This week in 1918 the Representation of the People Act 1918 came into effect in Britain. It was the first legal step towards full voting rights for women. 1918. Let that sink in.
Little more than one-hundred years ago, women in Britain—the founding nation of colonies that eventually developed into democratic countries (after a little strife and war)—gained the right to vote provided they were at least thirty-years of age and a member or married to a member of the local government registrar, or a property owner, or a University graduate voting in the University constituency. In other words, women could finally vote, but only if they were considered intellectually, financially, or socially worthy by the powers-be.
This concept may sound foreign to many of today’s women whose right to vote in the democratic country in which they reside is subject only to their achieving a certain age, not education or positive bank balance, but that is only because today’s women have yesterday’s women to thank for their hard-earned rights. Women like a minor character in My One True Love who defies social expectation and boundaries with the admiration and cooperation of her rather progressive father…
“Abigail? Your daughter?” Joe sat forward in his chair. “But she’s what, ten?”
Lyons laughed, tipped his grey-streaked bearded head back and roared like a benevolent lion. Sitting forward in his chair, he leaned an elbow on the desk, regarded Joe with twinkle-eyed good humour. “She’s twenty-one, Joe. Hasn’t been ten for over ten years.” He shook his head, huffed a chortle. “If you came off that damn plantation more often, you might have noticed she’s grown up. Quite a beauty, too. Got that from her mother, thank God. Though I’ll take credit for her sinister mind.”
“Sinister?” Joe repeated, still dazed to learn the little girl in a white frock and blonde pigtails he remembered, was a woman. And Investigator.
Lyons nodded. “Always one step ahead that girl, and seeing shadows in the darndest places. Always wanting to poke at them, see what she could bring to light. When she was young, and other girls her age were draping themselves in their mothers’ furs and shawls and wobbling about it in their heeled shoes, she was begging me to take her to court, let her sit in on the proceedings. Then she’d quiz me, ask me what I remembered about what the defendant was wearing, or the colour of the jurists’ clothes, how many wore eyeglasses, or had nicked themselves shaving that morning. Who was making eyes at whom when they thought no one else was looking? She warned me Judge Timball was having an affair with the widow Layton and would come down on her side, even though I had raised sufficient doubt with regard to my client’s culpability and there was no provable evidence my client had stolen the lady’s jewels.”
“The gardener. I remember that case.” Joe nodded. “He was accused of sneaking into Mrs. Layton’s bedroom through the garden doors and making off with a fortune.”
Lyons nodded. “Poor man almost went to prison for a fraud crime committed by Mrs. Layton herself. She accused him of robbery. But what man burgles the home he’s worked at for a decade and then sticks around to trim the hedges? His pockets, and all his equipment, and the shed where the tools were stored were searched. As was his home. No jewels were found, but, as he was the only person seen in the vicinity of her bedroom, and in fact his footprints were in the dirt around the roses he’d cut back out of the way of the garden doors, he was arrested and summarily charged.”
“But how did Abigail know he didn’t do it?”
Lyons grinned. “Cufflinks.”
Abigail Lyons, like many of the characters I write, was not planned. Her father was; I needed a legal representative early in the story and so Lyons manifested, his name curated from the Ophthalmologist that performed surgery on my youngest child’s eye to fix a birth defect (I do that-choose some surnames from professionals I’ve encountered, or from opening the book of Positive Quotations on my desk and choosing first and last names at random, or scouring Name resources on the Internet; it’s always a crapshoot, but a thought out one. Lyons, for example, is a homonym (sounds like another word—Lions—but is spelled differently and has a different meaning)).
King among cats fits Lyons, not only in his bearded appearance, but his profession and reputation as a powerful litigator—bested in the courtroom only by his inquisitive and intrepid daughter without whose help, a man might have been put to death for a crime he did commit.
I like creating strong roles for women in my stories; sometimes they’re strong within socially accepted—for the time period—roles, like Dianna in her partnership as a rancher’s wife and co-owner of racing Quarter Horses; sometimes they push the boundaries, either through necessity—like Margaret in both My Own and My One True Love—or pure interest and instinct like Abigail Lyons.
I can’t say for certain whether Abigail will ever be more than a minor player, but I can confirm I will continue to write characters, especially female characters, that defy expectation in pursuit of purpose, and defining for themselves what happiness and love is.
If I had one wish for my children, it would be that each of them would reach for goals that have meaning for them as individuals. ~Lillian Carter