The website of Dorothy Jane Mills

The website of Dorothy Jane Mills

The Sceptre: Cleveland




Cleveland Department Store Lobby


Cleveland Streetcar

The Flats

The Flats

sewing girls

Women Sewing in Cleveland Factory

Cleveland sequences in The Sceptre take place in the days when Terminal Tower operated as a busy train station and downtown department stores tried to attract customers, especially women, by making their lobbies homelike.

People traveled around town by streetcars connected by poles to electrical wires and fitted with cowcatchers.


In the early decades of the last century, industry dominated Cleveland life. Steel plants filled the area called The Flats, around the Cuyahoga River, sending their unscrubbed smoke into the city's atmosphere. Male immigrants, many from Central Europe, performed the hard and dirty work in these factories.

Their female counterparts worked in the burgeoning textile industry, like Standard Knitting Mills, where my mother toiled as a young woman, and Richman Brothers Company, where the young women sewed clothing at piecework rates.

These immigrant families, who contributed much to the economy of the city, often lived in their own ethnic enclaves of small, simple houses on narrow lots. In these houses, one room opened upon another in single file, and people called them "shotgun houses" because (the saying went) if you fired a gun into the front door, the bullet would end up in the wall of the last room of the house, the bathroom.

The immigrants who helped build the economy of the city also contributed to its culture. One way they did this was through their own social clubs, where they could speak their home language, hear their special music, enjoy their ethnic food, and perform their own dances. My parents met at one of these ethnic clubs in Cleveland. In The Sceptre, Katya meets her husband in such a social club.

© 2000 - 2017 Dorothy Jane Mills