own Gypsy Rose Lee outfit!

Loving Frank: A Book Review

Published in 2007, this recount of a seven year love affair between Mamah Borthwick Cheney and architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, seems to be getting a second wave of publicity.  I can recall the cover being all over bookstore tables 2 years ago with posters all around.  Now that I picked this up from my “To Be Read Pile,” it would seem I’m not the only one circling back around.  Members of my book club brought the title up for a future read this year, and I’ve seen the historical romance appear in several magazines and book club lists as well.

Before I can tell you about the novel, I have to share with you what I learned about the author.  Nancy Horan was first introduced to Frank Lloyd Wright’s work while living in Oak Park, Illinois for 24 years.  Horan even lived on the same street as Mamah Borthwick Cheney, who in 1907 commissioned Wright to build a home for her and her family.  On the local tours of Wright’s houses and in a few biographies she read, Horan began to wonder who this “Mamah” woman was.  (Mamah is pronounced May-muh.  A derivative of Margaret, though Mamah was always named just Mamah; her grandmother liked the sound of it.)  Little is told of the affair between Mrs. Edwin Cheney and the architect, most scholars stick to his work and pay little attention to the innovator’s personal life.  But Horan knew there was more to the story.  Coincidentally, the affair lasted seven years, and it took Ms. Horan that long to write the book.

Author Nancy Horan (source: globegazette.com)

Those of you who’ve read my book reviews before know I LOVE digging into how the author did their research and what drew them to the story.  The why’s behind why this particular author was the one to write the tale!  Having lived down the street from a Wright created home for so many years, that was the least bit of research Horan did.  The author amazes me immensely with the amount of research she did.  She read all about Wright’s architecture, the movement of modernism, Wright’s autobiography (in which he never outrightly names Mamah), his son, John Lloyd Wright’s biography, the translated works that Mamah did for Swiss philosopher Ellen Key, copies of the only surviving letters by Mamah, reminiscing books by the neighbors of the Cheney’s, and she traveled to places that Mamah lived in order to get to know her.  When first beginning the project, she was writing in several different points of view, but a few years later changed the whole thing to be from Mamah’s perspective.  You can hear more about Horan’s own love affair with the research for Loving Frank in her interview with BookBrowse.com.

Horan’s background is in journalism, and she has covered a range of topics in her years from politics to fashion.  After taking a creative fiction class at the University of Chicago, she discovered she rather liked it.  Loving Frank is her first novel, and she’s been praised for how confident her writing is as a debut author.  I couldn’t agree more!  The language of Horan’s book is beautiful and enthralling.  The story of this couple is tumultuous, as is usually the case when families become separated and new relationships are formed.  Despite the ups and downs of the characters, Horan’s writing maintains an intensity that I think Ms. Borthwick Cheney would be proud of.

Mamah Borthwick Cheney (source: google images)

Living during the turn of the century, Mamah was a woman who would latch on to change.  While the Woman Movement happened all around her, the Suffragists marching, Mamah’s ideals followed more so of expanding one’s own mind.  It wasn’t enough to have equal rights, one had to allow for constant transformation of person and ideas.  If Frank Lloyd Wright is one of America’s most profound natural architects, than Mamah Borthwick Cheney is arguably one of the least known, though best examples of transcendentalism and free thought.

One of the things Horan accomplishes in this book so well are the dichotomies Mamah faced in life.  In fact, that’s how Horan plotted the novel.  She took the major decision moments of Mamah’s life and plotted them down, then looked to define and develop how Mamah came to those decisions.  One of the biggest battles Mamah faced was her role as a mother.  She deeply cared for her children and there are many who would criticize her for the years she spent apart from them.  I think Horan was able to give the reader some perspective, selfish as it may seem in parts, of the whole picture and the grave seriousness of what was at stake for each person.

Frank Lloyd Wright (source: google images)

And then we have Frank.  The subject of so much devotion, Frank Lloyd Wright changed the life of Mamah, and she for him, forever.  While the fame of Wright today is vastly known and celebrated, that was not always so.  He was always awarded, his talent was undeniable.  But the architect needed constant beautiful things around him.  These shopping sprees and grandiose plans resulted in financial debt on more than one occasion.  He dreamed of a perfect world where students could learn from him and create their own projects, yet he was quick to judge and not forthcoming with praise, though he always wanted it for himself.

Frank had a family of his own too when he began the affair.  Six kids in fact.  But Frank’s version of time and Mamah’s were entirely different interpretations.  His work and celebrity afforded him more luxury than Mamah in the 1900’s and he was able to go anywhere he pleased.

The biggest dream of his was to build a home for he and Mamah in Spring Green, Wisconsin on the property near where he grew up.  Even while traveling in Italy and studying the architecture there, he couldn’t get the rolling hills of the midwest out of his mind.  That dream came true when he built Taliesin.

Taliesin (source: google images)

Loving Frank isn’t a book I would’ve thought to be spectacular.  It isn’t a story I would’ve sought out.  But I am wholeheartedly thrilled I took this book off the shelf and listened to its tale.  It didn’t matter to me that at times I agreed and disagreed with the decisions Mamah made in life.  I wanted to be her friend and talk feminism and philosophy with her over dinner at Taliesin.  I wanted her to share her thoughts with me even more on what it was like to be her.

So go ahead, walk over to that “to be read pile” or bookshelf, and pick a title.  You may just surprise yourself.  And if you’re not sure what to read next, might I recommend Loving Frank?  You won’t regret it. 

For more on:

Frank’s Architecture

Mamah and Feminism

Frank and Mamah’s Relationship

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