Verdict: IN THE COMPANY OF LIKE-MINDED WOMEN is a well-researched piece of early 20th century historical fiction about a pivotal summer in the lives of three reunited sisters, and focusing on the movement for women's rights as well as family heartbreaks, secrets and estrangements.
Opening with a reunion in Denver in 1901, IN THE COMPANY OF LIKE-MINDED WOMEN is told from the perspectives of Dr. Lida Clayton, her sisters Eva and Mildred, and her 16-year old daughter, each of whom make heartfelt decisions about their lives over the course of the novel.
Eva is a 20-something beauty with a serious beau, the stunningly handsome Mr. Dearman, who is disapproved of by their overprotective mother in Lawrence, Kansas. Sharp-witted, Eva is recovering from scarlet fever, which often caused kidney damage and rheumatic heart disease in those days. Lida, the middle daughter (and mother of two surviving children) is in her 30’s and eloped with her true love, away from her disapproving mother, to pursue being a doctor. Lida is no stranger to tragedy, estranged from her family and recovering from the deaths of her middle son and husband. Mildred, the eldest, is a grim, matronly woman in her 40’s, who takes their mother’s side on most things. Married, with no children, Mildred is the most interesting of the three, in terms of how she changes.
The historical details, Lida’s circle of professional women, shifting perspectives and evolving mindsets make author Elaine Russell’s story compelling, yet it’s a bit sedate in spots. It would appeal to all ages, but there is an undeniably wholesome tone to the book, making it an engaging read for tween and early teen readers. She has written several books for middle grades, and in this one, she superficially touches on the topics of prostitution, infidelity and even gratuitously throws in opium addiction. She sidesteps women’s reproductive rights, however, only noting that “babies are sometimes an unfortunate outcome” for girls and women in prostitution.
Dr. Lida, her sisters and her daughter all speak with the utmost politeness and G-rated couth by today’s standards, as does Mattie Silks, the prostitute with the business acumen and heart of gold, and their rough-hewn Irish Catholic housekeeper, Katherine. Although widowed, Lida works as a doctor with a Catholic charity. She takes her sisters and children to shows, concerts, opera, parties, parades, restaurants, hotels and they travel to Pike’s Peak and other interesting Rocky Mountain attractions. In a clumsy explanation, Lida mentions an inheritance from their favorite uncle. Perhaps they all saved up for the reunion.
One can’t help but wonder about the dramatic potential of this book if it had been written with more adult language and situations. With this conjecture aside, IN THE COMPANY OF LIKE-MINDED WOMEN is a pleasant outing that invites young readers to experience the plans, passion and personalities of women from another era, daring to enter the professional arena.
~MG Milbrodt for IndieReader