4 out of 4 stars
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Hattie Barton is a woman on a mission. After going to Washington for the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, she and her sister-in-law Alice happen upon a women's suffrage parade and end up swept away in the movement. Unfortunately, Hattie lives in South Carolina, one of the states most against women's suffrage (the right for women to vote) and their battle is absolutely an uphill one. Hattie is also dealing with her ex-fiancé Will Kendrick coming back to town, her husband's mysterious dealings with a former flame of his own after his childhood best friend dies and the possibility that World War I will draw America, and her draft-aged son Charles Jr, into the battle.
In the Fullness of Time: One Woman's Story of Growth and Empowerment by Katherine P. Stillerman is a fictional story that manages to encapsulate many nonfictional events and people from 1913 to 1920. The star of the show here is the history itself: it was really fascinating to see how the aftermath of the Civil War was still felt by southerners, how child labor laws recently put into effect still had lingering effects, how deep racism was, how people felt about women's suffrage, and how WWI touched everyone. One of my favorite inclusions in the book is a poem that humorously details the negative effects WWI had on people at home, people who had "meatless" and "wheatless" days so their soldiers could have food in addition to many other setbacks. I liked the poem so much that I looked it up and found it was genuinely from that era, lending even more awesomeness to it. Headlines are often plucked from real history as well; every time I researched more from the book I found out just how real it was. Katherine even manages to pull views on homosexuality and the recent studies of sterilization into the book. It felt incredibly genuine, and as if something happened in those years then it was included in these pages.
While the history is incredible, the plot and characters really don't suffer for it. There are some fantastic characters here, and while it's clear many have a history that was more fully fleshed out in the first book of this series (Hattie's Place), I never felt like I missed out by not having read it first. Hattie is a perfect main character, and Charles (her husband) is actually a cool guy too, but they're also their own people who have issues. Both face a bit of temptation by a former love interest, and I absolutely loved the resolution to these threads. It was also great that Charles was open to women's suffrage, and a storyline that explores his childhood really explains a lot about him. This diversion from the book typically following Hattie is nice, as is the bit that Hattie tells in first person (as opposed to the rest being third person) when she writes letters to a woman who couldn't come along for a women's suffrage trip. Alice, however, often steals the show. She's very outspoken and independent, and doesn't have concern for proper etiquette (it was always hilarious when Hattie mentioned Alice would hang up without saying goodbye, and how she tried to make a game of guessing when this would happen to sneak a "bye" in quickly). I definitely feel like this is a relationship that would've been strengthened by reading Hattie's Place, in which Charles ends up marrying Hattie despite her being 23 years younger (her 23 to his 46 in this book), and with kids of his own and the troubles she faces "replacing" his deceased wife. As is, however, it was still a great part of the book.
March is National Women's History Month, so it was a particularly good time to pick this one up. One of the goals the women have with women's suffrage is equal pay for women, and yet a century later it's still a pressing issue. One of Hattie's biggest issues for a great deal of the book, and one other women face and discuss, is how impossible it is for a woman to be married and still work toward her own personal goals. Hattie, for example, had wanted to teach higher education instead of simply being a teacher, and other women refuse to marry at all so they can be working women instead. There's also the hate and the oppression that men put on the women for something as simple as the right to vote. While some men are supportive and others are down the middle (like Charles who, while supportive of Hattie, doesn't speak out about it as he believes it's too unlikely to ever happen), there are some who are terrible. One woman even keeps her name off the books so that her husband won't find out, as he threatened to take the kids away from her if she becomes a suffragist.
I really enjoyed my time with this book. These women share a special bond, fight for what they believe in and (spoiler alert for anyone who lives under a rock) eventually succeed in women being able to vote! The book also masterfully captures history in a very natural way in this fictional book, and Katherine even has a detailed section at the back with the resources she used and some details of searching for information. The book wasn't perfect, certainly, but I came away with a great deal of new knowledge about history and a new outlook at the time period. As such, I'm rating this one 4 out of 4 stars and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in American history, women's history or a good historical fiction that masterfully incorporates nonfiction.
In the Fullness of Time
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