As former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe writes in the forward to this book geared to ages 10-14, “The total number of woman senators and representatives in America’s history is 296. That’s out of a total of 12,099 individuals who have served in Congress.”
Ilene Cooper takes readers from the first Congress in 1789 through the Congress of 2010; from the beginnings of the women’s suffrage movement to a Congress with a woman Speaker of the House. She tells you what life was like for American women in the early 1800s, and about the trail-blazing women who fought for women to have the right to vote. (The 19th Amendment, stating that the right to vote shall not be denied on account of sex, was passed in 1920.) She continues through the eras, first introducing a bit of the sociopolitical background and then highlighting the females who struggled against sexism and racism to serve in Congress.
Many notable women are introduced to the reader: from Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to serve in Congress (in 1917); to the women who came to Congress to finish out the terms of their husbands or fathers; to Margaret Chase Smith, who served in both the House and the Senate; to Patsy Mink, the first woman of color and first Asian American woman to be elected to the House of Representatives; and Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to serve in the Congress.
Older readers may remember the colorful Bella Abzug of New York, known for her hats and her courage in taking on powerful men, and Millicent Fenwick, considered the inspiration behind Lacey Davenport, a fictional character in Garry Trudeau’s comic strip Doonesbury.
In 1992, four women won Senate races, bringing the total number of women in the Senate to six, the highest number ever serving at one time.
From recent times, readers may recognize the name of Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for vice president from one of the two major parties. Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Elizabeth Dole, Elizabeth Warren, gained national reputations as did Olympia Snowe and of course Hillary Rodham Clinton. Gabrielle Giffords was a well-known representative from Arizona even before she was shot in 2011 at a meeting with her constituents in Tucson. Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay U.S. Senator, and Mazie Hirono the first Asian American female senator.
The position of Speaker of the House of Representatives, one of the most important positions in the U.S. government, went to a woman in 2006, Nancy Pelosi, currently serving as Minority Leader of the House.
The author concludes:
“Today, most American women have choices about how to spend their lives. They can be at home taking care of their families. They can also be out in the working world. Many, many women do both. For some of those women, their work will be in political office, helping to shape and make the laws of the United States.”
Illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley include both pictures and quotes accentuated by a comic-books style manner.
The book also features photographs, an appendix that explains terms, institutions, and procedures mentioned in the book, bibliography, and a chart highlighting every woman who has served in the U.S. Congress.
Evaluation: This valuable compendium full of photos, entertaining facts, and catchy artwork is an excellent addition to histories that are so heavily weighted with a focus on famous men. Young girls will be inspired by all of their foremothers who worked hard to break the governmental “glass ceiling” (an unofficially acknowledged barrier to advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minorities).
Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, 2014