Lori Henriksen

author of The Winter Loon




Equality ~ Equal Rights, Civil Rights, Equal Opportunity,  Justice

During the Depression, Women who worked were criticized for taking jobs away from men. With sixty percent of people unemployed, only a minority of women worked outside the home. The Labor Secretary, Frances Perkins, encouraged a public stance of family unity, urging women to avoid paid work. “Don’t steal a job from a man,” became a popular slogan.

Despite public hostility, employers still hired women because they worked for lower wages—almost fifty percent of what men earned. Common jobs for women were clerical, factory work, and domestic service. Employed married women did double duty with a job and taking care of their home.

content.jpegAccording to Laura Hapke, writing in Daughters of the Great Depression (available on Amazon), married women were forbidden from government and other employment by a section of the Federal Economy Act. Women were also denied equal pay for equal work under the 1933 National Recovery Administration code (NRA). Even though women’s wages were higher by three percent by the mid-thirties, on average their wages were still only equal to about fifty percent of a man’s average wage. Legislation more often supported protective rather than egalitarian laws when it came to women’s rights.

The NRA of 1933 was one of the most important measures of FDR’s New Deal, enacted in his first one hundred days of office. Designed to reverse the economic collapse of the Great Depression, it succeeded only partially in its goals. The NRA was declared unconstitutional in 1935, less than three weeks before it would have expired.

We still struggle today as a nation to grant equality to all our citizens. I leave you with the words of Mahatma Gandhi:


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Deception ~ Deceitful, misleading, specious

This topic chose me. I randomly opened Volume 1 of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary to the D section and ran my finger down the page, opened my eyes and my finger had landed on Deception. I wasn’t happy with the negative impression I have of the word: underhanded, fraud, monkey business. I’ve been carrying this word around with me for a few days, wondering how it fits my theme.

In the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus I came across a challenge of how to describe a person who is said to be deceptively strong? I would describe Ruth, the main character in The Winter Loon as deceptively strong.

Ruth handles and rides horses like a pro. She competes in relay races, one of the most dangerous rodeo events of the era. After a few months on the rodeo circuit, she dresses as a cowboy and joins a steer wrestling team as a hazer. A hazer rides alongside an eight hundred plus pound steer to keep it running in a straight line for the bulldogger who in a few seconds wrestles the steer to the ground. It takes a lot of skill and guts, especially for a woman in a man’s world.

But Ruth has a softer, weaker side. She has trouble being assertive. Raised to believe she should marry and be cared for by her husband, Ruth conforms to her gender role. When she leaves home for the rodeo, she is a follower who must learn to stand up for herself. She let’s Mac, her cowboy sponsor who fronts the money push her around even though she earns high prize dollars. The underbelly of Ruth’s strength is her passivity.

There’s also a deceptively positive aspect to deception. It has a self-protective side for women in keeping their relationship hidden. The white lies about being spinsters, saying they live together to save money during the Great Depression were deceptive. The fact that the truth could result in persecution, losing everyone and everything dear, physical harm and even death, made deception advantageous. But it also took a toll on a person’s freedom to be authentic and relaxed with co-workers, with family and casual friends. The underbelly of living a self-protective life through deception is fear.

Eleanor Roosevelt was probably the best-known woman of the Thirties who lived a duplicitous life because of the woman she loved. I don’t use duplicitous in a pejorative way. She lived a secret life to protect herself and her husband and to keep from shocking her adoring public.

It wasn’t totally secret. In The Winter Loon Ruth and Gisela laugh over “lesbians in the White House” when Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas have tea with Mrs. Roosevelt. According to the book, Loving Eleanor by Susan Wittig Albert, FDR took action to cover up Lorena Hickok’s relationship with his wife.


It’s a great read about not only about the relationship between Lorena and Eleanor, but also about strong, professional women of the 1930s.

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Courage ~ Bravery, pluckiness, valour, fearlessness

Courage is an ability to participate fully in our heart’s longing and doesn’t necessarily always mean facing extreme danger without retreating. Courage can be our quiet inner self, moving us out of our comfort zone into a place of genuine desire. Courage takes a willingness to stick with and bear the uneasiness that can follow change.

What kind of courage did it take to leave home in the 1930s? Part of the backstory of my novel that landed on the cutting room floor is about Ruth’s struggle to break free of her family and society’s expectations that a young woman who graduated from high school in 1930 marry and start a family.

Ruth has a sweetheart, but wants something more. She sees her mother work hard, tending the house and garden, isolated unable to drive. She hears her mother say, Education is the key to the future. It’s the key to a woman’s independence.” But without the money to pay tuition, it’s an impossible dream. Her brother thinks her selfish to desert her mother. Her father encourages her to earn money until she marries.

Ruth has a job cleaning rooms in a hotel in Minneapolis. She earns about $7 per week, no sick days, no union. A dead end street of drudgery. No wonder she cooks up an idea with her cousin to join a rodeo, spending all day, everyday with her horse, Satin Dancer. She is spurred on by the potential of earning more money than she could ever make as a chambermaid.


It took a good amount of pluckiness and true grit to join the rough and tumble male-dominated world of rodeo.


No more comforts of home.