There once were two cats of Kilkenny.
Each thought there was one cat too many,
So they fought and they fit
And they scratched and they bit,
Till, (excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails,)
Instead of two cats, there weren’t any.
I grew up hearing that limerick. My mother hauled it out any time I told her about a quarrel or a fight with a playmate. She said my grandmother had used it to remind her house full of daughters that fighting always hurts everyone involved. The origins of the legend go back as far as the fourteenth century, and the anonymous limerick itself has been popular since the 1800s. It was a good lesson in diplomacy, and it was one of my first thoughts when I decided to write this book.
The inspiration for the story of Yankee Daughters came from my mother’s old family photo album. Margaret McCaskey was the youngest of eight girls, all of them born in western Pennsylvania in the nineteenth century. Most of the photographs I found were taken between 1900 and 1920; many of them were of people I never knew, relatives who died long before I was born. What I learned of them came from my mother’s occasional family stories and the shaky reminiscences of elderly aunts. They were not the factual material of biography or history, but they stirred my imagination. I wanted to recreate the world these lost relatives had inhabited.
This book is a novel, and its characters and events, except for historical details, such as the sinking of the Titanic and the San Francisco earthquake, are entirely fictional. They should not be construed as having any factual basis in the lives of members of the McCaskey family, except for the following instances.
The map at the top of the front cover is a fragment of a map of Beaver County, Pennsylvania, hand-drawn in 1860 to show the location of every residence and landmark in the county. The farm I have described as belonging to the Grenvilles in the 1890s lies in the bend of Conoquenessing Creek and is labeled as belonging to a J. McCaskey. Near it, you may be able to identify some of their neighbors mentioned in the story and various landmarks such as the post office, the coal mine, the church, and the cemetery.
This photograph, as well as the pictures on the front and back covers of the book show the real McCaskey girls—my grandmother, my mother, and her seven sisters. [Left to right: Mary Davis, Caroline McCaskey, Ella Smith, Lola Connor, Margaret Poling, Florence Decker, Minnie Swick, Grace Marony, and Pearl O'Neill.] The pictures were taken by a local Ellwood City photographer in 1912. They have served me as visual models for the fictional Grenville women in the story.
The details of the women’s suffrage talk given by Miss Liliane Howard in Chapter 29 were taken from a pamphlet prepared by the Pennsylvania Women’s Suffrage Association and distributed in Pittsburgh in 1915.
The letters attributed to Sergeant Wilhelm McDevlin in Chapter 34 were actually written by my first cousin once removed, Wilbur Schweinsberg, who served in the Medical Corps during World War I. They were published in the Ellwood City newspaper, and the clippings were preserved in the family scrapbook.
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