Even in today’s world in the present women must strive for recognition and the hope of advancement in the workplace. Learning a vocation and seeking advancement in that field at times becomes frustrating and difficult. Let’s go back in time to 1901 and meet three sisters who are distinctly diverse in their appearances, thinking and hopes for their futures as they allow us to hear their voices, listen to their innermost thoughts and get to understand what it means to be In the Company of Like-Minded Women by author Elaine Russell.
Lida, Eva and Mildred are sisters each voice heard and their viewpoints quite different. Lida a doctor hoping to establish herself yet having to take a job with a Catholic Home in order to support her family after losing her husband. Much to the anger of her mother and sister, they refused to recognize her choice of converting to being Catholic over being a Baptist, but she had no choice in the decision if she wanted the job. Lida is a great mother but her sister, Mildred has her own opinion of her and the way she is bringing up her youngest son, Cole and her daughter Sara Jane. Both children have strong personalities and Cole can be a handful, but you must love him. Sara Jane works and adds to the income of her family and both children present positive pictures of what children were in the early 20th century in the year 1901.
Mildred expresses her thoughts in her own personal letters or diary to her mother. She disapproves of Lida’s vocation, her manner of dress and generally her schools of thought. Eva is being treated for Scarlet Fever and when she relates to Lida how their family doctor dealt with the illness, Lida becomes concerned for her health and immediate assesses her sister’s condition. As Mildred tells why she and her mother would prefer that Eva remain at home and not venture far away plus not marry and be courted by Mr. Dearman, a lawyer, the reasons sound selfish, self-serving and unkind.
We meet a group of women that belong to a women’s organization that promotes women’s rights, suffrage and other issues to help women get better wages and be recognized. With Mildred attending this meeting we hear many different voices of those in charge and Lida and Eva bring their own viewpoints to the table. The discussion is quite interesting and Sara Jane’s intelligent move to take Eva’s letter and make sure that no one sees it but her at the right time is priceless.
Three sisters with different personalities and viewpoints and very diverse you wonder if they will ever meld and become one unit. With the author sharing Lida’s past, her relationship with both of her parents and her sisters we get to understand why it was not easy for her to pursue a career of any kind when most parents, mothers wanted their daughters to marry, have children and not be concerned about careers. The times were different back then, but the voices heard within this novel are just as loud and current about women’s issues as they are today.
Many lives intertwine as the three sisters go through many changes within their relationship hiding their feelings about different people and yet Mildred pointing fault and disliking change within her life and that of the others. The different women’s suffragette movements, meetings hearing them praise the fact that women got the vote in Colorado and hoping to help get it out in other states, we learn about Susan B. Anthony, Mrs. Meredith and Eva’s fondness for a Mr. Dearman that both Mildred and her mother would disapprove of and Lida kept hidden from them. As the story moves on, we get to see changes within Mildred as she tries to attend the opera, dinners, theater and even marches for women’s rights and appears to change in a different direction when reading her diary shared with readers. But, when she learns about Mr. Dearman and Eva, Mildred feels betrayed, wants to leave and little Cole who has grown close to her for teaching him his letters and numbers feels sad, it take a lot of remorse, tears and Lida hopefully pleading with her to restore their relationship and bring back all of the years that they missed in the past hopefully ignoring their mother’s anger and her disapproval of Eva moving forward with her life and keeping her selfishly under her control.
With the help of their Aunt Effie their mother is appeased and taken care of, but Mildred is concerned about the lack of missives and attention from her husband Franklin and a picture that she is made aware of intimating that he might be with another woman.
Mrs. Silks runs the prostitution house and Mr. Dearman when he arrives in town is seen with her by Sara Jane, Lida’s daughter and her best friend Rose. No one says a word about it and of course when they do, wrong conclusions are drawn, and Mr. Dearman is placed under the harsh scrutiny of Mildred.
The many excursions, the hikes, the walks, the restaurants and the visit to a Chinese herbal man’s business helps us understand just how far Lida will go to assure that Eva’s health is restored from Scarlet Fever. But things take on many directions when the author allows us to get to know the many women that head the different committees and functions for the rights of women, fundraisers and even deciding the entrance fee of fifty cents back then as a huge amount to enter an event. Added in we learn more about Sara Jane’s artistic abilities, working in a millenary shop and having an eye for fashion and creating portraits. But my favorite character is Cole, who seems unaware at times of the friction in the family and who loves everyone, especially Aunt Mildred who is the most opinionated and austere person with so many different moods and shades of personality it’s interesting to see her changes as she emerges at the end. Lida and Mrs. Meredith and some of the other characters devote their time to helping those less fortunate, women in need of shelter and young boys who are orphans, abandoned or whose parents cannot provide for them remain in the care of a group home that one can only hope will teach them unity and strength. Unfortunately, none will ever find real homes and when they are old enough they are sent out on their own hopefully finding a better way.
Cole is endearing and is so innocent about life and yet he brings an understanding to both Eva and Lida about second chances or first. Eva really feels that Mr. Dearman is perfect for her and we get to know him briefly when they go out, are in a group but never really alone to see how they will fend in the future but who knows they just might surprise everyone. But, Eva wants to complete her education and hopes that he will understand her goals before even thinking of walking down the aisle. Lida is smitten with Mr. Abbott who seems to like her a lot but will she give him a shot? Sara Jane expresses her thoughts about him to Lida but will she see the good in him and will she understand that her mother wants the best for them all but maybe not right now in the future?
Families divided, members at risk of losing it all, ideas and ideologies different and three sisters who need to find a way back to each other, respect their different viewpoints, embrace their lives and thoughts and hopefully remain as one.
Women even now demand an equal voice but back then it was harder to be heard and some men and even mothers believed that their daughters needed to get married, have families and let the men support them. But, Lida and Eva are strongminded women and Lida’s medical career comes first along with her children while Eva wants to become an educator and get her master’s degree when completing her Bachelor’s. Mildred needs to open her mind to the ideas of others, learn more about the outside world, see more sites and maybe find a cause or vocation for herself since she is great with teaching Cole and encouraging Sara Jane in her abilities to create portraits and art.
A story about a family torn apart by words, actions, disloyalties, opinions, strive, betrayals and narrowmindedness and a family who will learn the true meaning of love, hope, survival and understanding. Will Mildred and Franklin find their way back to each other or will she believe a picture that just might not speak a thousand correct words? Will both Lida and Eva move ahead and hopefully find different paths before finding one with a new family and friends? The story ends on a note making the reader want to know what’s next for all of these women as you read their individual stories, hear their voices and as you read you too are in the Company of Life Minded Women.
Strong characters with unique and diverse personalities and a story that will keep you wanting more. Author Elaine Russell showcases the issues of women’s rights, suffrage movements and letting the world know that women’s voices will be heard and not silenced.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ Network/MJ magazine