Horses, Votes for Women … and Lipstick – M. Ruth Myers

Horses, Votes for Women … and Lipstick

When the pace of change, especially in technology, makes you dizzy, consider  changes American women went through from the eve of World War I to the eve of World War II. A few of those changes become “accidental characters” in the mystery Don’t Dare a Dame, when a private eye in Ohio is hired to learn the fate of a man who vanished before she was born.

The detective is Maggie Sullivan, and she’s hired for this particular case in the fall of 1939. The disappearance — and suspected murder — she investigates took place during the chaos of the great 1913 flood. In the interval between, these changes occurred:


Transportation – In the spring of 1913 apart from a few motorcycles, the Dayton police department owned a single motorized vehicle, a “utilitarian wagon”. By the fall of 1939, the department had a fleet of patrol cars and two ambulances. Most transportation, for civilians and law enforcement alike, depended on horses.

In the flood’s aftermath, a young patrolman named Rudolph F. Wurstner was put in charge of moving some 1,400 horse carcases out of the city for disposal. Left unattended, they could spread cholera and typhoid fever. By 1922, Rudy Wurstner had become the city’s chief of police, a position he would hold until 1949.

Communication – In 1913, America had no radio stations. When telephone lines went down, terrified Dayton residents had no way to communicate with each other. When the Gamewell system of police call boxes succumbed as well, face-to-face communication was all that remained, and rumors spread.

The country’s first commercial station would air in 1920, and Dayton’s first station in 1921. By 1937 national radio networks had been established, allowing Americans to hear President FDR’s first fireside chat in 1933, and his announcement of the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

Votes for Women – In 1913 these were still a dream for America’s women. In 1920 they became a reality. In 1922 one woman was serving in the U.S. Senate. By 1923, four were serving in the Ohio House of Representatives.

Lipstick – In 1913 the use of “lip rouge” by respectable women was still frowned on by many. If it was used, it had to be applied with a brush or fingertip. It came in small pots or paper tubes — no pushing it up and down. The range of colors was limited, mostly red, redder and dark red. In 1915, lipstick in a metal tube came to market. The stick of color inside was raised by raising a nub of metal in the side of the tube. During the 1920s, swivel tubes appeared, and in the 1930s manufacturers began to create a variety of shades of lipstick.

Of all these advantages enjoyed by women, lipstick was the one which would suffer the most negative impact from World War II.


99c thru 4/3/16

Private eye Maggie Sullivan risks her detective license, and life, to solve a quarter-century old murder.

Maggie Sullivan mysteries #3 a 2014 Shamus Award finalistAmazon     Other e-readers