This is our first year in Essentials. Our oldest student is in 4th grade. She likes “cool things, not pretty things.” She often describes herself as an artist and a gamer.
What I am trying to say without saying it is she is what generations before us would have called a “tomboy.” We don’t use that term around here Apparently it has largely disappeared from the vernacular altogether. The resulting replacement terms are just not satisfactory for me. The culture is attempting to eat away at her identity in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. If we allow for certain terminology to creep in, we will free-fall into a part of our culture I am not ready, nor willing to allow my 9 year-old to see.
Each of our kids is an absolutely unique creation of God with special abilities and talents, interests and tendencies. And my “artist, gamer” girl will likely never wear a dress again. But she also absolutely loves her feminine long hair. She has been working on quitting her habit of biting her nails to great success. And she wants to be a “lady.” Let’s not get too much twisted; she just prefers what boys tend to prefer. She runs with the boys and she plays dolls with her sister. Thus, she gets the best best of all worlds.
Fast forward to Essentials second semester when the topic of Faces of History begins to be something to think about. We struggled! Not with the writing. With finding a woman worthy of studying. Her requirements were very justified:
- No dresses
- No wigs
Well, that is truly a tall order, even in American history. Right away, I could only think of a few women who would fit her clothing requirements. So, I went brainstorming and researching, just a bit. I haven’t done a lot of looking into these famous faces, but I do have a list for you. I hope it will help jog your brain about women worthy of Faces of History for our unique and modern daughters.
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Notes on this List of Faces of History
The struggle with creating any kind of list is sins of omission and commision. Especially in today’s culture the tendency toward critique gives us pause in sharing our opinions. I did not try to create an exhaustive list of every woman who has ever mattered. Not only would that be impossible, it, too, would be the object of some criticism.
I tried to share women we parents may be familiar with, alongside women I had never heard of. The subjects of this list are diverse not because I tried to include women of color, but because I found each woman’s story interesting. That said, I am sure the ratio of diverse faces may disappoint some. If that is the case, I encourage you to research for yourself – there are a lot of resources which have done a much better job than I have.
Also, I love history and I find many of the stories of modern women interesting, but I am hesitant to add women who are living. In fact, this list does not include any living faces.
I tried to make this resource helpful to the parent struggling to find a Face of History to suggest to her student. I made every effort I could to include two resources for each woman. The books included are mostly age-appropriate for independent reading. However, exceptions along the way are noted.
Where possible, I noted a particular book’s availability on Scribd. If you have never tried Scribd, I highly recommend it for your homeschool. We use it every single day! I wrote more about it here.
Cycle 3 Faces of History for Modern Girls
- Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) – 1st woman to earn a medical degree in the U.S. The picture book Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors (also available on Scribd) is about her. A short biography of her is in this book.
- Annie Smith Peck (1850-1935) – a mountaineer called the Queen of the Climbers (she certainly didn’t climb in skirts!). There is a full biography of her (also available on Scribd). She is also in the book A World of Her Own: 24 Amazing Women Explorers and Adventurers (also available on Scribd); the short biographies are perfect for Essentials students.
- Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981) – jazz pianist. She worked with all the jazz greats and is herself a legend in jazz. This kids’ book is about her. There is also an audio-biography here – it has commentary along the way, but it is interesting for sure!
- Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) – women’s rights activist. Essentials students may enjoy reading the Childhoood of Famous Americans book focusing on her youth (available on Scribd). She is also in this book.
- Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) – mathematician and computer programmer. Though she lived and worked in England, she is noteworthy. The U.S. Department of Defense named a computer language after her in the 1970’s. There is a short biographical novel about her called Ada Lovelace Cracks the Code (available on Scribd) which girls may find interesting. It is a bit of the princess and romance though. A short biography of her is in this book (also available on Scribd).
More Cycle 3 Women for Faces of History
- Ethel L. Payne (1911-1991) – journalist and White House correspondent, known as the “First Lady of the Black Press.” This new picture book tells her story.
- Nellie Bly (1864-1922) – investigative journalist and circumnavigator – she literaly went around the world! She is the subject of her own Who Was book. A short biography of her is in this book.
- Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) – actress and inventor. A tinker in her spare time, Hedy invented an early signal hopping device – an early precursor to Bluetooth technology! The picture book Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor (also available on Scribd) tells her story. She is in this book (also available on Scribd).
- Annie Oakley (1860-1926) – markswoman/sharpshooter. Annie is the subject of her own Who Was book. Larry McMurtry also dedicated four chapters to telling of her life in The Colonel and Little Missie (also available on Scribd).
More Cycle 3 Women for Faces of History
- Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) – author. She may have worn dresses, but she wrote about independent thinking women. This biography may be a bit long for an Essentials student to read by herself, but it would make a wonderful read aloud! The Time publication Stepping into Louisa May Alcott’s World would be an excellent independent reader.
- Harper Lee (1926-2016) – author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The new picture book biography Alabama Spitfire tells her story. The longer biography (another option for reading aloud together), I am Scout (also available on Scribd) is appropriate for kids.
- Alice Ball (1892-1916) – chemist, who developed a treatment for leprosy. I hesitate to recommend this book (also available on Scribd) because of the language included. But I read the biography of Alice and I found it good. There are a couple of words I would “edit” before reading with my daughter. A short biography of her in this book (also available on Scribd)
- Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) – aviator, first woman to fly solo cross- country. The subject of her own Who Was book, she is a mystery wrapped in history, wrapped in a fierce, determined spirit. Her story is also in this book.
Even More Women for Cycle 3 Faces of History
- Edith Clarke (1883-1969) – engineer and inventor of the Clarke calculator. A remarkable woman, a chapter of this book is dedicated to telling her story. She is included in this book (also available on Scribd).
- Grace Hopper (1906-1992) – naval officer and computer scientist. She is the subject of a picture book (also available on Scribd). A short biography of her is in this book.
- Dorothea Dix (1802-1887) – nurse, reformer. Traveling across the world campaining for the humane treatment of patients, Dorothea is the subject of this biography (also available on Scribd) geared toward kids. She is also included in this book.
- Mary Tape (1857-1934) – desegregation activist, the subject of Tape v. Hurley – an early school desegregation case. Rescued from childhood prostitution by missionaries, her rags to riches story is compelling. Maybe better suited for adults to read about, but I love her story so I included her. There are a couple of books from which excerpts could be used for kids. They are this one and this one. Scribd also has a resource I find accessible for Essentials kids: Herstory – the Legal History of Chinese American Women.
Even More Women for Cycle 3 Faces of History
- Jane Cooke Wright (1919-2013) oncologist and cancer researcher. Jane was a pioneer of medical techniques and research. Her story is told in this book. She is also included in this book.
- Maria Stewart (c.1803-1879) – writer and lecturer, teacher, journalist. The first African-American woman to speak to a desegregated audience (black, white, men, and women), her biography in this book (also available on Scribd) is remarkable. The book Word, Like Fire tells her story, too.
- Edith Nourse Rogers (1881-1960) – congresswoman who began the Women’s Army Auxillary Corps and the Women’s Army Corps. Her accomplishments detailed in the introduction to this book (also available on Scribd) were extremely important.
- Rosie the Riveter – although not a specific woman, Rosie the Riveter embodied the spirit of modern women everywhere. I love the idea of studying the kinds of jobs these “Rosies” performed in the service of their country. This book should be appropriate for our Essentials students.
- Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) poet and activist. Emma wrote the famous poem which appears on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. She was also a strident supporter of the Jews cast out of Russia due to pogroms antisemitism. Here is a good picture book option for reading more about Emma Lazarus (also available on Scribd). Another picture book biography good for our Essentials students is Liberty’s Voice.
Some General Resources about Women in American History
I came across these resources in my brief research. I recommend you peruse them for more inspiration and information. The descriptions and short biographies I was able to read, I enjoyed. These well-written, well-researched short biographies are mostly suitable to kids of this age. As always, use your own parental discretion when reading with your kids.
Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary – this is just one part of a multi-volume set on women in American History.