Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from That Dickinson Girl by Joan Koster.
“Let me.” Lucretia Mott took hold of both Anna’s hands. “I know how you feel, my dear. I am seventy-eight years old, and I have spoken at thousands of meetings, often with little preparation. I am as shy and nervous before I speak. All speakers are. Always, the Divine spirit has filled me and given me the words.”
Lucretia reached up and pushed a lock of hair behind Anna’s ear. “When our message is righteous, we need fear not. You are so very young. Yet, so was Lucy Stone, who burned brighter than any of us in the beginning. I know your convictions. You will be a powerful voice for women, Friend Anna. Don’t fret about finding the words. Gather your faith and open yourself to your inner light. Speak as the spirit guides you. The words will come as tears, because your heart is full of the truth. Now to our places. It is time.”
Anna grasped the elderly woman’s hand and followed her on to the platform. As Lucretia stood center stage and introduced her, Anna kept her eyes cast down and hid her white-fisted hands in her skirt. Below the ringing in her ears, the audience growled in the darkness.
Then Lucretia turned to her, smiling broadly. “Tell the truth about woman’s rights. Stand strong against those who ridicule women’s intelligence.” She seized her hand and drew her forward to the podium. “Make noise enough to wake men’s hearts.”
Anna found herself standing alone above the crowd. Only the rigid corset prevented her from crumpling to the floor. The scrap of paper that she had written her notes on, sweaty and wrinkled, dangled from her hand. The topics she had chosen so rigorously and the statistics she had gleaned no longer mattered.
Her dream of success tasted like soot on her tongue. What gave her the right to speak for all women? To make noise? She closed her eyes and bent her head while eight hundred people held their breath and waited.
Julia. Julia Pennington of the flaming hair and pitiful eyes. Had she come tonight? Would a tired mill girl be in the audience, looking up at her with that perfect face? Would her lips twist and her hands clench when she heard her rail for fair pay for working girls like her? Or would she think her an unruly child? A fribble who spoke without thinking?
A vision floated before her of Julia shivering in the cold in her threadbare coat and worn-out shoes. Her heart swelled with fury. The world had to change.
Anna raised her head and swept her gaze over the faces arrayed before her. In the front row sat her mother, as prim and contained as at Meeting. Alongside her were her brothers, Sam and Edwin, hopeful but expecting her to fail, loving her, anyway. Beside them, her sister, pouting.
Behind them were the elders from Arch Street Meeting, faces stern, waiting for her to sin. And on the other side of the aisle, the Anti-Slavery Society and Hicksites from Race Street Meeting, with James, Lucretia Mott’s husband of fifty years, peering kindly at her. Behind him, spectacles glittering in the gaslight, sat the renowned speaker Reverend William Furness of the Unitarians.
Friends. She had friends. Supporters. And somewhere in the audience, Julia would be listening. She had given her the tickets, worth half a day’s pay. Surely Julia and her sister had come.
Anna straightened her spine and threw back her shoulders. She began, “I am here today to talk about women and the righteousness of their cause.”
Way in the back, the black-coated newsmen fluttered and stilled like crows settling on fresh carrion.
Here’s the blurb
SHE IS GOING TO BE THE GREATEST ORATOR OF THE CIVIL WAR
Eighteen-year-old Anna Dickinson is nothing like the women around her, and she knows it. Gifted with a powerful voice, a razor-sharp wit, and unbounded energy, the diminutive curlyhead sets out to surpass the men of her day as she rails against slavery and pushes for women’s rights. Only two things can bring her downfall—the entangling love she has for her devoted companion, Julia, and an assassin’s bullet.
Forced to accompany the fiery young orator on her speaking tour of New England, Julia Pennington fights her growing attraction to the ever more popular celebrity. When a traitor sets out to assassinate Anna, Julia must risk her life to save her.
Loosely based on the life of forgotten orator, feminist, and lesbian, Anna Dickinson, That Dickinson Girl is the story of one woman’s rise to fame and fortune at the expense of love during the political and social turmoil of the American Civil War.
An earlier version of That Dickinson Girl was a finalist in the Mslexia Novel Competition.
Meet the author
When she is not writing in her studio by the sea, Joan Koster lives with her historian husband and a coon cat named Cleo in an 1860s farmhouse stacked to the ceiling with books. In a life full of adventures, she has scaled mountains, chased sheep, and been abandoned on an island for longer than she wants to remember.
An award-winning author who loves mentoring writers, Joan blends her love of history, and romance, into historical novels about women who shouldn’t be forgotten and into romantic thrillers under the pen name, Zara West. She is the author of the award-winning romantic suspense series The Skin Quartet and the top-selling Write for Success series.
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