Mrs. Ballou: A Novel Inspired by Actual People and Events

Written by Alice Allan
Review by Laura Staley

At twenty-five, Addie Ballou was a spiritualist, medium and a public lecturer. She even went to war as a matron for the Union army during the American Civil War. This made her a fascinating character, but a bad fit with the feminine gender roles of the time. Saddled with a cruel, dishonest, and improvident husband, she struggled to support her four children. In a society where a femme covert (married woman) could not hold property or make a contract on her own or collect the wages she earned – they legally belonged to her husband – Addie become an advocate for women’s rights and fairer divorce laws. These beliefs, and the inevitable divorce from her abusive husband, put her on the outside of mainstream American society.

Weaving in information about Spiritualism and its strong ties to the reformist movements of the time, this novel is a good introduction to a remarkable time in US history (save for one bizarre plot point – a law firm recommending that its female clients reside in a brothel? Even given the social disapproval visited on divorced women at the time, it seems jarringly outlandish).

This is a smoothly-written novel about an interesting personality. Recommended for readers interested in women’s history or nineteenth century American social and political movements.