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  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Maxwell

The Independence of Miss Emma Cross

A dilemma facing Emma Cross, my sleuth in The Gilded Newport Mysteries, is whether or not to marry. And if she does decide to marry, which man should she choose: the debonair, wealthy, and sometimes rash Derrick Andrews, heir to a Providence newspaper fortune, or the steady, honest, and dependable Jesse Whyte, native Newporter and police detective. With Derrick she would never again need to worry about money, but she would also become a society wife facing an endless schedule of soirees, balls, and other social events. With Jesse, she can remain in Newport among the people of her own class and continue in her career as a reporter. She has feelings for both men. Derrick inspires her passion, but Jesse also has a claim on her heart. Then again, there is a third choice--not marrying at all, remaining independent and mistress of her own life.

But wait, some readers will say, women didn't make that choice in those days. They ALL wanted to marry, didn't they? It's too modern to have a historical heroine who even considers staying single.

While it's true the vast majority of women did marry, there are some notable ones who either didn't marry at all, or put off marriage until they were good and ready. Here are just a few:

In Murder at Chateau sur Mer, Senator George Wetmore has two adult daughters, Edith and Maude. Neither ever married, not because they never had the opportunity, but because neither found the right man. Better to remain single than to marry without love. Luckily for them, their parents never forced the issue. Below, on the left, is Edith Wetmore. Maude is in the picture to the right, but I don't know which one she is. Their brothers having passed away without heirs, the sisters inherited their father's vast wealth. Both played active roles in philanthropy and politics throughout their lives.

Another Gilded Age woman who chose not to marry was Julia A Berwind, daughter of coal magnate Edward Julis Berwind, who built The Elms in Newport. Julia inherited the house following her brother's death and summered there every year until her death in 1961. She very much held court at The Elms, living in a grand style with a full host of servants. However, like the Wetmore sisters, she was also an active philantropist. Below, Julia is the darkhaired woman.

There was also Edith Mintern, made famous in a painting by John Singer Sargent. Edith did eventually marry Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes, but she did so at the ripe old age of 29. She had put off marriage for all those years for the same reason the Wetmore sisters wouldn't settle--she hadn't found a man she loved enough to spend the rest of her life with. At first she didn't think Newton, as he was called, was that man either. But with the help of her determined sister Edith spent enough time in Newton's company to realize they were kindred spirits and intellectual equals. They respected each other and married for love.

I do love this portrait!

So, should Emma choose a man and settle down? I believe I have enough historical precedence to put off this decision and allow things to unfold as they will. Emma's a determined young woman who is just coming into her own personally and professionally. When and if she's ready to marry, I have every confidence she'll let us know.

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