Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Christina Hollis: Let’s Hear It For The Girls!

…and that’s what we were called when I worked in an office, at the end of the twentieth century. March is Women’s History Month. If you think history is only about politicians and wars, think again. It’s also about the lives of unsung armies of ordinary people, just like you and me. A single flake of snow can’t achieve anything, but thousands of them can create an avalanche. It's the same with women working for change. In Women’s Lives In Bristol, I trace the story of the rich and poor, lucky and unlucky women who battled to gain the basic respect, rights and independence most of us enjoy today.  
From Salisbury Cathedral—perfect for Women's History Month
Never let anyone tell you that writing is a waste of time. Women’s Lives In Bristol tells the stories of two women who, in their different ways, both wrote their way out of trouble. 
Emma Marshall (1830-1899) was the daughter of a relatively rich man, and went to a private school until she was sixteen. In 1854, she married banker Hugh Graham Marshall. Her duties after that were supposed to be nothing more than acting as  hostess for her husband’s business associates, and to be a stay-at-home mother to a huge brood of children. The Marshalls had nine daughters, and Emma enjoyed making up stories for them. In 1861 she published a book, Happy Days at Fernbank, which she called "...a story for little girls...". That marked the beginning of a spectacular career for Emma. Over the next thirty-eight years, she wrote more than two hundred stories. Often weaving a drama around a real historic figure or event, Emma instilled a love of English history into a whole generation of children—but behind her enormous success lurked a domestic disaster. When the bank her husband worked for collapsed in 1878, the Marshalls faced ruin. The loss of his job meant they would have lost everything—if not for Emma. By writing continuously, she became her family’s breadwinner and managed to pay off all their debts.
Emma died from pneumonia in 1899, and was writing until the end. Her daughter Beatrice completed The Parson’s Daughter, the story her mother’s was working on when she died. Emma’s youngest daughter, Christabel, was also talented. She became a playwright, author and campaigner for women’s suffrage. 
Long after Petticoat Government, cathedral life is still full of intrigue!
Frances Trollope, née Milton (1779-1863) was born in Stapleton. That’s now a busy suburb of Bristol, but when Frances was born it was a small Gloucestershire village. She didn’t marry until she was  thirty. Barrister Thomas Trollope turned out to be a bad choice of husband. Their marriage was unhappy, but this was in the days before women could obtain any reliable contraception.  The Trollopes had four sons and three daughters, and were always short of money.  At the age of forty-eight Frances fled to America, taking some of her children with her. She wanted to join the Nashoba community, which was a project to educate and emancipate slaves. This was started by Frances Wright in 1826, on the present-day site of Germantown in Shelby County, Tennessee. The high ideals of the commune weren’t realised. It collapsed within a couple of years, and Frances returned to England with her children. The book she wrote about her experiences, Domestic Manners Of The Americans, was very popular in its day. 
After that, Frances’s writing became her family’s main source of income. She produced several more non-fiction books on travel, as well as some fiction. A great campaigner against slavery, her book Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw allegedly inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Frances Trollope’s books were soon overshadowed by the work of her famous son Anthony. Her book Petticoat Government (1850) with its English cathedral full of manoeuvring clerics ruled from the sidelines by a domineering woman is not very different from  the Chronicles of Barsetshire, which Anthony published from1855 onwards. He obviously knew a good idea when he saw one.
English contemporary novelist Joanna Trollope is a distant descendant of Frances Trollope. Literary ambition must run in the family’s genes!

Women’s Lives In Bristol 1850-1950 will be published by Pen and Sword Books early next year. Follow me on Facebook, and drop in on my blog for updates.
As well as her local history work, Christina Hollis writes contemporary fiction starring complex men and independent women. She has written eighteen contemporary novels, sold nearly three million books, and her books have been translated into twenty different languages. When she isn’t writing, Christina is cooking, walking her dog, or beekeeping.

You can catch up with her at, on Twitter, Facebook, and see a full list of her published books at
Her current release, Heart Of A Hostage, is published by The Wild Rose Press and available at  worldwide.


dstoutholcomb said...

Girls rock! Women rock!


Christina Hollis said...

It's so good to hear women have fought for their rights in the past, isn't it? Thanks for commenting, Denise.