Atlanta, GA – Summer 1881
When Mamie Harper arrives to substitute teach for the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary school, she witnesses terrible injustices with some of the older students who are washerwomen. Mamie’s upbringing as the daughter of the most famous Black suffragette in America means that she cannot be silent. She takes it upon herself to help the washerwomen find their voice and protest their mistreatment.
Reverend Gabriel Harmon is the summer pastor at one of the most influential Baptist churches in Atlanta. He’s shocked to see that the young woman who rejected his suit the year before is a new teacher in Atlanta. Determined to change her mind, he gets swept up in the washerwomen’s protests for better pay. When these two collide over these explosive events during a hot Atlanta summer, only one side will be able to win the battle. As they clash, they learn that there is another war, the war of the heart, that’s worth winning as well.
The year 1881 was a hallmark year in Atlanta history. Yet, the two real-life events that impacted Black women are rarely discussed in history classes. So, I wrote “The Washerwomen’s War” to figure out if these two events, the founding of Spelman College and the Black Washerwomen’s Strike, had anything to do with each other. I believed that they did. I decided to tell the story of the intersection of these two events from the point of view of an illustrious outsider, Mary Frances “Mamie” Harper, who was the real-life daughter of the famous Black Suffragette and poet, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Mamie is a young woman who is coming to figure out who she is in the world a part from her famous mother. When she re encounters a man she had the potential to fall in love with, but rejected him based on his profession, love is bound to happen.
“The Washerwomen’s War” will be out next week. In the meantime, here’s a brief excerpt and an article where you can find out more about the strike. As usual, there will be more resources (and updates) at the end of the story when it is published in Daughters of A Nation
Milford, Georgia—June 1881
The one thing I swore I would never become is a minister’s wife. That’s not me. Those women are saints. And sinners. There are some, like Mama Manda, who are nice, kind and gracious. The epitome of womanhood. Others are mean, like snake’s venom, ready to spit it out on some poor woman in the name of the Lord.
So when I wanted to kiss a man, I made sure that he was not a minister. Why start something that you can’t finish? No purpose in it, as far as I could tell. That meant that during my time at Milford College, it was only the males who were studying to become teachers who had a chance with me. Not the preacher ones. That made the choices less difficult.
There weren’t that many, mind you. Just some. Enough so that a young woman like myself could get a notion of what I wanted for my husband. And now I know.
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So glad you are telling yet another hidden story. In these times, it’s important to remember that women working together for respect is a powerful thing. I love that this event was a catalyst for even more groups and, as an advance reader, love how you wove real life and romance together in your novella.
Thank you so much for your kind words and support, Julie! I took a risk in a lot of ways on this one and it’s good to hear it paid off with you!
I’d heard of this “strike” on a local Black radio station. Whoa! The power of unity.
Truth! And very motivational to others for other labor movements. It started with Black women. Who knew? Thanks for stopping by, PJ!
As always I appreciate the history you share. Thank you so much.
You are very welcome, Anna! Thank you for stopping by!
Maybe because it’s Monday and my laundry day, but this is the type of thing that shows what blessings washing machines and dryers are. I’m sure the technology advances harmed the livelihood of these ladies, but were the advances better for them in the long run? I’m curious to read about this strike. Also, since you used a real person as your heroine, how did you deal with what really happened in her life? Thanks!
I don’t understand when people say they hate doing laundry, Louise. Here in the 21st century, we don’t really do laundry. When the advances came they had to find other types of work, like domestic work, which they had tried to avoid. As for the real Mary Frances Harper, even though her mother was one of the most famous Black women of her time, there is very little known about her, unfortunately. That’s what gave me the freedom to give her a life. I will talk more about it in my author’s note. Thanks for stopping by!