“While any one is base, none can be entirely free and noble,” Margaret Fuller — one of the central figures in my book Figuring — wrote in her epoch-making 1845 treatise Woman in the Nineteenth Century, insisting that the “improvement in the daughters will best aid in the reformation of the sons of this age.” It was indeed an age of transformation, in which Fuller’s book became the foundation of American women’s movement toward social equity and political power. Her writings empowered generations of leaders to fight for equality, ultimately winning women the right to vote seven decades after Fuller’s death.
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand celebrates ten of these leaders (though, curiously, not Fuller herself) in Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote (public library) — an illustrated encyclopedia of courage and persistence, with art by the inimitable Maira Kalman.
Kindred in spirit to my long-ago project The Reconstructionists — a series of illustrated micro-biographies of women who have profoundly transfigured our world and our worldview — the book focuses particularly on American politics. Inspired by a lineage of politically daring women stretching back to her great-grandmother, Gillibrand highlights a diverse dectet of visionaries, ranging from schoolbooks staples like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth to icons like Harriet Tubman and Inez Milholland, whose famous last words open the book, to lesser-known heroes like Jovita Idár, who championed the rights of women and Mexican Americans, started a free kindergarten, and founded the League of Mexican Women, and Lucy Burns, who worked tirelessly on both sides of the Atlantic to win women political representation and power, co-founding the National Woman’s Party alongside her friend Alice Paul, also one of Gillibrand’s suffragists.
Most of these women were Thoreau’s contemporaries and embodied his ethos of civil disobedience to advance their cause, many of them at the price of arrest and assault.
Inscribed onto each of Kalman’s lovely portraits is a distillation of the central lesson the respective woman modeled in her life.
Complement Bold & Brave with this illustrated celebration of trailblazing women in science. To inspire small humans with other lives of culture-shifting genius, see these 15 picture-book biographies of great artists, writers, and scientists, including Jane Goodall, Julia Child, Pablo Neruda, Marie Curie, E.E. Cummings, Albert Einstein, Ella Fitzgerald, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and Frida Kahlo, then revisit Margaret Fuller on what makes a great leader.