Book Corner: Children’s books put spotlight on fascinating, inspiring women

Women’s History Month is a chance to highlight children’s books about remarkable women, both well-known and not, who made significant contributions in their fields, paved the way for women who came after them, or simply led fascinating lives.

The names of male leaders of the American colonial and revolutionary eras are well known. But there are stories of little-known women that are just as fascinating and inspiring. Her Name Was Mary Katharine, opens a new window, by Ella Schwartz, tells the story of Mary Katharine Goddard, who ran several newspapers in the Revolutionary War period and was named the first woman postmaster in the colonies. When the Continental Congress wanted a printed version of the Declaration of Independence with all the names of the signers, they went to Mary Katharine to do the job. She set the type for the document, and, at the bottom, added “Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard,” making hers the only woman’s name on the official copies of the Declaration of Independence.

Since it was established in 1789, six women have served as justices on the United States Supreme Court. The first female justice was Sandra Day O’Connor, appointed in 1981. Children can learn about the early lives, careers, and contributions of the two most recent women appointed to the Supreme Court in Amy Coney Barrett: Reshaping the Supreme Court,, opens a new window by Heather E. Schwartz, and Who Is Ketanji Brown Jackson?, opens a new window by Shelia P. Moses.

As women’s early contributions in STEM fields are becoming better researched and documented, more and more books are published about their accomplishments. Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer, opens a new window, by Traci Sorell, tells the story of Ross, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s first female engineer. During World War II, Ross worked to improve aircraft designs and, following the war, worked on spacecraft designs, including those for the Apollo space program. 

As a young child, Judy Heumann was prevented from going to school because no school would accept a child in a wheelchair. Attending music lessons, Girl Scout meetings, and Hebrew class was difficult as her parents had to carry her and her wheelchair up and down stairs and sidewalk curbs. In Fighting for Yes! The Story of Disability Rights Activist Judith Heumann, opens a new window, author Maryann Cocca-Leffler tells Heumann’s story of hearing “no” much too often and fighting to get Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act passed, which would give people with disabilities equal access to more programs and activities. Heumann helped organize the longest nonviolent occupation of a federal building in U.S. history, contributing to the passing of Section 504 in 1977, which in turn led to the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.

In the 1960s while helping those who were homeless, Kip Tiernan noticed that most of the shelters were for men only and that sometimes women disguised themselves as men to get a bed in a shelter. She knew that homelessness was also a significant women’s issue and in 1974 opened the first shelter in the United States that was just for women. Sanctuary: Kip Tiernan and Rosie's Place, the Nation's First Shelter for Women, opens a new window, by Christine McDonnell, tells Tiernan’s story and the positive impact she had on women in poverty.

Kitty O’Neil lost her hearing due to an illness as an infant, but she didn’t let that stop her from going after her dreams. The Fastest Girl on Earth!, opens a new window by Dean Robbins, tells of Kitty’s feats: becoming an athlete, working as a stuntwoman, and setting speed records on land and water. O’Neil’s world records include: women’s water skiing (104.85 miles per hour), women’s water speed record (275 miles per hour), women’s free fall into an airbag (180 feet), and the women’s land-speed record (512.706 miles per hour).

Darcie Caswell is the Youth Services Coordinator at CRRL. This column originally appeared in The Free Lance-Star newspaper.