Maureen O’Reilly and her younger sister flee Ireland in hope of claiming the life promised to their father over twenty years before. After surviving the rigors of Ellis Island, Maureen learns that their benefactor, Colonel Wakefield, has died. His family, refusing to own his Civil War debt, casts her out. Alone, impoverished, and in danger of deportation, Maureen connives to obtain employment in a prominent department store. But she soon discovers that the elegant facade hides a secret that threatens every vulnerable woman in the city.
Despite her family’s disapproval, Olivia Wakefield determines to honor her father’s debt but can’t find Maureen. Unexpected help comes from a local businessman, whom Olivia begins to see as more than an ally, even as she fears the secrets he’s hiding. As women begin disappearing from the store, Olivia rallies influential ladies in her circle to help Maureen take a stand against injustice and fight for the lives of their growing band of sisters. But can either woman open her heart to divine leading or the love it might bring?
Read Printable Excerpt Here
Band of Sisters
Published by Tyndale House Publishers
Release Date:September 2012
Where to buy: Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, Barnes&Noble
Cathy Gohlke is the two-time Christy Award–winning author of the critically acclaimed novels Promise Me This, William Henry Is a Fine Name, and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires, which also won the American Christian Fiction Writers' Book of the Year Award and was listed by Library Journal as one of the Best Books of 2008.
Cathy has worked as a school librarian, drama director, and director of children's and education ministries. When not traipsing the hills and dales of historic sites, she, her husband, and their dog, Reilly, make their home on the banks of the Laurel Run in Elkton, Maryland.
Visit her website at www.cathygohlke.com.
Q&A with CATHY GOHLKE
1. What motivated you to write Band of Sisters?
I've always been fascinated by the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement. But I was horrified to learn that there are more than twice as many men, women and children enslaved today than at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This book was born of a passion to end modern-day slavery, and most of all, to ask, “What can I do to help in a need so desperate?”
2. Why did you choose NYC 1910-1911 to tell this story? And how does human trafficking in that era compare to human trafficking today?
I was inspired by an article I’d read about Alma Mathews. Alma was a small but determined woman who, armed with her umbrella and a hefty douse of fury, stood against dangerous men bent on exploiting immigrant women as they entered the U.S. through Castle Gardens, in old New York City. Alma ushered young women to her home, prepared them for employment, and helped them begin a safe new life in the city. It became a full time ministry involving many—all in the early days of the settlement house movement.
But my editor suggested that I set the story later, when immigrants entered the U.S. through Ellis Island. As I researched that possibility, I found that the problem of exploitation and human trafficking had not only grown during those years, but that the strikes of NYC shirtwaist factory workers had made public the desperate need for women to make a living wage in safe circumstances. Necessary elements for the story and high drama were all a matter of public record—everything from the passing of the Mann Act to address the fear of white slavery to the Triangle Waist Factory fire.
Even though our technology, transportation, communication, etc., is different from the story’s era, many countries today are no further in providing rights and safeguards for women than the U.S. was in 1910. Some are further behind.
Many of the same ruses are used by traffickers to lure women into their snare now as they were then: better paying jobs for themselves and/or money for their families, flirtation, pretense of emotional caring and support, marriage, offers specifically for modeling jobs, offers for education, appeals for help of various kinds, plays on sympathies, etc.
In some cases, after having sex with someone they trusted, or after being drugged and forced into having sex, women or children are/were blackmailed. Fearful that their families will not believe them or will accuse them of promiscuity and reject them, they are afraid and feel compelled to sneak out and “service” men when called. Some are sold to traffickers or users by members of their own family, or by someone they trust.
Once trapped—sometimes after being unwittingly drugged and/or blackmailed— women are often transported far from their home (crossing borders to other states or countries). Held against their will through abuse, enforced poverty, lack of ID, lack of language skills, lack of visas or passports, they may simply not know who to trust or where to go for help in the country in which they find themselves. Isolation, threats to their person or their family, repeated brain washing that they are dirty, worthless, unwanted, unloved, and good for nothing but sex with paying customers are all tools that traffickers use to intimidate and control their victims.
Fear of what will happen if they try to escape, fear that they have ruined their lives and will have no other way to live, fear for themselves and loved ones, resulting health problems, feelings of hopelessness and a constantly reinforced sense of selfworthlessness all form formidable prisons for victims of trafficking. Even if it seems they can physically escape, they may not be able to break the emotional or mental chains that bind them.
All those things happened then, and they continue to happen to victims today.
3. What research did you do?
My research began with human trafficking today and the fight to abolish modernday slavery through books, the internet, and through organizations and individuals that are helping in various ways—raising awareness, rescuing, restoring and healing victims, tracking down and prosecuting predators, education of men and boys re. the human rights and intrinsic worth of women, safe houses, etc., and those who fundraise to assist organizations or individuals who are already doing these things.
For historical background I watched documentaries and read (books, old newspapers, archives) about the growth of old New York, the social conditions and desperation of the poor and of immigrants in particular, the disadvantages to those who did not speak English, the unique problems of women and children—the opportunities for and difficulties of making a living wage outside of prostitution, the threats made to women and their families to coerce them into sexual service, of their economic desperation without a male provider, of their few legal rights, and of the unfair treatment women received in court. Those studies led me to the development of the sweatshops, the growth, expansion and revisions of the settlement house movement, the work of Jacob Riis in making the abject poverty of thousands known to the public.
Learning of those conditions led to a special interest in Irish immigrants—their cultural and social strengths and weaknesses, their views of family, their aptitude for and reception in different types of employment in America.
My husband and I made two trips to NYC. From there we conducted research at Ellis Island, took several tours in the Tenement Museum, and bought more research books and maps, including more on the Triangle Waist Factory fire.
Once I knew my storyline, I mapped out locations of the story and trekked through Manhattan, exploring old sites, especially between Mid-town Manhattan, through Washington Square and the surrounding NYU area (including the site of the Triangle fire), the Bowery and the Lower East Side. As I walked, photographed the city, explored, and talked with residents, the voices of my characters erupted. I gladly followed their lead.
4. Your characters are strongly influenced by the question asked in Charles Sheldon’s classic, “In His Steps”—“what would Jesus do?” Why did you choose that book to help tell your story?
After all my research I knew I had the historical elements needed. What I didn’t know was the inner conflict of each character, or the answer to the all-important question: “what can I do to help in a need so desperate?”
I found my answer by confronting the question Sheldon posed in his very popular book of the time, “what would Jesus do?”
If we all truly do what Jesus would do, slavery will end. Jesus never exploited men or women—He uplifted them and showed them a path of hope, a new way of thinking and living. He never used children, or child labor for ease or gain—He blessed little ones, demonstrating their great worth. He never bought or sold babies to fulfill the bride “needs” of a one-child culture. He never bought or sold human organs, or fetuses, or body parts. He never lied to immigrants, never enslaved them, never threatened their families or loved ones or lives if they did not comply with His demands, never coerced or forced, never shamed or punished a single person into submission to His will. But in every way He set a moral compass, employed Divine compassion to the broken hearted and broken bodied, and held to account any and all who victimized others.
5. In Band of Sisters your characters maintain that the answer to human trafficking is found in the question, “What would Jesus do?” What do you mean by that and how does that question impact this modern-day crisis?
In recounting the things Jesus taught, and in thinking about the life He modeled, I realized that He has already given us the answers. It is only for us to employ them.
- Open His hand and His heart to those society spurns—not only to receive those who come to Him, but He would go out and search for and engage them, as when He ate with publicans and sinners, as when He called Zacchaeus from the tree.
- He would provide medical help, as when He healed the woman with the issue of blood, the man born blind, the paraplegic let down through a roof, and countless others.
- He would not hesitate to confront the darkest of the dark in order to free victims—the things and people and forces we’d rather not see or deal with, as when He drove demons from the young man, and from Mary Magdalene.
- He would open His purse strings, even His home to the needy as when He commanded us to provide for widows and orphans, as when hounded by Herod, he personally demonstrated the helpless plight and needed solutions for refugees.
- He would expect that those who could provide financially for this ministry and need would do so, just as He accepted gifts from those able to finance His ministry.
- He would protect lives and argue for victims legally—even those who’d made mistakes society deems unforgivable, as He did for the woman taken in adultery—the woman in danger of being stoned.
- He would accept the thanks of and stand for those who looked to Him for answers. He would maintain relationship with them, even when they were misunderstood by society, as He did for the woman who anointed His feet.
- He would hold to account those who victimize others, as He did when He declared that for anyone who makes one of His little ones to stumble it would be better if a millstone were hung around their neck and they were drowned in the depths of the sea.
- He would raise awareness and educate society to be on guard against this evil as much as any evil, to be vigilant, to accept responsibility to change, to train children to love God and care for and respect one another, just as He taught them everyday of His life.
- He would advocate for the human dignity and worth of all people, women included, as He did when He breached society’s laws by allowing the unclean woman, desperately hoping for healing, to touch Him, when He reached out to the Samaritan woman, who lived with a man not her husband, and when He died on a cross in our place.
For More Q&A here
1910 Ireland. As Maureen and Katie Rose O'Reilley climb the muddy path up the hillside to cemetery where her mother is to buried the women attending the burial shun Maureen. Even though Maureen had been raped and brutally used by her landlord Lord Orthbridge the women still treated her like a harlot. With her mother's passing she did not know how she was to protect her young sister from her landlord's desires and abuse. She heard rumored that his young son is already after Katie Rose's skirt tales.
After the funeral Maureen's Aunt Verna unfurls a plan to get Maureen and Katie Rose out of Ireland, but they must move quickly with the plan. Her aunt tells of a close friend of Maureen's long deceased father that had sent money to have her father and his family to come to America and become his business partner. Colonel Wakefield saw O'Reilly as a brother and his children as his own. Maureen's aunt still has the money . She gives the money along with a letter from Wakefield to Maureen for the girls to make the trip to America so they will be safe with Colonel Wakefield.
Katie Rose ends up catching Chicken Pox is held at the infirmary at Ellis Island until to gets well and Maureen must find residents and employment before they will approve her release. She fears they will be returned to Ireland.
She lucks out and has been given some assistance by a lady of the Missionary Aid Society to get her the proper clothes and make sure she has a place to stay and employment.
When she arrives at Colonel Wakefield's she is rudely treated by a man that claims the Colonel is deceased and that she has no claim to the family and he burns her letter in the fireplace and boots the screaming Maureen out the door like a piece of trash.
But as this was happening Olivia daughter of Colonel Wakefield was disgusted by the way her brother-in-law Drake had treated the young women in Olivia's home. He had no right no right at all. She must find this woman so she can find out what kind of connection she has with her father. She will not stop until she finds the poor women. Her guest, Curtis Morrow witnessed this event and promised to do what he could to help find the O'Reilley woman.
It just keeps getting worse for Maureen. Will she be able to find employment? Will poor Katie Rose be sent back to Ireland?
The author wrote a wonderful story of the plight of immigrant women in New York that are just arriving at Ellis Island. Any lone woman was at the mercy of evil men as soon as they stepped foot on American soil. Tricking the women into thinking they could be trusted to help them find employment and a place to stay. There were women being accosted for white slavery and forced to work in brothels and on the streets.
The chances of getting a decent job was minimal. If money was sparse then so was food and shelter. The character of Olivia Wakefield was a woman that was determined to fight for the protection and the rights of these women and against white slavery.
Prostitution and White Slavery in the Early 20th Century - You Tube - (some may find offensive) But it was reality. I was ashamed more by some of the comments left about White Slavery!
I knew things back then were difficult for women but I really had no idea it was that bad. I want to thank the author for opening my eyes. It has given me so much love and respect for the women that fought the long hard battle for women's rights and eventually won.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911
I devoured the information Cathy Gohlke provided in the question and answers she so graciously shared with us. I am eager to do more research on this subject. I am of Irish decent and know my ancestors went through Ellis Island. I have taken this story very personally. I thank Cathy for bringing to to my attention.
I highly recommend this book!
I rated this book 5 out of 5.
I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale Blog Network for review. I was in no way compensated for this review. It is my own opinion.
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