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FDR, James M. Cox both influenced 1940s Dayton, Ohio

By M. Ruth Myers

Although the Maggie Sullivan mysteries are set in the 1940s, two powerful men often mentioned in them — FDR and newspaperman James M. Cox — had been close acquaintances for more than twenty years. Indeed, they formed the Democratic presidential ticket in 1920.


“Governor Cox” as he was referred to in Dayton, owned the Dayton Daily News where Maggie’s pal Matt Jenkins works. Even Heebs, the rag-tag boy who lives on the street and gets by on money he earns selling papers, uses that name for a man he’s probably never met.

A self-made man, Cox bought a struggling afternoon paper and christened it the Dayton Daily News. By 1900 he had turned it into a success which outperformed all competitors. From 1908 onward it operated out of an imposing three-story building with columns across the front on the corner of Fourth and Ludlow. Because a bank had denied him a loan to acquire his first paper, Cox instructed the architect who designed it to make it look like a bank.

In 1909 Cox was elected to the US House of Representatives, where he served until 1913. He resigned to serve as governor of Ohio from 1915-1917. That would be followed by another two terms as governor from 1917-1921.

When he ran for President in 1920, Cox chose as his running made young Franklin D. Roosevelt, then assistant-secretary of the Navy. Cox supported women’s suffrage and the Volstead Act which enforced Prohibition.


Although Cox failed in his quest for the highest office in the land, his media empire had been growing. By 1940 he owned newspapers from northern Ohio to Atlanta, Georgia. He also owned radio stations stretching as far south as Miami, Florida.

His running mate from the 1920 election didn’t fare too badly either. FDR went on to become America’s only three-term President.

— Here’s the Deal —

99c thru 11/13


Powerful men underestimate the tenacity of a 1939 woman P.I. determined to solve a quarter-century-old murder.

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Top Books, Movies and New Delights of 1940 America


by M. Ruth Myers

Since my mystery series is set in the 1940s, I accumulate lots of research that can’t fit in the books, but is fun nonetheless.  Enjoy a little time-traveling with these snippets on books, movies and new additions to everyday life that ordinary people were enjoying in 1940.


An official bestseller list didn’t come into being until 1945. Books whose popularity would have put them in the running for that label in 1940 included How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn, Kitty Foyle by Christopher Morley, Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. Another contender was The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, which won that year’s Pulitzer Prize.

Academy Awards

Best picture award went to Rebecca, based on the wonderful gothic romance by Daphne du Maurier. (Alfred Hitchcock directed.) Jimmy Stewart was named best actor for his role in The Philadelphia Story. Best actress honors went to Ginger Rogers for Kitty Foyle.

New Daily Pleasures

In May of 1940, nylon stockings went on sale to the general public, following their introduction late the previous year at the World’s Fair. Dupont, the chemical company that developed nylon, decided not to trademark the name in hopes the word “nylon” would become synonymous with hoisery.
Bugs Bunny made his screen debut in 1940, as did Woody Woodpecker, but my favorite innovation of 1940, hands down, was the arrival of soft-serve ice cream. Dairy Queen opened its first outlet in Joliet, Illinois.


— Here’s the Deal —



Shamus in a Skirt, Maggie Sullivan Mystery #4, is 99c now through 8/29.  Hey, it just happens to be set in 1940,  as the war in Europe crosses the Atlantic to draw Ohio private eye Maggie into a case of murder and jewels slipping in and out of the safe at an upscale hotel.   Amazon   Apple   Nook   Kobo

Problems Facing America’s Working Women in WW2

Today I’m a guest of author Suzanne Adair on Relevant History, where I describe some of the lesser known hardships faced by American women who flooded into the workplace during World War II. These went beyond scarcity of hosiery and unavailability of new girdles. (If you can imagine not wearing a girdle being a hardship.)

US Army poster of civilian workers

US Army poster of civilian workers

Stop by. There’s a book giveaway. While you’re there, have a look at Suzanne’s historical mysteries, including her Michael Stoddard series featuring a young redcoat officer during the American Revolution.

A County Nurse of the WW2 Era

Before World War II plunged countless American women into factory jobs and vacancies left by men who had gone to fight, the two careers most open to women were teaching and nursing.  They required professional training, and women who underwent it were looked up to in their communities.

Today, author Anna Castle shares the story of her grandmother Saima (pronounced like “sigh”), a Greatest Generation woman who enjoyed a long career as a county nurse.  Other photos of Saima and two nursing student friends appear on the Share Stories page.

by Anna Castle

Saima Lydia Johnson was born on the farm in 1907, the newest member of a small Finnish farming community near Brocket, North Dakota. Her father had homesteaded there along with some dozen villagers from northern Sweden. His name was Johanni Perälä, changed to Johnson at Ellis Island. (That explains why my great-grandfathers on both sides had the same name. The Norwegian ‘Johnson’ never told anyone his original name.) Her mother was also a Finnish immigrant named Hana Uusitalo.

Saima taught grade school in Brocket for several years after she finished high school. Then she applied for a scholarship to the nursing school at St. Michaels Catholic Hospital in Grand Forks and was accepted. She worked in the ‘cook shack’ all summer cooking for the men in the fields and saved money to buy a new coat and shoes and a ticket to Grand Forks on the train.

Saima and two other nursing students work in the Cook Shack.

Saima and two other nursing students work in the Cook Shack.

“I think she must have been a wonderful nurse,” my mother, Carmen, said.  “I would often meet one of the nuns or people she had taken care of and they would praise her. My dad meanwhile, considered it a disgrace that his wife would leave the home to work. At first he expected meals on time and everything to be the same. Later he sort of ignored her career but at least didn’t criticize.”

Saima was appointed public health nurse of Grand Forks County and worked for some years there before retirement. She kept the county clean, visited the schools to inspect for lice, worked with the doctors at the end of the TB struggle before penicillin.

She married Emilio Acosta, originally of Puerto Rico. Emilio served in both world wars and went to the University of Missouri on a VA scholarship. He earned a Ph.D. in Spanish and got a job as a professor of Spanish at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. He and Saima had three children.

The couple are buried in the Finnish cemetery near Brocket, where Acosta is the only non-Finnish name.  His headstone is distinguished by the tiny flag of a veteran. We don’t have flags to commemorate county nurses, although their service was every bit as important to the health of this great country.



Anna Castle writes the Francis Bacon mysteries and the Lost Hat, Texas, mysteries. She’s earned a series of degrees — BA Classics, MS Computer Science, and PhD Linguistics — and has had a corresponding series of careers — waitressing, software engineering, assistant professor, and archivist. Writing fiction combines her lifelong love of stories and learning. Find out more at



My novel The Whiskey Tide is free through March 27 on Amazon.  In the 1920’s, three sheltered sisters from a proper New England family smuggle liquor from Canada to support their family after their father’s death and a relative’s treachery leave them penniless.


3 Women Shape Pre-WW2 Thought: the Dorothys

In the years just before World War II and through the anxious years until it ended, the writings of three women influenced American politics and social issues, were quoted for their razor-sharp wit, and kept mystery lovers up reading past their bedtime. They were all named Dorothy.

“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”

Dorothy Parker
Best known for her ability to turn a phrase that was simultaneously funny and piercing, Dorothy Parker was widely celebrated as a poet, short story writer and playwright. She was also a literary critic and screenwriter. Parker was a founder of the legendary Algonquin Round Table and a member of the board of editors of The New Yorker when it debuted in 1925.

“Beauty is only skin deep
But ugly goes clean to the bone.”

In the 1930s and 1940s Parker became an ardent advocate for civil rights and civil liberties. Yet even among those who disagreed with her politics, her writing had wide appeal. When America entered World War II, Viking Press published an anthology of her work for servicemen overseas. It contained more than two dozen of her short stories plus numerous poems and in 1944 was published for U.S. readers under the title The Portable Dorothy Parker. After the war, she became one of many writers blacklisted in Hollywood.

“Constant use will not wear ragged the fabric of friendship.”

Dorothy Thompson
If Parker was the wit, Dorothy Thompson was the brilliant, brainy journalist whose words were followed by more than 10 million readers across the country and respected by those in power. In 1939 Time magazine named her the second most influential woman in America. (The top spot went to first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.)

Dorothy Thompson

journalist Dorothy Thompson

Thompson wrote a newspaper column as well as a monthly column in Ladies Home Journal. She had a weekly radio program on NBC, making her one of the few women broadcast news commentators of that era. As Berlin bureau chief for The New York Post, she had witnessed first-hand the rise of the Nazi party. She interviewed Adolph Hitler, and her resulting book led to her be the first journalist kicked out of Germany. In September of 1939 Thompson testified before a Senate committee, urging them to sell arms to Great Britain and France.

“It is not the fact of liberty but the way in which liberty is exercised that ultimately determines whether liberty itself survives.”

Dorothy B. Hughes
One of the most noted, and popular, mystery novelists of the 1940s was Dorothy B. Hughes. Her stories were filled with clandestine operatives and strong women characters. They are classics of the noir and hardboiled styles, and broke new ground in crime fiction with their deep explorations of character and motivation. Several were made into movies.

Hughes’ first novel, The So Blue Marble, was published in 1940. Others followed, one or two a year, until 1947, after which they became more widely spaced. Hughes also was a respected book critic. In 1951 the Mystery Writers of America awarded her an Edgar for Outstanding Mystery Criticism. In 1978 she received the MWA’s Grand Master award.

“She carried her head like a lady and her body like a snake.”

If you’re not acquainted with the writing of these three ladies, you’re in for a treat.


Tough Cookie, second book in the Maggie Sullivan mysteries, is just 99c through 2/28.  As the 1930s end, private eye Maggie Sullivan is hired to find the man behind a deadly swindle that made fools — and enemies — of some of the city’s top businessmen.  On Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo.

Tough Cookie a Maggie Sullivan mystery

World War II Icon Turns 75: The USO

One of the icons of World War II, and a presence in the live of American service men and women from then to now, turns 75 today – the USO. It was the brainchild of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who saw the need for an organization to boost morale and provide recreation to American G.I.’s. He also saw it as a way to build support on the homefront if and when the country went to war.

Roosevelt enlisted the help of Mary Ingraham, a long-time social reformer who from 1940-1946 served as president of the National Board of the YWCA. Her first task was uniting the work of half a dozen organizations under one umbrella. They were:

  • The Salvation Army
  • Young Men’s Christian Association
  • Young Women’t Christian Association
  • National Catholic Community Services
  • National Travelers Aid Association
  • National Jewish Welfare Board


The resulting organization, the USO, was incorporated in New York on February 4, 1941. Although chartered by Congress, it was not a government program, but a private organization supported by donations and staffed largely by volunteers.

What would the movies do without all those scenes of USO dances sparking wartime romances between young G.I.’s and local girls? But USO centers, some in barns or churches, also provided coffee and small snacks, showed movies and provided writing materials. Some even made childcare available for military wives.

In October of 1941, the year it was founded and just two months before Pearl Harbor, the first of the legendary shows associated with the name USO was produced.

Happy Birthday, USO. Thanks for the memories.

New Mystery Short Story Set in 1940

“A Concrete Garter Belt”, a new Maggie Sullivan short story, has joined the four novels and one other short story currently in the mystery series.   It was previously published in the Private Eye Writers of America anthology Fifty Shades of Grey Fedora, but is now available as a stand-alone.


The private eye’s search for a missing girl takes her into a secretarial service, a common resource used by countless small businesses before the advent of answering machines, Spellcheck and Office 365.  It also provides a window into an era when being pawed by the boss was the price young women often paid for keeping their job.

Maggie doesn’t take well to pawing.  And she carries a Smith & Wesson.


Her Engineering Speeded Work in Kitchens and Defense Plants

As you race around doing your holiday cooking, even if it’s only opening a bottle of wine for guests, take time to raise your oven mitt to the Greatest Generation woman who designed the efficient, modern kitchen we take for granted today. Her name was Lillian Gilbreth, and her many accomplishments include:

  • Pioneer in time-and-motion studies
  • First female professor of engineering at Purdue University
  • First woman elected to National Academy of Engineering (at age 89)
  • First industrial psychologist
  • Pioneer in ergonomics
  • Originator of the “work triangle” now central to kitchen design
  • Prolific author of papers and books

Along the way, she also gave birth to 12 children.

Photo by Harris and Ewing - Smithsonian Institution collections

Photo by Harris and Ewing, from Smithsonian Institution collections, shows Lillian Gilbreth in the 1930s.

Lillian Gilbreth and her husband Frank established themselves as time-and-motion (“efficiency”) experts through industrial studies that broke each component of a process down into how many movements it required, where a worker had to reach for necessary parts or tools, and how many steps the worker had to walk. The duo used stopwatches and short movies to analyze the procedures. Though her name often didn’t appear on them, Lillian wrote many of the papers and books describing their studies and their implications for increased productivity and decreased worker fatigue.

When Frank died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1924, leaving her with a dozen children to provide for, Lillian found that male executives interested in time-motion studies were far less willing to deal with a woman. A PhD. in psychology had given her more than passing insight into human behavior, however. If she couldn’t gain entry to clients through the front door, she’d go in through the kitchen.

Gas and electric refrigerators were starting to replace the icebox in middle class homes. Companies were suddenly viewing women as potential buyers of these as well as small electrical appliances. Gilbreth’s trained eye saw that even with these new marvels, the kitchens of the late 1920s would remain inefficient – and exhausting – due to inefficient design:

  • A wall-hung sink and drainboard on one wall, with a cabinet or built in cupboard abutting it.
  • A free-standing stove on another wall.
  • The refrigerator or icebox somewhere else.
  • And bowls, pans, utensils, dishes? Those might be across the room in a pantry, or at best in another cupboard somewhere.
Lillian Gilbreth's design would make kitchens more efficient than this one newly electrified by the REA. Photo from Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum.

Lillian Gilbreth’s design would make kitchens more efficient than this one newly electrified by the REA. Photo from Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum.

In 1929, Gilbreth unveiled her Kitchen Practical. It had a counter next to the stove, with food storage above the counter, pots and pans below, and the refrigerator just a few steps away. A multi-use rolling cart provided additional work surface or wheeled dirty dishes to the sink. The resulting layout was the origin of today’s L-shaped kitchen. At the heart of it was what we now call the “work triangle”.

Using the same analysis of movements, equipment and parts (ingredients for a cake) she and Frank had used to study production lines, Gilbreth had created a small, efficient workspace that required very few steps. A few years later, testing a slightly different version of the Kitchen Practical, a cake was baked with identical ingredients in an old style kitchen and the Gilbreth design. The number of steps the cook had to move had dropped from 281 to 45.

With her expertise now well established, Gilbreth soon found her services in demand by the U.S. government from the Great Depression through World War II and the Korean War. In 1930 President Herbert Hoover tapped her to chair the women’s division of the Emergency Committee for Employment where she created a nationwide program that created new jobs. During World War II she oversaw conversion of factories to defense plants and studied workflow to make them more productive.

Today, most readers who know anything at all about this remarkable woman know her from a pair of books by two of her children: Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on their Toes. With fine humor they describe growing up in a household with two working parents who ran studies on the most efficient way for them to shower, followed by one muddling on creatively without their father.

Private eye Maggie Sullivan uses snippets of knowledge about Gilbreth’s work in Shamus in a Skirt. What the fictional detective didn’t know was that she and Gilbreth shared one thing in common: Neither could cook.



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