In 1886 Philadelphia, Hanna Willer begins employment as a maid-of-all-work for Isabelle Martin, the pregnant wife of a prosperous shopkeeper. Hanna, fresh from her rural home, is a quietly observant and practical young woman. Isabelle is lonely and restless, dangerously disconted with her life and obsessed with her reckless pursuit of happiness. Yet despite their differences, the two forge an unconventional friendship.
But when Mr. Martin dies under suspicious circumstances, and the evidence points to Isabelle, Hanna finds herself thrust into the midst of a murder trial that becomes a touchstone for the shifting values of modern society. As she wrestles with her role, she confronts the attitudes that city life has bred in her--attitudes about what is possible between men and women; what is fair and not fair in the lives of her immigrant friends; and what one person can do in the face of large, powerful forces like the press, public opinion, and accepted wisdom.
From the rippling effects of the advent of electricity to labor strikes to the very beginnings of the women's movement, Noelle Sickels delivers an enthralling glimpse of the birthing of modern America and the lives that are forever changed in its wake.