In writing her first children’s book, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (WAG, October 2014 cover) reached into the past — America’s and her own.
“Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote” (Alfred A. Knopf, $18.99, 40 pages) tells the story of suffragists we know — Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman — and those we may not, including Jovita Idár and Ida B. Wells. But it is also the story of Mimi, Gillibrand’s great-grandmother, one of the women who “left their homes and worked in factories, making equipment to help American soldiers win the war;” Polly, the grandmother who rollerskated “down the long marble hallways of the New York State Capitol, where she worked;” and Penny, her mother, one of only three women in her law school class and a black belt in karate.
What these women taught Gillibrand was courage, which Aristotle called the first of the virtues.
It is courage that also defines the 10 in the book that is designed for ages 6 through 9.
Stanton was a young mother when she helped convene a meeting in 1848 near her home in Seneca Falls of some 300 women, and men, intent on garnering enfranchisement for women. Anthony barnstormed the country in the days of horse-and-buggy, firing, it was said, the lightning bolts Stanton forged. Truth — born Isabella Bomefree into slavery in Ulster County — would be one of the first African-American women to bring a successful suit to court, freeing her enslaved son, and then worked to assert the right to vote for all people. Tubman escaped slavery to conduct others to freedom via the Underground Railroad, then turned her attention to suffrage after the Civil War.
A publisher, educator and activist, Idár served as first president of the League of Mexican Women, starting a free kindergarten. Alice Paul witnessed the fight for equality as a student in England, bringing what she learned back home to help organize the first national women’s suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. on March 3, 1913. Lawyer Inez Milholland was there — riding the horse Grey Dawn, carrying a trumpet to proclaim a new era and wearing what she called “the star of hope.”
Wells, an African-American orphan who would go on to found the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago in 1913, once refused to give up her seat in “the ladies’ coach” of a train, later suing the railroad when she was dragged out in a move that foreshadowed Rosa Parks’ situation aboard a Montgomery, Alabama, bus in 1955. Lucy Burns, a friend of Paul’s, also learned from the London suffragists and, after the 1913 parade, joined Paul and others in the more than five-month silent vigil outside the White House. Mary Church Terrell, a teacher who served on Washington, D.C.’s board of education, was among those “Silent Sentinels” with daughter Phyllis and went on to champion African-American women’s rights, founding the National Association of Colored Women. The women are captured in colors as vibrant as their actions by Tel Aviv-born artist Maira Kalman.
Their efforts — and those of countless unsung others — led Congress to pass the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.
The book includes others who shaped our nation, from first lady Abigail Adams to Lewis and Clark guide/translator Sacagawea to first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, tennis star-activist Billie Jean King and Yonkers-based artist Maya Lin.
The book ends with the 2017 Pussyhat march on Washington, because, as Gillibrand writes, “Now it’s your turn.”
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