Merri and Brett’s time-surfing adventures in More Than Meets the Eye take them to Carlinville, Illinois in 1918 to observe the construction of the largest collection of Sears catalog homes in the in the United States.
The Standard Oil Company commissioned them to provide housing for coal miners working at their new Carlinville mines. (The coal was to fuel their refinery 50 miles south in Wood River.) And they hired a woman named Elizabeth Spaulding to supervise the men building the houses.
Overseeing the construction of a 156-house subdivision was a massive endeavor and quite an accomplishment for anyone. For a woman in a man’s world, it was astonishing. In a sense, Elizabeth Spaulding wasn’t even a full citizen. The nineteenth amendment, giving U.S. women full suffrage, was still two years away for her.
My fictional version of Elizabeth Spaulding in More Than Meets the Eye is based on exactly what I discovered in my research. At first all I could find about her was that Mrs. Spaulding rode on horseback through Carlinville’s Sears Addition, hiring, firing, and supervising the men.
So I went hunting for more details about her at the Carlinville library and the Macoupin County Historical Society. I spent hours searching through old newspapers, including their gossip columns and social news, figuring there was bound to be something about the unusual woman working in Carlinville for the 8 ½ months it took to build the houses.
I came up empty, although it wasn’t a waste of time, because I found snippets about actual happenings in 1918. There were mentions of Women’s Christian Temperance meetings, Chautauqua events, and Hoover Dinners—all of which I included to flesh out the time and place of the novel.
Several people helped me hunt for more information about Elizabeth Spaulding, notably Carolyn Bettis from the Macoupin County Historical Society. But no one could find anything more about her. So I searched for her on Ancestry. com. I cannot prove that the Vera Elizabeth Spaulding from Fidelity, Illinois that I found is the one who built the Sears houses, but I believe it is logical to conclude that she is. For my arguments supporting this conclusion just read the part where Merri expounds on the subject to Brett at the Crossroads Truck Stop.
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