I belong to a writers club, and I’m prejudiced, but I think we’re all pretty darned good at what we do. On Sunday, Ruth Baker, who writes plays, had her latest–WOMEN UNBOUND–produced at Pit Theater on the college campus. That, in and of itself, is an accomplishment. A playwright is hardly ever celebrated in her hometown. But not only was her play performed here, the content was about a local celebrity, too.
When I took Latin for four years in high school, I became a big fan of Edith Hamilton’s book MYTHOLOGY. That book gave me lots of ideas for when I wrote urban fantasy under Judith Post. But I never realized that Edith Hamilton, the writer, grew up in my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. And I never realized what a powerhouse she and her sisters were–women who accomplished BIG THINGS before most women began to flex their muscles. Edith’s father insisted his four girls (the play focused on the women) study Latin and its conjugation. Edith studied at Bryn Mawr and eventually became the head of the school. When she retired, she began to write the books that made her famous. Her sister Alice became a doctor, an expert in industrial toxicology and traveled the world, trying to make it safer for workers. Her sister Margaret taught at Bryn Mawr and eventually became its head mistress, too. And her sister Norah was an artist who worked at Hull House with Jane Addams.
I hate to admit how surprised I was that such famous women came from my city and I’d never heard one word about them. Nothing’s ever mentioned in any of the history books I’ve read or taught for classes. Sometimes, I wish history lessons didn’t repeat stories about the Pilgrims and the Revolutionary War over and over again, year after year. My husband and daughter are hooked on the Great British Baking Show, and the competitors know each era of British history–the Tudor years, the Victorian era and Windsors, etc., and their history goes back much further than ours, but they KNOW it. I wish our history included more, even local history of the state and city.
Most often than not, when I mention I’m from Indiana, people advise me not to use my local setting in my books. They call it “fly over” territory. But I use Fort Wayne as the inspiration for most of my cozy settings. I’ve been told only big cities are interesting, and that may be true in thrillers, but not for cozies. Cozies are more intimate, and the settings should be, too. HH and I live in a community that was once a small town before the city expanded around it. Our area FEELS like a small town, but once we hit a main road, that feeling changes. Fort Wayne’s the second largest city in Indiana. Even then, I’ve often been told that Fort Wayne still THINKS of itself as the “city of churches,” even though it grew past that title years ago. Factories provided good jobs for blue collar workers. When World War II came, we were often told that Fort Wayne was Hitler’s fourth target if he ever bombed inside our boundaries because of our industry. We made lots of wire and war parts and had Baer Field with fighter planes. HH worked at a company that had painted its roof to look like a lake so that a plane would pass over it if Germany invaded. During the war, they even had a rowboat sitting on the roof to make the illusion look real. By the time HH worked there, the boat was gone, but not the painted lake.
Lately, Fort Wayne has evolved and grown more. And watching Ruth’s play made me proud of our city once again. So I thought I’d give it a brief hurrah! Be proud, Fort Wayne!