A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Guest poster Susan brings a great women’s history book into the Den, and tells us about shoes, feminism, and tough American women.
The red, suede heels would be Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. A beautifully written non-fiction about the life and times of an oft misremembered queen and Egypt’s last pharaoh. Like my red pumps the book is tastefully beautiful while still being attention-grabbing. Impeccable detail, classic refined style: this book showcases the reader’s sophisticated and educated side.
The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf would be a pair of funky platform sandals. A fictional retelling of the ill-fated voyage of the Titanic, told in poetry, gives voices to several players including a rat and the iceberg itself. Not everyone’s taste, but it is a timeless, stylistic and creative addition to my collection.
I can’t wear the red heels or the funky sandals all the time. As a matter of fact, their wear is limited to special occasions when I want to make a statement. They are me, but not the most presented part of me. What is? Loafers.
Comfortable, unpretentious, ready for business and play, I can wear loafers every day. I can’t overdose on loafers, they go everywhere with ease.
Like my shoe racks, my book shelf sports several version of loafer-as-book but the one that had the greatest impact on me is Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World by Penny Colman. (Heretofore shortened to ECS/SBA: Friends: that’s really a mouthful of a title.)
A lot of people (myself included) got brain numb with history while in school. Dates and wars and dates of wars and dates of men who fought in wars…kinda boring. History clicked into place when I realized that it’s about people.
History is about people who defied convention to change what they felt needed to be changed. Their motivations, platforms and styles were as different as they were and this is what makes them people we need to remember; people we can learn things from that will benefit our own times and lives.
This book, as well as any other that I have read by Colman, shows those people and teaches us those lessons. I should admit that ECS/SBA: Friends reads like a YA book- but so what? Twilight, The Hunger Games and The Fault in our Stars and a whole bunch of other books that perfectly intelligent adults enjoyed a great deal were officially YA. Coleman’s own website calls it a, ‘book for all ages’. I must agree. (The beauty of the loafer, stylishly wearable at any age.)
ECS/SBA: Friends is divided into four parts although the entire book reads like a novel. Through each section Colman colorfully paints the lives, loves and lessons of two pioneers of the women’s suffrage movement. Her research is obviously extensive, but it never feels pretentious.
The first section describes each of the women up until they meet. Elizabeth was a properly bred young American woman, educated to the extent in which she was able for her early 1800s life in New York. Susan was raised in a religious Quaker home in nearby Massachusetts, educated and taught within the traditions of her family and church.
They each used their strengths and life opportunities to form beliefs, life skills and missions for change in their world. Separately the women accomplished a great deal yet both were frustrated by the role and lack of power of women in society.
Then they met.
The second section of the book deals with their early partnership – a deep friendship that started as soon as they were introduced on a street corner in Seneca Falls, New York. A common cause brought them together, but their personalities and complementary skills kept their lives intertwined. Susan, who had no children or husband, was free to travel, organize and speak to groups. Elizabeth was a powerful writer and creative thinker. They both believed deeply that failure in their mission was impossible.
For the next 50 years the two would work as a team for the cause of women’s rights.
The third and fourth sections of ECS/SBA: Friends deal with their joint projects, passions latter life and legacies. These two women penned and presented many documents but none more important in the United States than that which would ultimately become the 19th Amendment to our Constitution and granted women the right to vote. Neither Elizabeth nor Susan lived to see this accomplished.
Coleman quickly sets us down into the worlds of these women and shows us who they were and what made them different, and yet, Every Woman. She makes them real. She makes history real.
Elizabeth and Susan disagree, make missteps, enemies and strategies for overcoming obstacles but Coleman brings clarity to these formerly shadowy and stern figures from history and turns them into multi-dimensional women who were strong on their own, and mighty when they joined forces. Women who understood their mission in life and worked tirelessly towards it by bucking convention and working smart.
Not every shoe is going to fit my life or my feet; not every book is going to have a lasting impact, but reading about this historic friendship easily brought to mind a number of women in my own life. Lessons were learned from Elizabeth and Susan, a seed was planted and thoughts are growing about how those women and I could create change in our own world.
Penny Colman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World (2011) ISBN 978-0-805-082937
Susan Vollenweider is one of the History Chicks, two women podcasting about women’s history