In researching the historical background of my novel, I wanted to get a sense of daily life in Upcountry South Carolina in the early 1900’s. I figured that the best ways to do that was to find the archives of a local newspaper in the area and read as many issues as I could. I really hit a bonanza when I found the Library of Congress resource Chronicling America, where historic, digitized newspapers are available and free.
When I filtered the data base by South Carolina and 1907, I discovered the Keowee Courier, one of South Carolina’s longest running newspapers. The paper began publication in 1849 and has continued to the present day, except when it was closed from 1862-1865, on account of the war.
The Keowee Courier was the perfect find because the readership would have been drawn from Oconee and Pickens Counties, the general location of my fictional town of Calhoun. It could very well have been a newspaper to which the Barton’s, the family with whom Hattie Robinson boarded, subscribed.
I became immersed in reading weekly issues of the Courier from January 1906, and continued through December of 1909. It felt like a time machine had transported me back to an earlier time and a simpler day.
Did you know that Tutts Liver Pills will ensure a well-conducted Liver? That Castoria promotes digestion and cheerfulness, and cures diarrhea, constipation, convulsions, and worms? And, that Wine of Cardui goes to the womanly organs and cures all womanly diseases? Oh, and if you happen to suffer from catarrh, whatever that is, a bottle of Hall’s is guaranteed to cure it, or you can apply to the FJ Cheney Company in Toledo, Ohio, for a one hundred dollar refund.
The articles and editorials were clothed in the journalistic style and language of the day. But surprisingly, their content was often as contemporary as last night’s news.
This was especially true whenever issues of politics or public education were addressed. It may be a case of history repeating itself, but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that some things about human nature never change. People are always looking for something to complain about and for somewhere to lay blame. Complaints that the schools are failing and the federal government is squandering the public’s money were expressed in the media as loudly in 1907 as they are today.
The dialogue in my novel, where the characters comment on the condition of the schools and on political issues of the day, is drawn almost exclusively from the content of the editorials and articles that I read in the Keowee Courier.
In the next few blogs, I’ll share some snippets that helped me understand both the uniqueness and the universal nature of the historical setting of Hattie’s Place.