Wednesday, March 11, 2020

A Trio of Books for Women's History Month, 2019

In a year's time I usually read several good books related to women in history.  This year I came up a little short.   Still, I think these three are worth reading if the times and places are of interest to you.

The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women:  A Social History 
by Elizabeth Norton
     This book is organized into the seven ages of Tudor women which Norton categorized as infants; young ladies; marriage; tradeswomen; pilgrimages and punishments; settlements and proposals; and old age.  The author often uses well-known royal figures to describe the ages, though also includes “common” women to detail events in women’s lives.  (I suspect the information available through her research informed the author's decision about which women and details she could include.) 

The text was occasionally interrupted with sidebars that were two columns wide and sometimes a page or two long.  They were well-defined and placed so as not to interrupt the flow of the content and paragraphs both before and after them.  Some of the topics in these sidebars include, “A Pleasant Pastime for a Child,” Samplers and Stitchery,” “Those Things that Prohibit Conception,” “Cutpurses and Arsonists,” “Angels Food and Holy Maids,” etc.  You get the idea.  They were interesting and added depth to the rest of the content of the book.

One sentence gives a good idea about the standing of women at that time.
Despite everything they actually did to earn themselves, and their dependents, an income, for Tudor women it remained their marital status that defined them rather than the type of work, business or trade that they might pursue.  (p. 111)
Reading about and trying to imagine the situation of Tudor women, from birth throughout their lives into old age, makes me shudder.  It also makes me hold them in high esteem:  they were not weak women.  Looking from the perspective of 2020 to the Tudor age (1485-1603) I am grateful to be alive now, not only because of the near-equal standing of women in society but also because of the freedoms we enjoy and the modern conveniences we have.

If your ancestors come from England and you're interested in social history, you may enjoy this book and its look into the lives of women of that time.


Down Cut Shin Creek:  The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky 
by Kathi Appelt & Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer
     This is a children’s chapter book with many photos of the pack horse librarians, an imagined day with one of them, and an explanation of the program.  I thought it gave an excellent, simple overview of the program.

I found Down Cut Shin Creek after reading The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson, which tells the fictional story of young Cussy Mary and her mule, Junia, who carried books to patrons through the hills and coal mining areas of eastern Kentucky.  Cussy Mary described herself as a "Blue" and resulted in her being considered colored and treated as such.  It was a good introduction to the hardships and challenges of pack horse librarians as well as the discrimination associated with being a person of color in the 1940s.

Cussy Mary’s father's comment about books, “A sneaky time thief is in them books.  There’s more important ways to spend a fellar’s time,” suggests the challenges of introducing books and reading to the people of that time and location.  Building trust and persuading people that reading was a good thing is a theme throughout the book.


Victoria the Queen:  An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire 
by Julia Baird
     I appreciated the detail of this book which includes Victoria's interactions with her contemporaries and her perspectives of current events of the time and, more importantly, how she instituted changes.  Most of us probably have some awareness and knowledge of Victoria and the Victorian time period.  This book gave me a greater insight into Victoria and her life.  As the author suggests in the introductory paragraphs, Victoria wasn't perfect.  She had her faults, yet she was a great queen despite her faults.

The subject of child labor repeats throughout the book as changes came about, little by little, decade after decade.  In July, 1832, at the age of 13, Victoria travelled to Wales.  She described the impact of coal mining in the country near Birmingham.  My coal mining ancestors lived further north, in Durham and Northumberland, however I suspect the description below would apply equally to both locations.
The men, women, children, country and houses are all black.  The country is very desolate everywhere; there is coal about, and the grass is quite blasted and black.  I just now see an extraordinary building flaming with fire.  The country continues black, engines flaming, coals in abundance, everywhere smoking and burning coal-heaps, intermingled with wretched huts and carts and little ragged children.      (p. 41)

Reporting on Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1898, Mark Twain wrote,
'British history is two thousand years old, and yet in a good many ways the world has moved further ahead since the Queen was born than it moved in all the rest of the two thousand years put together....  She has seen more things invented than any other monarch that ever lived.’  Since Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837, the lives of people in her country and around the world had been transformed by the invention of the railway, steamship, telegraph, telephone, sewing machine, electric light, typewriter, camera, and more.    (p. 465)
Again, if you have ancestors who lived in England during the reign of Queen Victoria, this will give you insight into what their lives may have been like. 

Have you read any of these books and, if so, what did you think?  Do you have other books to recommend for women's history?

--Nancy.

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