Who Knew–Lillie Hitchcock Coit

Born in 1843, she smoked cigars, drank bourbon, wore trousers, gambled, and was an avid hunter. She also frequented the court of Napoleon III in Paris and traveled extensively in Europe and even visited with a Maharajah in India. Raised in post-gold rush San Francisco, she became the mascot of one of the volunteer fire departments riding along with the engine company during parades and going to their banquets. When she died in 1929, Lillie Hancock Coit left one-third of her vast fortune to beautify San Francisco, the city she loved. A monument to firefighters and Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill resulted from that bequest.

Lillie Hancock was born in West Point, New York. Her father was an army doctor who later went to serve in the Mexican War where he saved the life of Jefferson Davis. After the war, her father was transferred to the newly acquired territory of California where he became the medical director of the west coast. Lillie and her mother joined her father in 1851. Lillie’s love affair with Engine Company number 5 began when she was rescued from a burning building shortly after she arrived in California. Reportedly when she was about 15, she raced to help the pull the engine to the top of Telegraph Hill winning the love and devotion of the volunteer firemen. By that time, her father had set up his private practice and accumulated a fortune.

On the eve of the Civil War, Lillie and her mother traveled to Europe where they spent three years. The young Lillie made a positive impression in the courts of Europe and was highly sought after as a dance partner at various balls. Upon her return to San Francisco in 1863, she was recognized as belle of the city. Her family had money, and she had a European polish. In October of that year, she was made an honorary member of Knickerbocker 5, her favorite volunteer fire department.

In 1868 Lillie Hitchcock married Benjamin Howard Coit, a caller on the Stock Exchange who in those hectic days earned $1000 a month (more than $20,000 today). Lillie’s parents had opposed their marriage although the groom’s father was a friend of the Hitchcock family. The couple had no children and separated in 1880. Mark Twain commented on their marital situation and hinted that Mr. Coit was less than faithful. As a wife, Lillie’s behavior pushed against society’s norms and at times shocked polite society.

Lillie made her home in the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, but also owned property in Napa Valley that she called Larkmead. Originally, the land had been purchased by her parents to use as a retreat for Lillie when her behavior grew too scandalous for San Francisco. It became a gathering place for artists and intellectuals encouraged by Lillie. Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife visited there in 1880. She spent a great deal of time at Larkmead and a great deal of money on landscaping the property. She planted a vineyard and in 1876 produced ‘Lillie’ a white wine.

In 1885 Lillie’s father died and shortly thereafter, her estranged husband also passed away. In her father’s will, she was to receive $250 a month as long as her husband was alive. Once her husband died, she would inherited half a million dollars from her father’s estate in addition to a quarter of a million from her husband.

Now in her 40s, Lillie made no attempt to hide her outrageous behavior. Dressing like a man, gambling, visiting unsavory waterfront dives, even being the only woman camping with a group of men caused people to talk. In 1903, a distant relative burst into her hotel room and attempted to kill her. The businessman with her stepped in and took the bullet meant for her. Soon thereafter, Lillie left for Europe where she traveled for many years.

Eventually Lillie Hitchcock Coit returned to San Francisco where she died in 1929 leaving one-third of her estate to the city of San Francisco for beautification.

While we know some very interesting information about Lillie Hitchcock Coit, there is much we don’t know. The only book I can find about her life is a children’s book focusing on her relationship to firefighters. I hope that someone takes up the challenge of telling her story—if only in fictional form.


Who Knew…… Sultana Raziya

Born in the early 1200s, Raziya was the only daughter of a Mamluk ruler of the Delhi of Sultanate. (Her father’s rise to power from slave worker to ruler is fascinating.)

Perhaps because of her father’s unusual background, Raziya, who had born free, had an unusual education for a female. She learned to read and write, saw how the government operated, and along with her brothers she gained the skills of martial arts and archery.

In 1231, her father left Delhi leading a military campaign. He also left her in charge of the government—a job she handled with ease.

When her father died in 1236 still on that military campaign, he named her his heir, a wish Muslim government officials ignored when they installed her half-brother on the throne. Her brother, a weak puppet for those nobles, lasted six months before his assassination.

In November 1236, Raziya became the first woman Muslim ruler in history, leaving purdah, dropping her veil, and dressing in men’s clothing. Coins issued in her reign proclaimed her “the pillar of women” and “Queen of the times.” She became known as Sultana Raziya.

She expanded the territory she ruled, but she also established schools and libraries. Her government built roads, dug wells, and encouraged trade. She advocated equal treatment and respect for her Hindu subjects. Raziya patronized the arts, encouraging artists of all kinds.

She proved herself to an efficient and effective ruler, and certain Muslim nobles could not abide living under the rule of a woman. They had accepted her accession to the throne because they thought they could control her. Some local rulers rebelled. Several of her brothers joined the rebellions, hoping to gain the throne for themselves. Sultana Raziya did not stay in Delhi, she faced her opponents on the battlefield, often leading her forces while riding on an elephant.


In 1240, while she was away from the capital of Delhi, Raziya’s half-brother seized the throne. During her attempt to regain it, her forces were defeated. Those who survived the battle abandoned her. She attempted to flee, but was captured and killed in October 1240.

According to a historian of the time, Sultana Raziya ruled for 3 years, 6 months, and 6 days.

And now you know….

As you might imagine, Raziya’s story had captured the imaginations of modern storytellers. A biopic came out in 1983, but in 2015 a historical drama series was made that was not very historic. On the air from March to November 2015, the series has been shown in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, several places in Africa and even made it to TV in Germany.

If you want to follow up on Raziya, know that there are variants on the spelling of her name. Just be flexible.

But you got to know the territory…

The musical The Music Man begins on a train with a group of salesmen talking about the changing marketplace. One section of the song has one salesman, named Charlie, declaring that no matter what, they need to know the territory.

For me, writing and publishing is a whole new territory that I am exploring. I am not sure how successful my exploration is, but I am continuing to learn. It is certainly not something I have mastered.

p2p coverI released Princess to Prioress at the end of June. Some people might think writing a book is the most difficult task. Others would quickly shake their heads and point out that rewriting and editing is a monumental chore. What outsiders might not realize is that marketing is also a huge undertaking, and in my case the marketing in primarily in my hands.

Unless you are an already well-known writer, getting word of your book out there is not always easy—unless you have a huge family and enormous circle of friends—or in my case, former students who might relish taking a red pen to my words. There are many services out there offering help in marketing in exchange for large amounts of money. Even a Goodreads book giveaway is expensive for the author.

cropped-adela_av_normandie_1062-1138_medium.jpgI did not write Princess to Prioress to become a New York Times best-selling author—although I wouldn’t object to being ranked higher than 1833 on Amazon. I wrote the book because the subject, Adele, Countess of Blois, is a remarkable woman overlooked by the traditional history books. This is her story written to be accessible for people who are not medieval scholars.

I envisioned Adele’s world and attempted share that vision with my readers. Writing is familiar and comfortable territory.

I am struggling with the marketing, but I won’t learn any younger. I also am working on another book, Hell Hath No Fury. It is a very different type of historical fiction, and I am pleased that the first chapter has been selected for publication this fall in the Petigru Review.

Still, I got to know the territory.

Admiration for another writer of historical fiction.. The Poison Bed


Unreliable narrators, psychological thriller. Who said history was boring?

In 1613 Sir Thomas Overbury was imprisoned in the Tower of London at the “request” of King James I. Five months later he died of “natural causes.”

Ten days later Lady Essex, nee Frances Howard, was granted a decree of nullity from her marriage to the Earl of Essex. Three months later, Frances married Robert Carr, a favorite of James I.

Beginning as a page in the royal court, Carr attracted the attention of James by 1607 and in the years that followed was showered with titles and gifts–so much so that he became the gatekeeper to the King. Thomas Overbury had been Carr’s friend and mentor who assisted him in the rise to the King’s favor.

The court was divided into two main factions fighting for the attention of the King–the Essex faction and the Howard faction. Overbury insisted that a marriage to Frances, Lady Essex would be the ruin of Carr. By marrying Frances Howard,Robert Carr no longer was neutral and those who opposed the Howards searched to bring him down.

By 1615, Carr and the King have a falling out.. and Carr as Duke of Somerset and Lord Chamberlain and his wife Frances are put in the tower and charged with causing the death of Thomas Overbury by poison.

Those are the facts.. Elizabeth Fremantle has told the story in alternating chapters–Her and Him. What is the truth? Who is truthful? What is real?

This is a fascinating look and interpretation of these events and the people involved.

Moving Beyond the Card Catalog…

…… and onto Amazon.

How many of you have googled yourself?  And found your name in unlikely places—no, not the most wanted list, but some place you did not expect.

Today that type of search yields many sites that offer you background information (and criminal records) or addresses or phone numbers—all that public information swirling in cyber space.  Some where in that list is a lesson plan I created twenty years ago for National Geographic. I hope some teacher, somewhere, found it useful.

Before I moved out of Massachusetts, I loved searching for my name in the catalog of my local library system and seeing my name pop up.  It was attached to a couple of videos on town history done for the town Historical Commission and the Tucker family history.   Multiple copies of the Tucker history were printed at the local copy store, shared with Tucker descendants, and placed by local libraries in their genealogical and local history collections.

Before I left, 200 Years and Still Friends made it into the catalogue. This for me was “big time.”  A limited run was printed, there was no ISBN number, and most copies were sold “in house” to Friends Academy families.  Still, I was and am still proud of the work that went into it.  I researched and wrote the text, but the layout was done by Geraldine Millham.

draft1In the next few days, I step up the game. My name will now be on Amazon and other book seller’s lists.  I am publishing under my own imprint (Stitches in Time Publishing) Princess to Prioress: The Story of Adele of Blois.

It will be in paperback form through Amazon and ebook form on Amazon and from other ebook vendors.  It actually will be available to library ebook programs.

I will not make a fortune on this venture.  However, Adele’s story needed to be told, and I wanted to do it.

So, if you like historical fiction, keep an eye out for my name on a cover. p2p cover