Thursday, March 7, 2013

Making History

At the beginning of every semester, I give each of my new students a small card with the picture of a woman on the front.  I ask them to look at the picture and tell me if the woman appears familiar.

Out of twenty-five cards, normally only one or two of the women are recognizable.  Then I allow them to read the name on the back of the card and a short description of the woman.  These women include famous writers like Charlotte Perkins Gillman, politicians like Victoria Woodhall and famous firsts like the first American female doctor, Elizabeth Blackwell.  They include women like one of my favorite local heroes, Francis Willard who, when she died, had 40,000 people walk past her bier in one day.  One day.

I ask them if they learned about these women in school.


I ask if they have ever heard about these women in the media.


Did their parents ever buy them a book about a famous woman in order to supplement the lack of women represented in their curricula?


In fact, watch this clip of Edie Mayo, the Curator Emeritus at the National Museum of History, Smithsonian Institute, as she discusses her granddaughter’s history project.

No, out of twenty-five assigned historical figures, only two are women.  And one of them is Brittany Spears. 

Yes, they’ve disappeared.  Despite the fact that, during their lifetime, important women were as well known as Oprah Winfrey, they have not made the pages of our history books.  And here is where writing about these women is so important.  Without books to tell their stories, it’s as though they were never here at all.

So today, I wanted to share a list of books about important women.  I am making sure my daughter and sons read these books.  Because that is the second most important part of making sure these women don’t disappear – their stories have to be read.

Tanya Lee Stone has some great books about historical figures including Elizabeth Blackwell and Ella Fitzgerald.

The fabulous Laurie Lawlor recently published a book about Rachel Carson.

My friends Judy and her late husband Dennis Fradin, have also written some wonderful books about historical women.

Illinois author Natalie Ziarnik recently published a book about the sculptor Camille Claudelle.

And, for older girls, there are some fantastic anthologies including the new “Bad Girls” By Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi.  (Move over Jesse James.  Who says that women were never notorious?")

There is also an effort underway to build a women’s history museum in Washington D.C.  Currently, it’s housed on the internet and has resources like this page which lists thirty young girls and women who had a positive impacton the United States throughout history; including athletes, inventors, artists, adventurers, guides and revolutionaries. The common thread is that they are all strong positive role models for today's young girls and tweens.

Visit, read and share - and maybe one day, women's stories will be told for more than one month a year.


  1. I still have a copy of a book about Elizabeth Blackwell which my daughter read & reread so many times it's ready to fall apart. If you want to see great women in the future show then role models from the past.

  2. Yes! What is the name of your daughter's book?