April 06, 2006


Women Who Dare: Amelia Earhart; Helen Keller; Eleanor Roosevelt; Women of the Civil War; Women of the Suffrage Movement; Women of the Civil Rights Movement. By Susan Reyburn (Earhart), Aimee Hess (Keller), Anjelina Michelle Keating (Roosevelt), Michelle A. Krowl (Civil War), Janice E. Ruth & Evelyn Sinclair (Suffrage), Linda Barrett Osborne (Civil Rights). Pomegranate. $12.95 each.

     Small books showing history writ large, the six initial volumes in the Women Who Dare series from Pomegranate and the Library of Congress are on disparate topics but are uniformly fascinating.  The series is really two series in one, the first focusing on individual women and the second on female participants in major social movements.

     The authors, all from the Library of Congress Publishing Office, share one crucial trait: a willingness to eschew personal style in order to let the words and photos of their topics tell as much of the story as possible.  As a result, this series is as close to a primary-source look at these famed women and these important times in U.S. history as readers are likely to get.  The hardbound books are brief (64 pages apiece) and small in size (just about six inches square).  But they convey an impression of being packed with information and first-hand accounts of history, not of being once-over-lightly surveys.

     Each book contains more than 40 color and black-and-white images, which tell much of each story all by themselves.  The close-up photos of Keller and Roosevelt, the poised and posed ones of Earhart, the Civil War battle pictures, the crowd shots of suffragettes, the marches and quiet intensity of the civil-rights movement, all come through clearly and dramatically in the excellent photos.  Add the equally excellent choices of words and you have books with real impact.  Amelia Earhart is quoted: “Conclusions [about gender equality] should not be drawn until women are given equal chances with men in training, experience, and equipment.”  Helen Keller says: “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”  Eleanor Roosevelt remarks: “One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.”  Some less-known women associated with war, suffrage and civil rights are quoted as well; but in those books, the photos speak especially loudly: Frances Clayton, who posed as a man to fight in the Civil War; Harriet Tubman; suffrage leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony; NAACP attorney Constance Baker Motley; Rosa Parks – simply seeing these women is inspirational in a way that cannot be conveyed through words alone.  Because both the photos and the words chosen for these books are of such high quality, because the books’ organization and presentation are so well done, they can actually form the nexus of a basic library of U.S. history in the past 140-plus years.  In a 21st century preoccupied with visuals, the Women Who Dare series is an exceptionally useful way to help make history come alive for children and adults alike – a showcase of much that was good and much that was bad in the U.S., seen through the eyes of some of the people most responsible for helping the good things eventually triumph over the bad.

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