My Notorious Life by Kate Manning is the "rags to riches" story of Axie Muldoon, the daughter of poor Irish immigrants in 1860's New York City. At age 12, "saved" from the squalor of the streets by a pastor with the Children's Aid Society, she is sent west on an orphan train, and separated from her younger siblings. But she is determined to bring her family back together, and makes her way back to New York City where she is apprenticed to a doctor. She begins learning the skills of midwifery and the treatment of "female problems."
This fictional tale, inspired by the true story of "Madame Restell", a female physician and midwife once called "the wickedest woman in New York", gives us a look at what options were available to the women of this era, when faced with a pregnancy, wanted or unwanted, and its prevention.
If you watch Call The Midwife on PBS, it will no doubt come to mind as you read this book, although many of Manning's characters are on the... (ahem...) "seedier side". Although Axie's career path may have been controversial, she served the needs of many women, and rose to an "upper class" lifestyle in a Fifth Avenue mansion. Staying one step ahead of the law occupied too much of her time, but she was a fiesty character and would not go down without a fight!
It's a compelling story of a plucky heroine which I didn't want to end; well researched historical fiction which opens our eyes to the hardships faced by the women of that era.
"A woman who walks in purpose doesn't have to chase people or opportunities. Her light causes people and opportunities to pursue her." ~ Unknown