Women Raising Hell

Book referenced:  Rabble Rousers: 20 Women Who Made a Difference – Cheryl Harness, Dutton Children’s Books, 2003


March is women’s history month. I could write about books that introduce children and young adults to the compelling life stories and outstanding contributions of women all year.  Recent collective biographies for young feminists include Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted (which I reviewed for Tablet Magazine) and She Persisted Around the World, as well as Susan Hood’s Shaking Things Up (which I reviewed on The Horn Book “Family reading Blog”).  Earlier examples of this genre are still relevant and I have found several in my collection.  Cheryl Harness both wrote and illustrated Rabble Rousers fifteen years ago.  The books emphasis on activist crusaders for change, and its inclusion of a diverse range of women, makes it worthwhile to read today.

Of the twenty women included in this inspiring look at non-compliant women, four are black, one is Hispanic, and one is Jewish. None is Asian or Native American. However, there are other kinds of diversity to consider in honoring women’s accomplishments.

Given that there are overlapping categories, there is still a notable emphasis on human rights.  Four of the profiles are of abolitionists or civil rights activists. Two are medical or social work leaders.  Four are principally suffragists or feminists. Three are best known as advocates for labor. Then there is Eleanor Roosevelt, who defies categories, so broad-ranging were her principles stands on behalf of virtually every sector of humanity.

How have expectations of literacy changed in the past fifteen years? The text is detailed, with approximately one and a half pages in relatively small font dedicated to each subject.  The book also includes timelines of abolitionism, feminism, and the labor and civil rights movements. In addition to a helpful glossary, Harness includes a bibliography and list of resources, although the last two categories are now somewhat dated. (Alas, one “resource” to contact is The White House. Somewhat dated does not begin to describe this irony.) She even adds a brief set of guidelines for young rabble rousers. “Civil Action Tips” encourages readers to fight disease, violence, environmental pollution, and overall injustice.

Harness’s illustrations are colorful and exciting. A formal oval portrait introduces each section, while a specific scene of the woman’s sphere of action, captioned by a relevant quote and the woman’s name scrolled on a banner, fill in the picture.  Dolores Huerta, “Champion of Migrant Farmworkers,” uses detailed human figures and subdued primary colors to showcase the strength of workers loading fruit onto the back of a truck. A second picture accompanies the second page of text. Eleanor Roosevelt descends from a train and cheerfully addresses an integrated group of old and young Americans, their faces turned in respectful and serious attention to her remarks.  Pictures accompanying the time lines are dramatic, capturing the essence of the social movements. For the Civil Rights movement, a frightening scene of angry white faces and determined black ones, as well as snarling police dogs, reminds readers of the violent opposition to desegregation

This book is only available used, but it is an excellent resource, complementing more recent works.  Sisterhood is powerful, especially when its message is framed in accessible language and beautiful pictures, giving young readers access to the heroines whom we need today.


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