Penning a (Love) Letter

Valentine’s Day’s coming up, and I will be on Rochester’s WHAMTV31 at 8:50 AM to discuss The Truth About Daniel, which is among other things, a love story. (Plese note: earlier, the channel was listed as 13. The correct channel is actually 31)

Let’s consider this romantic painting, which I love for for many reasons. First of all, my husband and I nurtured our long-distance romance with letters for two years. Snail mail made for difficult delays in hearing from my heart-throb, especially since the post office near my Toronto residence often went on strike for a couple weeks. Now, though, I consider myself fortunate to have corresponded with Jon before email because I still have every letter he sent me tied up with a neat bow.

The second reason I love this painting is that the woman looks the way I picture Annie Osborn, heroine of my book, right down to the strawberry blond hair that won’t stay put. And the inkwell reminds me of one I saw in an Anthony collection somewhere. Memory fails me at the moment.

And my third reason is that the letters of Annie and Daniel play a pivotal part in the novel. Like my husband and me, these lovers sometimes experienced lapses in snail mail—and their lapses almost led to romantic disaster.

Just for fun, here’s a picture I took of post office boxes at Alley’s Store on Martha’s Vineyard, near the 19th century home of Annie Osborn.

I highly recommend this post on letters in literature. And don’t forget to watch the news at 8:50 on TV13 WHAM on Valentine’s Day!

Post office box photo by Jeanne Gehret

Gallop Across the Dance Floor, Anyone?



This is a wonderful video of a 19th century dance. Read more about it below.

I first learned about a dance called the gallopade (or “gallop”) at a concert given by pianist Jacqueline Schwab, whose piano music was featured on Ken Burns’ documentary of the Civil War. Intrigued to see how it was done, I tracked down this video.

The gallopade, a very energetic dance, takes place at a ball in The Truth About Daniel. In this contemporary video, you can hear the laughter that naturally arises from this kind of happy exertion. Notice also that most of the dancers are young! When preparing to dance the gallop, Daniel Anthony, who is 40, searches the room for a young and fit partner.

Notice women dancing with women—this was often done when there were not enough men, which could certainly have been the case on Annie’s island during the Civil War, when many young men were serving on battlefields. In fact, just before a dance recital, Annie asks her best friend to save her a dance so she will not have to partner with a predatory man named Richie.

In this contemporary video, the style of gowns is appropriate to the mid-19th century when Daniel and Annie fell in love. You can see the outline of hoops beneath many of the full skirts, which bob along as the women move energetically across the floor.

Despite the fact that these dancers learned the nine movements of this dance that same day, they make it look effortless, don’t they?

Book Excerpt

While we’re awaiting shipment of the first copies of The Truth About Daniel, here’s an excerpt from chapter 4 where Daniel and his sister Susan B. Anthony discuss his difficulties with courtship:

Continue reading

Who Gathered at the Osborns for Christmas?

dining 1408x1056Annie Osborn had ten siblings spanning three decades, since her father was married three
times (widowed twice). Here are some glimpses of who may have joined her on Martha’s Vineyard for her family Christmas in 1863: Continue reading

Replica of Historic Captain’s Home on Vineyard


new captains house on MV

It was fun visiting Martha’s Vineyard several years ago and seeing where Anna Osborn Anthony grew up as daughter of whaling captain Abraham Osborn. Unfortunately, I was not able to see the interior of the house, but the inside look at this historic replica of that era helps me imagine my heroine in the rooms where she lived. (This replica is NOT of Osborn House.) Continue reading

Where did D.R. Anthony’s Wife Come From?

silhouette w updoAnna Eliza Osborn, born in 1844, was the fifth child of Abraham and Eliza (Norton) Osborn of Edgartown in Martha’s Vineyard. Abraham’s first wife died before he married Anna’s mother, and they had one son. Anna’s mother died when the girl was ten years old, and her father then married Ann Eliza Mayhew and had three more children, bringing the number of Abraham’s total offspring to eleven. All three of her father’s wives came from old Vineyard families. How did these roots shape the woman who married Daniel Read Anthony?

Anna’s island home comprised a close-knit community organized around the whaling industry: her father, who had commanded many whaling vessels, built a stately Federal-style home facing the harbor in Edgartown; her brother Abraham was also a captain; her father and uncle owned a wharf together; and for part of his career her father ran the customs house. The family worshipped at the Congregational church that was only a block away.

Other races and cultures added spice to the mix of people in Martha’s Vineyard: black sailors from Cape Verde and free black people, as well as the Wampanoag Indians who predated the Europeans on that island. A Wampanoag woman married to a black man participated in an historic tale that figures prominently in island history.

In addition to English, Anna almost certainly communicated with Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language, a language of gestures that was unique to her island. Because hereditary deafness was common on Martha’s Vineyard (at one point, 1 in 25 islanders were deaf), the signs were completely integrated into island culture.

So far no images of young Anna have come to light. If you have access to any with positive identification, please send them along!



New Book Coming Soon!

vip logo lg photoshop

My new book on Susan B. Anthony’s brother Daniel will soon hit the shelves. I’m anticipating publication this summer or fall. If you love history and enjoy a good romance, watch for news of it on this blog. Continue reading

Dressing for the Weather

North Water Street winter 800As Martha’s Vineyard, along with the rest of the northeast, braces itself for another mass of cold and ice this week, I can’t help but think how much easier we have it now than in the 1860s when Anna Osborn lived on that island. We who dash to our cars and crank up the heater can hardly imagine traveling in an uninsulated carriage warmed only by lap robes.

Many of Martha’s Vineyard’s narrow side streets were more suited to foot traffic than carriage, anyway. Living only a couple blocks away from Edgartown’s shopping district, Anna must have frequently bundled herself up to walk a couple blocks to meet a friend for tea, post a letter, or buy piano music for the latest tune. The current photo above pictures North Water Street, just a few blocks away from where Anna lived, during a storm similar to the one we’re experiencing now.*

Bundling up in the 1860s was a much different affair for women than it is today. Tucking my pant legs into my boots this afternoon, I have a fighting chance of traveling sure-footed. Not so for a 19th-century woman encumbered by sweeping skirts and petticoats. Everywhere she went, the long-skirted woman had to keep a hand free to manage yards of cloth swirling around her ankles. The early 1860s fashions also featured the mixed blessing of hooped skirts. Although they swayed gracefully when a woman walked, they also totally obscured her feet from her own view.

I frequently get calls to portray Susan B. Anthony in costume during her birth month (February) and women’s history month (March). These excursions give me ample opportunity to appreciate how much needed were the dress reforms of the 1850s, when Miss Anthony and her friend Mrs. Stanton experimented with shorter skirts over trousers. This bloomer costume, as it was called, kept one’s skirts out of the kind of slush that’s predicted during this winter storm. Being able to actually see her own feet gave a woman much less chance of falling on the ice that covered the rutted, unpaved streets of yesteryear.

Unless Anna Osborn had Susan Anthony’s thick skin in the face of ridicule, she would not have worn the bloomer costume on the streets of Edgartown. The bloomer’s practicality and safety were no match for the jeers that accompanied women who dared to sport that revolutionary fashion. But as Anna gazed at snowy scenes similar to the one above, she may have secretly longed for some of the freedoms and comforts that we take for granted today.

*Photo used with permission by Point B Realty, Martha’s Vineyard.