The 1910s–an Overlooked Era
Author Radha Vatsal talks about her exciting new series featuring an aspiring female journalist living and working in New York City in 1915—one who isn’t afraid to turn over any stereotypes of how females should behave.
America on the cusp of World War I is a fascinating moment in history, yet it’s a period that’s often neglected in popular fiction and films. We know so much more about the United States’ involvement in World War II, or about life in Europe during the World War I era, for instance. But American politics, culture and society underwent a dramatic transformation during the mid-1910s, which allowed the country to shift from the Victorian world of the Gilded Age and “Mrs. Astor’s 400” to the Roaring Twenties, flappers, gin and fast cars.
I love film history, especially the history of the early years of cinema, and as a graduate student at Duke University discovered that hundreds of women directed and produced films during the 1910s, and that dozens of others played the lead roles in action films. Actresses like Pearl White and Helen Holmes brandished guns, chased and fought villains, and were generally eager for adventure. I felt I had to find out more about what was happening during that period—I couldn’t understand how so many women were able to do so much at a time when women wore skirts up to their ankles and didn’t even have the right to vote.
The deeper I dug, the more I realized that the 1910s were a special time for women. They were able to participate in all kinds of professions —and surprisingly—their participation in many fields actually declined during the 1920s and for about 50 years after. I wanted to bring this moment in history to life and it seemed that the best way to do it would be through eyes of a young woman journalist of the era.
My new book, A Front Page Affair, is the first in a series starring Capability “Kitty” Weeks, who works for the “Ladies’ Page” of a fictional newspaper, The New York Sentinel. So-called Ladies’ Pages did exist at the time—although women were allowed to work in the news-world, they were thought to be too delicate to take on the rigors of real news reporting and unable to provide objective reports so they were relegated to special woman-focused sections of the paper. Kitty chafes at these restrictions, and begins to investigate when a man is murdered at a July 4th party that she’s been sent to cover.
A Front Page Affair hews closely to the historical events of the moment. Each day in the story (which takes places during the summer of 1915) corresponds to an actual day in history and the news events of that day weave into the plot. I kept a calendar with all the main historical events in front of me as I wrote, and I also researched the minutiae of life in New York City during the 1910s. My goal was to create both a compelling narrative and an immersive, fact-driven milieu that readers would want to visit again and again.
Radha Vatsal is a writer based in New York City. She was born in Mumbai, India and has a Ph.D. from the English Department at Duke University. You can find her on Facebook and the World of Kitty Weeks Tumblr.
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