In Women Who Made the World, Saanich writer Barbara Julian provides snapshots of the lives and careers of over 50 accomplished women from the past, who worked in civil rights, education, literature, art, theology and the sciences, women who started the movements and compiled the knowledge that created the world we know.
The field of women’s studies analyzes the andro-centrism that has erected barriers against women at many junctures in history, but Julian asks whether too much focus on what women have been prevented from doing leaves young people ignorant of what they have done. Too many assume that in past eras women were silent, under-educated and excluded. In fact many reached levels of skill and scholarship unheard of among today’s students. They inspired their contemporaries and inspire ourselves with writings, paintings and horticulture, and steered governments and politicians via associations, committees, salons, institutes and myriad other channels of influence.
The movements that most define contemporary thinking – the women’s, civil rights, and environmental movements – were triggered by the work and books of particular women (Betty Friedan, Rosa Parks and Rachel Carson). Modern nursing and hospital administration, social work and housing, birth control clinics, prisoners’ rights, animal rights and the peace movement were created by reformers such as Florence Nightingale, Octavia Hill, Elizabeth Fry, Frances Power Cobbe, Bertha van Suttner and Wangari Maathai.
Others unravelled the structure of DNA (Rosalind Franklin), discovered nuclear fusion (Lise Meitner), invented religious sects (Mary Baker Eddy, Deguchi Nao, Julian of Norwich and many more). Without women of determination and knowledge we would not have Britain’s National Trust or Kew Gardens, the Christian Science Monitor, Planned Parenthood, the Nobel Peace Prize, half of world literature, or the poem on the Statue of Liberty.
Why do so many girls remain ignorant of the achievements of their foremothers? Would we not do more to inspire female students by acquainting them with these world-makers than by focusing on past inequities? Women Who Made the World (82 pages, illustrated and indexed) celebrates and informs, and makes a small, accessible and readable contribution to Women’s History.
Meet the author and view copies of the book, published by Ninshu Press (www.overleafbooks.blogspot.ca), on Dec. 2 at Caffe Misto, 2865 Foul Bay Rd. The book can be found in local shops or ordered through firstname.lastname@example.org.