CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 3 . . . . September 30, 2005
Ed Butts does a great job of bringing 15 women’s lives to light in this highly readable book. There are 12 chapter-long stories in all, prefaced by an excellent introduction (the excerpt is taken from this) that helps to explain why women’s stories have been overlooked throughout history.
The stories span centuries, from Marguerite de la Roque de Roberval’s stranding on Fogo Island in the St. Lawrence in 1542 all the way up to women pilots during the Second World War. Along the way, readers will meet Thanadelthur, who helped broker peace among fur traders, and American-born Molly Brant, who was also influential in early Canadian political decisions. Interesting also are the stories of Mary Ann Shadd, the first woman founder of a newspaper in Canada (when she wasn’t busy teaching and advocating for civil rights), Martha Black, First Lady of the Yukon, and Mina Hubbard, who raced through Labrador to clear her husband’s name.
Included in the “Scoundrels and Renegades” camp are Pearl Hart, Cassie Chadwick, and Florence Lassandro. According to Butts, “Pearl Hart was the last person to rob a stagecoach, and the only woman ever known to have done so.” Chadwick passed herself off as the illegitimate daughter of Andrew Carnegie, securing loans and blowing through millions of dollars until she was found guilty on seven charges and sent to prison where she died. Lassandro was hanged for her involvement in the shooting of Constable Stephen Lawson. She was the only woman ever hanged in Alberta.
The remaining two profiles are of women who disguised themselves as men to follow their callings. Dr. James Miranda Barry had a very successful career as a medical doctor, and Sarah Emma Edmonds, disguised as Frank Thompson, enlisted as a nurse for the Union Army during the American Civil War where she added spying on the enemy army to her list of duties.
Butts’s writing is crisp and moves quickly through each story as it follows the interesting adventures of the subjects. He has clearly done a lot of research to support these stories, and he manages to find a good balance between the necessary details and the more naturally exciting parts of each story.
The one drawback to this book is, unfortunately, the first thing potential readers are likely to notice – the cover. The colours are washed-out, and the subject (Pearl Hart) is oddly positioned on the page – she seems to have horses and a stagecoach running along her forearm.
This book can be used to supplement some of the more concise biographies recently published in Merna Forster’s book, 100 Canadian Heroines. Butts’s smaller number of women leaves more room for details and other facets of the women’s lives in his telling of their stories. And, of course, readers get to learn not only about heroines, but also about women who were not so heroic – which, even though Butts do not sanction their actions, does a lot to spice up this collection. Butts and Forster’s books will work well together to support project work.
The stories in this book provide a great starting point to further study of biography or women’s history. Once readers are given a taste of the exciting and inspiring stories within, the cover art will cease to matter – in this case, you really can’t judge the book by its cover.
Grace Sheppard is a Children’s Librarian with the Ottawa Public Library in Ottawa, ON.
To comment on this
title or this review, send mail to email@example.com.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal
use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.