For those of you interested in women’s history in book form, I have four recommendations of new releases, two nonfiction and two novels.
First, the nonfiction.
I’ve been talking about this book for a while now, so it’s probably no surprise that I’m leading with Pamela Toler’s Women Warriors: An Unexpected History. It’s smart and funny and very much worth your time.
The other, released today, is She the People by Jen Deaderick. It’s an illustrated history of the women’s rights movement, and it, too, is very smart.
Now the novels.
Also released today is Greer Macallister’s Woman 99, described as a historical thriller, about a woman determined to rescue her sister from an asylum.
Finally, for anyone interested in women’s rights history, there’s Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts. The story focuses on Maud Gage Baum, who married the man who would write The Wizard of Oz, and whose mother was the famous women’s rights activist Matilda Gage.
Next up, the life of an African American artist.
(Library of Congress)
In 1912, Life magazine published this anti-suffrage illustration by Laura E. Foster. A well-known artist and illustrator, Foster was born in 1871 in San Francisco, where she first began doing newspaper drawings. After the 1906 earthquake, she moved to New York City, where her career continued to grow and thrive, and where she married Donald Monroe, a stockbroker about eleven years her senior.
This drawing is a stark reminder that the suffrage movement was not a straightforward march toward progress. It had begun in the late 1840s, and in 1912, when Life published Foster’s illustration, it was on the cusp of an infusion of radicalism by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. This drawing attempted to convince women that love and marriage were incompatible with a career and “professional triumph.” The higher a woman climbed toward fame, the more riddled she would become with loneliness and anxiety. And suffrage was right near the top, contributing to those negative attributes.
Women’s suffrage was written into the Constitution with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, the same year Laura Foster died. Nearly one hundred years later, many women will still find the message of her illustration familiar.
Since March 1 rarely brings any indication that spring is on the way, the ultimate consolation prize is that it’s always the beginning of Women’s History Month.
I also think of it as What I Do For a Living Month. My academic career focused on women’s history as does my current writing career. Right now I’m four chapters into a book on Dr. Mary Walker, the only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
(Army Center of Military History)
Dr. Walker was a dress reformer (notice she’s wearing trousers), temperance advocate, abolitionist, suffragist, and pacifist. As such, she fits squarely within this year’s theme for Women’s History Month:
Mary Walker had a grand vision of a world in which everyone was equal. Throughout March, I’ll be posting compelling images that reflect the concerns of visionary American women like Mary Walker. Next up, a commentary on the suffrage struggle.
This may be the first time I’ve ever pre-ordered a book. (And the whole “pre-order” thing still confuses me. If you put something in your cart, pay for it, and arrange for it to be shipped, haven’t you, in fact, ordered it?)
I wanted to make sure I was among the very first to get a copy of Pamela Toler’s latest:
The cover alone makes me want to read it. The image is stunning and the title is strong. This book is about women–not girls or wives or daughters. And the “Unexpected History” points out that women have been left out of so much history.
In about two weeks this will be added to my bookshelf. I hope you consider adding it to yours. You can find it on Amazon, Beacon Press, IndieBound, and Barnes & Noble.
Today launches the first in a series of occasional posts about something most writers of history are familiar with: falling down the research rabbit hole.
While I’ve gotten better at making sure it doesn’t become a bottomless pit, I always look forward to these jaunts that reveal something intriguing about my main subject. Today I’ve been working on a chapter of my book about Dr. Mary Walker, a 19th-century reformer and the only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
One of the many people she interacted with was a Unitarian minister named Samuel J. May. An 1820 graduate of the Harvard Divinity School, May fully embraced the new Unitarian theology, which emphasized the moral teachings of Jesus Christ. He was committed to putting this ideology into action and actively participated in a variety of antebellum reforms, including temperance, education, labor, and abolition. In 1830, May met William Lloyd Garrison and went on to serve as a lecturer for the New England Anti-Slavery Society. May eventually accepted a position at the Unitarian Church of the Messiah in Syracuse, New York, about forty miles south of Mary Walker’s hometown of Oswego. There, May’s abolition work expanded to assisting the underground railroad.
The Reverend Samuel May began promoting women’s rights with his November 1845 sermon, The Rights and Condition of Women, which was subsequently printed and widely circulated. Beginning with quotes from Genesis (“In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him, male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam.”) and Galatians (“There is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”), he called for gender equality and women’s suffrage.
Exactly how and why Mary Walker and Samuel May knew each other will be explained in my book. And for those of you who think the surname May sounds familiar, the reforming reverend’s other claim to fame is that he was the uncle of Louisa May Alcott.