Hearts Through History Romance Writers

The Role Of Female Authors Throughout History

by | June 16, 2014 | 6 comments

Remember how you reacted when you found out that poet George Sand was a woman? You were probably in high school and astounded by the revelation. How about Harper Lee? Come on, show of hands. How many of you were misguided into believing the author of To Kill A Mockingbird was a man? Or, more recently, do you remember when J.K. Rowling morphed into Robert Galbraith?

It seems women in the publishing world have been attempting to level the playing field for hundreds of years by creating pen names that are ambiguous. When dime novels—the first form of mass marketed books—came into existence in the 1800s, the playing field was no different. If possible, the odds were stacked even higher, as the topics in these books normally contained tales of swashbuckling heroes, gunslingers, gold miners or explorers, and generally harsh surroundings. Things that refined ladies would never know of, much less be able to write about.

The Dime Novel, or the Penny Dreadful, as these books were referred to in England, were the precursor to today’s paperbacks and e-books. Although these dime novels didn’t have as their primary focus the world of romance, they did set the stage for the romance industry, as they were responsible for introducing reading for pleasure to the masses.

Dime novels in America were rough-and-tumble books, mostly about the Wild West. The plots were sensational and melodramatic, making for great reading among the streets of relatively tame east coast cities.

These books were printed in a four by six inch format, and were about a hundred pages in length, with a die-cut cover image that usually contained a spot of color. And thanks to the advancement of the printing industry at the same time the growth of education in America was happening, the dime novel was able to take advantage of both and become a major force in publishing. They filled a void in American literature for several decades, as the education of the working class created a need for reading material. They were published as frequently as every two weeks, and the characters developed in them often went from one tale to the next. The first known dime novel was written by a woman—Mrs. Ann Stephens—and was entitled “Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter.” Risque, tantalizing reading in 1839, to be sure.

imagesWith millions of dime novels being printed each year, the search for quality authors and stories grew. The fertile imaginations of woman molded from the same cloth as Mrs. Stephens led to the formation of many memorable characters, such as Harry Hawk, the hero in the dime novel I created for my book, The Duplicitous Debutante.The author of the Harry Hawk series is a well-bred young lady, Rosemary Fitzpatrick, who invents the name, F.P. Elliott, to disguise her true identity.

The Duplicitous Debutante is the sixth book in the Amazon best-selling Cotillion Ball series, and will be available from Crimson Romance and through Amazon and other e-book outlets, in the fall of 2014.

Author Bio:

48988_1025007027_4423_nBecky Lower has traveled the country looking for great settings for her novels. She loves to write about two people finding each other and falling in love, amid the backdrop of a great setting, be it present day middle America or on a covered wagon headed west in the 1850s. Contemporary and historical romances are her specialty. Becky is a PAN member of RWA and is a member of the Contemporary and Historic RWA chapters. She has a degree in English and Journalism from Bowling Green State University, and lives in an eclectic college town in Ohio with her puppy-mill rescue dog, Mary. She loves to hear from her readers at beckylowerauthor@gmail.com. Visit her website at www.beckylowerauthor.com


  1. Emma

    1839! And with all the changes since then, we still have the need for pen names or initials. I think I would have loved to have known Mrs. Stephens–and how she came up with and published her story. Looking forward to ‘The Duplicitous Debutante!’

  2. Becky Lower

    Thanks, Emma, for visiting and leaving your comments. It is kind of odd, isn’t it, that we do still need initials and/or pen names to be taken seriously in this world. Mrs. Stephens sounds like an enlightened woman, and I share your desire to have known her.

  3. Lani

    You know within the history of publication we hardly talk about the time when authors weren’t expected to be paid at all. It was thanks to romance writers, namely all women, in the eighteenth century who demanded payment and to actually make a living from writing. We women expand the field of writing and the business side of it too, yet we still resort to male pen names. Hmm . . . Gosh, i can’t wait for when a man has a female pen name, you know?

  4. Barbara Monajem

    What fun to create your own dime novel author and main character. (I’m sure Harry Hawk is very dashing!!) I look forward to The Duplicitous Debutante. 🙂

  5. Sheridan Jeane

    Hi Becky,
    I loved your article! I did some similar research regarding female journalists when I was preparing to write Gambling on a Scoundrel, which was set in 1861. I only found one female journalist in England who had a successful journalism career at that time – Eliza Lynn Linton. Nellie Bly came around a couple of decade later. We owe so much to these women. Their hard work, determination, and vision was remarkable.

  6. Màiri Norris

    The first thing I would think, Becky, on being a female author in a day when the only way to get published was to pass as a man, was how frustrating it would be for that author. She would never gain recognition in her own name. That would not sit well with me. However, today, for various reasons, we write under pen names, and only a handful of people know to whom that name refers. Is there, then, that much of a difference?
    Looking forward to reading The Duplicitous Debutante!



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