On this occasion the action takes place between July and August 1880, and we get to see the world of printing houses at the time, which is something I did not know much about.
At the beginning of the book it is the fourth of July and Annie, her boarders, and Nate have a picnic in Jefferson Square Park.
The woman who hires Nate to defend Florence Sullivan is Emily Pitts Stevens. A woman with an incredibly high level of energy, Emily Pitts Stevens (1841-1906) literally gathered the beginning threads of the women’s movement and wove them into the cause for suffrage. Within 1865 to 1870, Mrs. Pitts Stevens hired women to set type for her journal, promoted the all-woman Women’s Co-operative Printing Union, and founded the Woman’s Publishing Company.
In the 1860s, typesetting was the most prestigious job for women in San Francisco. The job required skill in spelling and grammar, along with manual dexterity, so typesetters tended to be better-educated and fast learners. But opportunities were extremely limited. Printers were in great demand from the early days of the gold rush for newspapers, magazines, books, billheads, announcements, legal briefs, and ephemera of all sorts.
The characters in the novel refer to Laura Fair, who killed her lover, and Emily Pitts Stevens helped her in her defence. In 1863, Fair started a relationship with married lawyer Alexander Parker Crittenden. Initially, he said he was single. Fair eventually learned the truth, and Crittenden promised her he would divorce his wife Clara. In 1870, Clara took a transcontinental train to the East Coast and back with her two youngest children. Fair learned the Crittenden was to meet his wife in Oakland and aboard a ferry back to San Francisco. On November 3, 1870, Fair caught the same ferry and shot Crittenden in the heart. In April 1871, Fair faced her first murder trial. The prosecution painted her as a fallen woman who lured Crittenden into bed and warned the jury that they had a moral obligation. The jury found Fair guilty of murder, and she was sentenced to hang on July 28, 1871. Fair’s case was appealed with the support of suffragettes, including Emily Pitts Stevens, founder of the California Woman Suffrage Association. The conviction was overturned on the grounds of prejudice.