There's 200 years of fighting for equality in 'The Day the Women Got the Vote'


March 25, 1994|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Sun Staff Writer

You know you're getting old when your contemporaries grace the pages of a history book. Then again, maybe it's just a hip book.

"The Day the Women Got the Vote: A Photo History of the Women's Rights Movement" by George Sullivan (Scholastic, $6.95, 96 pages, ages 8-12) opens on Nov. 2, 1920 -- the first day women were allowed to vote in a U.S. presidential election.

But as the second part of its title suggests, its scope is much more expansive. Once the opening chapter sets the scene, the book sticks to a strict chronology, starting with Mary Wollstonecraft's essay, "A Vindication of the Rights of Women" in 1792, and running through 1993. It chronicles the contributions of Gloria Steinem and Shirley Chisholm, as well as those of Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott.

Although there's plenty about the Woman's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, N.Y., in 1848 and the work of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the book also covers abuse of female factory workers in the late 1800s and the push for education reform, led by women such as Mary Lyons, founder of Mount Holyoke College, and Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman College.

The last third of the book is devoted to the women's movement that began in the 1960s. The author correctly acknowledges the impact of "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan, but he also points out that the book "was directed to white, well-educated, middle-class women. It had little meaning for working-class women or minority women."

Mr. Sullivan writes of gains made in the 1970s -- Title IX and the Equal Opportunity Act -- as well as the failure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

There is a quick look at some of the "first" women: Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, astronauts Sally Ride and Dr. Mae Jemison, Olympic marathoner Joan Benoit.

His solid overview is complemented by excellent photographs and reproductions of engravings, a chronology of key events, bibliographies for "young" and "young adult" readers and a comprehensive index.

It's a fine place to start for any student of women's history in America.

* Ruth Law attempted to become the first person -- male or female -- to fly from Chicago to New York. Like many pilots of the day, she was famous in her time but quickly forgotten.

"Ruth Law Thrills a Nation," story and pictures by Don Brown (Ticknor & Fields, $13.95, 32 pages, ages 4-7) tells the story of her attempt on Nov. 19, 1916.

Mr. Brown's eye for detail is captivating. Ruth Law slept in a tent on the roof of a Chicago hotel the night before her flight, to acclimate herself to the cold temperatures. She layered on clothes -- two woolen union suits, two leather suits and, of course, a floor-length skirt.

The flight was going well until she ran out of fuel over Hornell, N.Y., and had to land in a field. She had flown 590 miles nonstop, a record. But she hadn't reached her destination. She wound up landing in New York the next day, to be greeted by a military band. President Woodrow Wilson sent his congratulations.

Now today's children can marvel at her courage.

* "Stitching Stars: The Story Quilts of Harriet Powers" by Mary E. Lyons (Charles Scribner's Sons, $15.95, 48 pages, ages 8-11) is part of a series on African-American artists and artisans.

Ms. Lyons, a school librarian in Charlottesville, Va., is a wonderful writer and researcher. Her work includes "Sorrow's Kitchen: The Life and Folklore of Zora Neale Hurston" and "Letters from the Slave Girl: The Story of Harriet Jacobs."

In this book, she paints a picture of what life was like for slaves on Georgia plantations before, during and just after the Civil War. There is not much known about Harriet Powers' early life, but in 1886, when she was 49, she drew upon the Bible stories she had heard all her life to create a story quilt that is now displayed in the Smithsonian.

Harriet Powers exhibited the quilt at a cotton fair in Athens, Ga., and was taken aback when a white woman, Jennie Smith, offered to buy it. But four years later Harriet and her husband, Armstead, were desperate for money. Their four-acre farm couldn't support them because the price of cotton had dropped to 5 cents a pound. When Jennie Smith said she couldn't afford to pay more than $5 for the quilt, Harriet grudgingly accepted.

The quilt became famous a few years later, when Jennie Smith exhibited it in the Colored Building at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta in 1895.

Harriet Powers was commissioned to do a second story quilt, and we know of Harriet Powers today because Jennie Smith wrote about the woman and her creations.

In the last chapter, Ms. Lyons shows how Harriet's applique techniques share uncanny similarities with banners stitched by men and women of West Africa. This book will inspire readers to check out Harriet Powers' Bible quilt on their next trip to the National Museum of American History.

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