By Roz Kay
Gina Mulligan’s novel Remember the Ladies is about Amelia Cook, a congressional lobbyist … in 1877.
“I was researching for another project when I ran across the fact that there were women who were lobbyists in that era,” Gina says. “And I did not know that.”
In the novel, Amelia is hired to lobby on behalf of a proposed 16th Amendment to grant voting rights for women.
And while Gina places her fictional characters in history, the history itself is fact: Senator Aaron Sargent of California introduced the proposed 16th Amendment for woman’s suffrage, also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.
“Amelia’s biggest opponent is Senator Edward Stillman, who’s kind of your quintessential politician,” Gina says.
“Very charismatic, very greedy, very political and ambitious, and he really wants to crush the woman’s vote for his own personal agenda.
“Also a part of that is that Amelia and Stillman, ten years earlier, had a brief liaison and it ended very badly, so he’s very bitter about that and he wants to crush Amelia personally.
“It’s a political chess game as to how to get that vote passed or not passed.”
But Gina, who was an established writer of short stories and articles, didn’t set out to write historical fiction.
“It’s funny, I was not a huge historical fiction reader before this project,” she says.
“I find the golden age fascinating. There’s such so much fodder for a writer. There are so many interesting characters, and greed and corruption and bribery and all these great story lines, so I think it just really got my attention.
“I try to focus on unique perspectives in that era without judgment.”
For Gina, writing the novel was a way to explore the question of what gives a woman power or a voice in the world. Then or now, she believes, it’s the same. She wanted to ask the question because, she notes, it took 130 years for women to get the vote and 100 years more for a woman to be running for president.
“I’ve since read more historical fiction,” she says.
“I think there’s a sense as I’m getting older of wanting to remember our past, and seeing how much of today is really in the history.
“As you get a little older, you start to realize a lot of things that happened then are happening now.”
Wanting people to remember
Gina doesn’t have children of her own, but she has six nieces in their teens and early twenties.
“They have this sense that they’re the first generation of powerful young women,” she says. “And I just laugh at them, I say, ‘Hey you guys, really? There are so many women before you who are powerful.’”
So for Gina, part of the reason for her stories is the continuity of history. Even the novel’s title, Remember the Ladies, comes from a letter that Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John, then a future President of the United States, on March 31, 1776.
In the letter, Abigail urged him not to forget about the nation’s women during the fight for American independence from Great Britain.
“I long to hear that you have declared an independency,” Abigail wrote. “And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.”
Connecting her nieces to history is one reason Gina writes the novels she does.
“I want people to remember,” she says.
“I tell my nieces all the time that, ‘I want you to remember the women of our history and what they did and the accomplishments and then go out and become the next generation of women to remember.’
The importance of letters
However, Gina isn’t just trying to inspire others. She is a doer herself.
Her second novel will be out in October. It’s also historical fiction, and is inspired by personal experience leading to a charity that Gina founded, called Girls Love Mail.
“We collect handwritten letters of encouragement for women going through breast cancer treatment,” Gina says. “I’m a survivor myself, 2009.
“I was researching the second book with letters and writing historical fiction letters and reading them when I got diagnosed, and I received over two hundred letters myself in the mail that came from people I didn’t know.
“It was very strange and they were so healing. And I started this charity of getting letters to other people.”
So Gina’s second book, also historical fiction, is an epistolary novel.
“It’s set in the same era,” she says.
“It’s about a young writer who falls in love with the daughter of a railroad tycoon, and it explores the business aspects in the railroad industry and how corrupt it was in that era.
“It was all told through letters, which is really challenging!” She laughs. “I don’t want to do that again.”
But whether it’s her writing or her work with Girls Love Mail, for which she was recognized on The Steve Harvey Show, it seems to Gina it’s all connected.
“I want the next generation to be the doers of the world,” she says. “So that’s part of the charity, and obviously I write about strong women for strong women.
“Part of my passion is to inspire people to go do other things.”
© Roz Kay
About the author
Gina L. Mulligan began her writing career over twenty years ago as a freelance journalist for national magazines. Her short stories have appeared in Star 82 Review and Storyacious, were performed at Stories on Stage Sacramento, and were included in the anthologies Tudor Close: A Collection of Mystery Stories and Not Your Mother’s Book …on Dogs. She’s won awards from the Abilene Writers Guild, San Francisco LitQuake, and the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition.
After her own diagnosis, Gina founded Girls Love Mail, a charity that collects handwritten letters of encouragement for women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. She was honored for her charitable work on the nationally syndicated talk show The Steve Harvey Show.
Remember the Ladies was published in May 2016 by Five Star Publishing.
You can learn more about Gina Mulligan on her web site here.