Army Laundress

Soap Suds Row - The Bold Life of Army Laundresses 1802-1876


view:  full / summary

On The Road Again

Posted by armylaundress on July 1, 2017 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (4)

Sometimes I think I need a publicist, just to keep up with everything, including writing this blog and keeping up with my Facebook and Twitter posts.

In January, "Laundress" was named to the Best of the West list by True West Magazine.

Once again, I have been traveling down the book talk and signing trail. Albany County Historical Society welcomed me in February. They were such a wonderful, gracious group, and I was able to work out kinks in my presentation with a friendly audience.

Then it was off to Wheatland, Wyoming and the Platte County Historical Society in April. The weather was lovely, and the audience was great. I took a tour through town before my talk, just to get the lay of the land. The lilacs were blooming! This may not be a big thing to most, but for this life long mountain lady, it was wonderful to see some of my favorite flowers long before they make an appearance in Laramie. I ate supper at a hometown diner, the Western Sky Family Restaurant. The French Dip was delicious, and huge! I like to see what other people order, and there was nothing that went past my table that didn't look delicious.

June saw me in Colorado, at the South Platte Historical Society in Fort Lupton, Colorado. The potluck dinner prior to my talk was delicious. I am not a big fan of lemon flavor, but the lemon bundt cake that someone brought was over the top delicious! (As was the fried chicken, the many salads, the rhubarb get the picture!) The old fort has been completely rebuilt by a dedicated group of volunteers and isa great representation of the fur trade industry.  I highly recommend a visit to this fort. It is just west of Highway 52, and can be seen from the highway.

I will be off to Fort Meade, South Dakota in August, and perhaps some other places before then. Perhaps I will see you somewhere down the trail!

Oh, Those Clothes!

Posted by armylaundress on September 3, 2016 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)

The summer meant book signings at various places in Colorado and Wyoming, along with numerous phone calls making tentative plans for signings next summer in the Dakoatas. One memorable signing was at Fort Fetterman, Wyoming on the 4th of July.

We were out on the windswept plains north of what is now Douglas, Wyoming. It was a typical hot, windy day. I wore my long skirt, apron, 1800s working woman's long sleeve, button up blouse, sun bonnet, and heavy, lace up work boots.

Some of my fellow reenactors dressed appropriately for the period from the skin out. A serving wench wore her corset and other appropriate undergarments. The men were in their wool uniforms. It was hot.

Days like this give me a new appreciatlon for what the women (and the men) of the frontier 1800s really went through in their day to day lives.Not only would the women have been quite warm in their clothing, (I know I was!) but they would have been wet, too. There is no way they could have stayed dry handling all of the wet clothing they washed.While being wet might have cooled them off, I think it would have made them somewhat uncomfortable, too. Certainly it would have added to the weight of their own clothing.

At the end of the event, the other women and I piled into the restroom to change back into our modern, comfortable, summer garb. Some folks were going on to Independence Rock for the celebration there that evening. I was glad to be getting into my air-conditioned SUV, and driving back to Laramie to the comfort of the cooler mountain air.

To reach Fort Fetterman Historic Site, take exit 140 off !nterstate 25 at Douglas, WY. At the stoplight, turn left, then left again onto Highway 93. The remains of the fort are a few miles down Highway 93, and will be up a hill, on the right.

independence Rock is approximately 60 miles southwest of Casper, WY, right off of Highway 220.

The Adventure Has Begun

Posted by armylaundress on June 15, 2016 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (0)

The past few months have been a whirlwind indeed, starting with my book launch party that was held at the beginning of May. It was a good time, and I got a chance to see many old friends. One of the things that I was totally unprepared for was actually signing books. Silly as that sounds, it was very true!

I was equipped with pens, and the bookstore had plenty of books to sell. I even had my giveaway party favors, handmade clothespin dolls with a business card attached. However, I hadn't given any thought to what I was going to write when I actually signed a book for someone. I had no idea what I was doing.

I was definitely "a deer in the headlights" at that signing. I muddled through, and even managed to personalize some of the inscriptions. Hopefully none of the inscriptions sounded too dorky. If they did, then I hope I will always be remembered by the buyer as one of those rather ecentric writers!

My next signing was two weeks later, in Denver, Colorado. By then, I was a little better prepared. 'Warmest regards," became the standard line, with some simple personalization when people requested. I was even told the clothespin dolls were a great marketing ploy!

After I had the experience of doing a couple of book signings, I became much more confident. I know what I am doing now. Like every adventure, I have been learning as I go.  (That includes doing radio interviews. Those are a whole 'nuther learning experience, and fodder for a future post.) But that is what life is all about. It is a giant learning curve, and as I tell my students, we just keep on keepin' on!


Posted by armylaundress on April 1, 2016 at 9:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Things can get kind of weird when people find out you have a book published, especially when you share a name with someone famous. Some of the conversations and comments can be quite funny.

"Are you THAT Jennifer Lawrence?" Nope, not even close. It is easy to say that there are a few years separating us. Not only that, we live in two entirely different places. While I can't speak for the other Jennifer Lawrence, I can say that this one is a strictly small town gal. I don't think I would enjoy the big city lifestyle.

"But you are a scientist, not a historian." I have heard this from many people, my students included.  (I forgive the latter. They are still young enough to be linear thinkers.) Hmm...I didn't know the two were mutually exclusive. I have always believed a person should have many interests, and should always be growing and learning.

'Well Ms. Lawrence. I guess you'll be rolling up to school in a black limo, with a driver from here on." Kiddo, I hate to bust your bubble there, but...1) If I were making that kind of money, I probably would retire from teaching, and 2) this isn't that kind of book. While I would love to sell a million copies, I am not sure that is going to happen. (However, as I tell my students, never say never!)

See the first comment. "Ms. Lawrence! That chick stole your name! You should sue her!" Sorry, my lovely students. That isn't how the real world works. Movie stars can choose any name they like. I never put a copyright on mine. Which then led to the question, "Does anyone ever call you Jay-lo?" No, but that is the barn name of a friend's brood mare.

"You forgot to dot that i and cross that t. You, not only a teacher, but a writer!" This was from a casual conversation. I took the time to explain that I considered Facebook, email, etc. as casual conversation. I do not expect it to be perfect on your end, and I don't expect it to be perfect on mine. Besides, we all make mistakes.

So there we are. I get up and go to school each morning, and like every other teacher in America, I bring papers home at night to grade, go to school to tend classroom pets on the weekends, and spend time and money to benefit my students. Writers aren't special. We are just people who followed a passion, and stuck with a goal to the end.

Easter Celebrations on the Frontier

Posted by armylaundress on March 27, 2016 at 4:10 PM Comments comments (0)

When I wrote my book, my research indicated that Easter was not a holiday celebrated in the frontier army. Christmas and the 4th of July were the two big holidays, although New Years, Thanksgiving (after it became a holiday) and Washington's birthday were important dates also. I decided to dig a little deeper, and see what I could find out about Easter on the frontier.

I actaully found very little information.  This did not surprise me. The calculation for the actual date of Easter every year can be a little complicated. It is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. This would require some good record keeping on the part of an educated person in the 1800s. 

I did find that the Easter Bunny was a German tradition. In the 1700s, German immigrants brought the idea of an egg laying rabbit or hare with them when they settled in Pennsylvania. This creature was called "Osterhase," or "Osheter Haws."  I imagine, if some sort of spring celebration took place, it may have centered around traditions that immigrants in the military brought from their home country.

In Kansas, settlers celebrated a spring festival called, "Children's Day." The children sang, recited patriotic pieces, and gave speeches. Would this have carried over to the Kansas forts?

Hmm...fodder for future research. I would love to hear from anyone who might know more about this, and other holidays on the frontier.

Thanks to the History Channel's website article, Easter Symbols and Traditions for the information about the Easter Bunny.

The information about "Children's Day" came from Elliot West's book, Growing Up with the Country Childhood on the Far Western Frontier.

Humble Pie

Posted by armylaundress on March 13, 2016 at 11:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Some time back, I received an email from a young lady from Gillette, WY.  It went something like this.

"Hi Ms. Jennie Lawrence. My name is Suzy Q. I am interviewing a famous writer. Could you please answer the following questions for me?" The email contained a reasonable list of questions pertaining to the writing craft.

I was flattered to be thought of as a "famous writer," however the child had a slightly different perspective than I did. I had no idea how Suzy Q got my name. I guessed she might have researched the Wyoming Writers web page, or perhaps the Women Writing the West page. Nevertheless, I spent quite some time and thought crafting the answers to her questions.

I explained that I kept a notebook or notecards with me at all times to jot down random thoughts that might become something I incorporated into my writing. I told her that while I only wrote nonfiction articles and books, I hoped to eventually publish some fiction. I mentioned that I tried to write a bit every day. I explained the importance of having other people read my work before submitting it anywhere, and the need to be willing to accept criticism. Oh, how I believe I waxed eloquently in answering the child's questions. I concluded by asking about her writing, and saying I would love to read what she wrote.

I didn't have to wait long for a reply.

"Dear Ms. Jennie Lawrence. I only wrote to you because this was an assignment our teacher gave us. By the way, you are the only author that has answered so far. Thank you for answering me. Sincerely, Suzy Q."

I have always said as both a 4-H leader and a teacher, working with children and animals will keep you humble!

Grandma's Desk

Posted by armylaundress on March 7, 2016 at 3:05 AM Comments comments (0)

My memories of my maternal grandparents include the fact that they lived in a basement apartment. A few concrete steps down brought me to their front door. Inside the door was a writing desk. The desk had a tiny metal cauldron on the top corner that held peanuts for the squirrels that liked to visit. There was also a pony shoe, lost by a pony that pulled a Denver streetcar. (Or so the story goes.)

My grandparents married in 1908. I am unclear whether they purchased the desk, or whether my grandmother's family purchased it before then. However, by best guess and family memory, it came from the Denver Dry Goods Store. It was probably not too expensive of an item, but it served its purpose.

As a child, I rarely saw the desk open. It was a Federal style writing desk, with a drop down front that provided a writing surface. The body of the desk contained lots of little cubbies, with scraps of papers and letters filed away. A large drawer provided storage for other items.Perhaps there were too many temptations for little hands within the cubbies.

I was fortunate to receive this desk when my aunt and uncle were moving to a retirement community. The first question out my husband's mouth was, "Where are we going to put it?"  That was not a concern. I knew I could find a place. The desk found a home in my already crowded sewing and craft room. There was a spot where it fit perfectly, and afforded me a view out the second story window.

Most of "Laundress" was written at that desk. My trusty laptop sat on the writing surface, pencils and sticky notes filled the cubbies. It is a classic old meets new matchup. Grandma would probably marvel at the way her desk is being used. (Face it, she marveled at the Spirograph drawing kit that I had as a child.)  The technology would be beyond her. But at the same time, I believe she would be very glad that it is still a useful, much appreciated piece of furniture.

What A Ride!

Posted by armylaundress on February 21, 2016 at 7:55 PM Comments comments (0)

What a ride it has been! I have always liked writing. I remember in 7th grade writing some long, convoluted story about traveling the Great Lakes with my pet monkey. I do not recall the name I gave the monkey, but I do recall getting an "A" on the story.

My "real" writing career began in the non-fiction world. Because I worked in the pet industry and taught dog obedience classes for the local kennel club, much of my writing was about dogs. I also wrote about horses. I had bylines in some of the more popular magazines like Western Horseman, Dog World, Dog Fancy, and more. There were a number of smaller perioldicals as well. I wrote informational pamphlets that I gave away at my pet shop on many aspects of pet care from housebreaking your puppy to setting up a fish tank.

A mid-life career change put a stop to my writing for a bit. Although I had a degree in Agricultural Communications from the University of Wyoming, I wanted something that would allow me to stay in Laramie, and give me a steady paycheck. I went back to the university and got my teaching degree. I did not have much time to write as a fledgling teacher, but the interest was always still there. I had been researching army laundresses for years. Friends kept encouraging me to write a book. I finally decided the time was right.

I submitted the manuscript to my first choice publisher, High Plains Press in Glendo, WY. (University of Nebraska was my second choice, with a couple of others also on the list). Fortunately, Nancy Curtis was interested. After a couple of rewrites, she offered me a contract. More rewrites followed. Now, two years later, Soapsuds Row - The Bold Lives of Army Laundresses 1802-1876 is about to launch.

Was it hard work? Yes. There were times I really did not want to sit down and write, but I made myself do it.

Did I get tired of rewrites? Yes. However, every time I rewrote something, it came out better.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. Hopefully, there are a couple of fiction books waiting to be put to paper.

What would I tell someone who wants to be a writer? Just do it. Don't let anyone discourage you.

My writing journey has been a long one, with ups and downs and twists and turns, and even a couple of dead ends. But I can't help but think, the best is yet to be.