"Our History Is Our Strength" - Celebrating the Varied Roles and Accomplishments of Women through Historical Fiction and Biography

Article excerpt

The greater part of most history books written in the past, and those still produced in today's textbook market, are devoted to men who have made history through their words, actions, leadership positions, and overall contributions. They are the featured personalities about whom we read. They often have impacted the events of history because of their involvement with resolving problems and seeking solutions. By their bold actions and deeds, these men helped our country grow, develop, expand, and mature as a nation of immigrants. If we started a roll call of names, the list would appear endless as we recounted specific time periods, eras of change and expansion, political movements, inventions and advancements, as well as travel and diplomacy.

On a less frequent basis in the history texts, we are introduced to important women of the times. They often are reduced to a secondary role, or one of minor significance. Page after page of history texts are not devoted typically to discussions of their words, actions, contributions, and leadership roles. The impact they play on history appears more often as supporting roles. The intent of this article is to show that in the broadest of history, the events chronicled and catalogued are as much "her-story" as they are "his-story."

For truly, who is Julius Caesar without Cleopatra? Who is Napoleon without Josephine? Who is John Adams without Abigail? Who are Lewis and Clark without Sacagawea? Who is Franklin without Eleanor? And who is Queen Victoria without her Albert?

The month of March is the designated as Women's History Month in the United States. Each year a special theme is selected as a focus of celebration. Annually, women are highlighted and honored for the contributions that they make as artists, authors, activists, innovators, educators, historians, environmentalists, community leaders, organizers, philanthropists, and advocates for hope and change. The 2006 theme captured the breadth and depth of the role women play in society under the banner title of: "Women: Builders of Communities and Dreams." Each of us can probably recall a woman who immediately fits that description.

As one reads through past themes that heralded the Women's History Month celebrations, the messages communicated to young and old alike are evident. Those messages are significant: " Women Change America" (2005), "Women: Inspiring Hope and Possibilities" (2004), and "Women: Pioneering the Future" (2003). It is appropriate to note that the National Women's History Project, the proud sponsors of "Women's History Month," selected as their theme on their 25th anniversary the motto "Our History is Our Strength." That motto is an essential one to remember. However, a word of caution seems necessary here. Let's not reduce the celebration of women's efforts and contributions to one mere month. Let's make sure that the celebration of women and their contributions in history are a year-round event with continuous focus and recognition present for twelve months. Let's also allow the celebration to cross borders and recognize the contributions made world-wide by women from many cultures whose words of wisdom are spoken and written in many different languages.

How does one begin learning about the lives of women from times past and about those who today are shaping our future? Obviously mass media and technology provide us with a wealth of opportunity. Yet for me, books are valuable vehicles for "telling one's story" and "exploring the lives" of women who have made a difference throughout history. In the section that follows are resources that fall into two different categories of writing - narrative text (as found in the genre of historical fiction) and expository text (as found in biographical and autobiographical writing.) The various books are selected to interest readers in the intermediate grades and in the middle school setting. However, teachers in high school may find many of the resources mentioned equally beneficial to struggling readers or readers who are encountering English as their second language. …