Sunday, March 29, 2009

Happy Women's History Month!

A little late, I know. I might not have referenced this month at all but I just finished a great biography of Ida B. Wells-Barnett by the Rutgers University history professor, Mia Bay titled To Tell the Truth Freely .

Biographies are some of my favorite kinds of books to read. I love history because it is the culmination of stories of people's lives. Famous people, every day people and extraordinary people. I devoured the biography section of my elementary school library and my favorite at that time was a book about Nellie Bly . It was the first time I really thought about being a girl and understood the challenges that have historically come with that. I also just love stories about people that fight, fight back, change the world and don't take no for an answer. Those are the people I admire and those people give me hope for human kind. Nellie Bly was that kind of chick.

The Progressive Era gave us many such women including Ida B. Wells-Barnett who was also a journalist. Ida was a trouble maker of the highest order, she was so "difficult" that she was never really given credit for all that she did accomplish. She wasn't difficult as much as uncompromising, unwilling to back down in order to make peace or scratch backs. She was never good at politics. My favorite story involves the suffrage movement . As much as I am grateful for the work of Susan B. Anthony and other suffrage leaders, the great shame of the movement is that they allowed segregation and outright racism in order to appease some critics. In the National American Woman Suffrage Association's suffrage parade on March 3, 1913
in Washington DC, Ida refused to march in the back of the parade where they had segregated the African-American suffragettes. Instead, she hid in the crowd until her state delegation, Illinois, passed and then she jumped in and marched under her state flag, integrating the parade single-handedly!

Another Progressive Era hero has been my favorite since I read her biography in college; Margaret Sanger spent her life working with poor women and came to believe that if they had honest information and access to birth control they could improve their lives and the lives of their children. She fought for that cause the rest of her life and founded the American Birth Control League which became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Her story is fascinating and worth a read.

Some women lead by example and Madam CJ Walker certainly did. Becoming the first self-made American woman millionaire the early 1900's she created a beauty empire. Her life story is worth the read and even the story of her daughter's life during the Harlem Renaissance is fascinating. For more on this amazing women I recommend the book On Her Own Ground : the Life and Times of Madam CJ Walker.

Just because it's almost April doesn't mean you can't pick up a biography of one of these amazing women, or let me know of a biography I need to read!


brooke said...

Have you read A Mid-Wife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich? It is on my list but I haven't read it yet. I also wonder if you're a fan of Sarah Vowell? I read Assassination Vacation but I'm also intrigued by The Wordy Shipmates, which looks sort of biographical. Most of my history/biography reading is British at the moment but one of these days I'll make my way back to the states...

Beth said...

Thanks Brooke! I love Sarah Vowell but I haven't read A Mid-Wife's Tale. I will put on my library list.