Women’s History is Everyone’s History

We may just be two months into 2018, but if social media and award shows are any indication, this is the Year of the Woman. Powered by the #MeToo movement that is educating the world about the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault, women are standing up to be counted and have their voices heard.

Although #MeToo first became newsworthy because of the voices of famous (and largely white) actresses, #MeToo actually began 12 years ago by a woman of color, Tarana Burke. Burke, also a victim of sexual assault, wanted to help other women and girls, particularly those of color.

What does that have to do with Women’s History? Yes, I digress, but I believe Burke should get credit for her work and a phrase that has led to a movement. I also like using the word “digress.”

However, there really is a connection, and it is this—when women start reclaiming their power, they can start looking at history with new eyes. They can see that history is full of amazing stories of courageous and fascinating women. Sometimes we need to dig a little deeper because often women’s contributions to science and history were either largely ignored or credit was given to the husbands.

Here are just a few of the many examples of this that I’ve come across in my research as a writer—

  • James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize in physiology/medicine in 1962 for their discovery of DNA structure. A crucial part of the discovery came from an X-ray diffraction image showing the structure of DNA. It was taken by chemist Rosalind Franklin, who died in 1958. Nobel Foundation statues dictate that the Nobel can’t be given to anyone who died before award winners are announced. Which means Franklin’s contribution was anonymous for a long time while Watson and Frick became household words to anyone working in cell science. Interestingly, the Nobel statues also say a prize can’t be divided between more than three people. If Franklin had lived, who would NOT have received the Nobel Prize in 1962?
  • Anne Morrow Lindbergh was an accomplished aviator in her own right. But she went through life identified as the wife of Charles Lindbergh.
  • Lynn Margulis was an American biologist who proposed the endosymbiotic theory in 1971. The theory states that eukaryotic organisms (composed of cells with nuclei) evolve through symbiotic relationships with other cells. She was dismissed as a kook. As molecular and cellular biology advanced, she was proven right and awarded the 1999 National Medal of Science.
  • The field of paleontology grew in the 1800s due the efforts of a young woman who lived in poverty, Mary Anning. She discovered some of the first ichthyosaurs and other species on the coast of England, rarely receiving credit.
  • Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer program.
  • Informally they’re known as the Mercury 13, after a great book by Martha Ackmann. This group of women underwent astronaut training in the late 50s and early 60s. Several of them performed better than the Mercury 7 astronauts during testing, yet the final decision was that women didn’t belong in space.
  • Mary Leakey was another accomplished paleontologist, often overshadowed by her husband and later one of her son’s, also scientists. She discovered the first fossilized Proconsul skull, an ancestor to humans, and the earliest known human footprints.
  • Grace Hopper was one of the first programmers of the modern computer and wrote the first compiler, COBOL, and other programs.
  • Thanks to women, the United States continued operations during World War II as men of draft age were called into service. Women tested and transported new airplanes. They monitored the weather for government weather agencies. They ran new computer devices and kept the factories operational. Approximately five million women entered the workforce between 1940-1945 and performed the jobs that needed doing. And even though they performed their jobs well, many were fired when the war ended.

To paraphrase something said before—Women’s History is Everyone’s History.


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Illinois is 200!

I just received my advanced copies of the March-April issue of Midwest Traveler. The cover story is my Illinois bicentennial article. I once lived in Illinois and loved it. We lived in the Chicago suburbs, and for a girl from Texas, the varied cultures and experiences that made up Illinois were fascinating.




Since it has been awhile since I lived in Illinois, I returned last autumn for a research trip. I thought I knew the Loop and lake area. I have memories of visiting Springfield. But I saw everything with new eyes while I was there. I had a blast even though it rained during much of my visit.

Even though it felt new, I took an unexpected trip back in time. What was the catalyst? Oddly enough, it wasn’t the “L” rattling by, the Sears Tower with a new name, or even my favorite Field Museum sitting on Lake Michigan’s shores. It was a giant orange sculpture standing 53 feet in the air. Named the Flamingo, the sculpture by Alexander Calder was an early piece of public art in the city.


Was it a special favorite of mine when I lived in Chicago? Not that I recall. But just like smells can bring memories of other times, the site of this steel sculpture recalled my time in Illinois and I felt immense joy.


If you have the opportunity to visit Illinois during 2018, do. And if you already live there, it’s time to take a vacation in your backyard. Lots of people have worked very hard to make this year-long celebration a blast. You can find out more about it at Illinois200.





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Life is a Playground


My seven-year-old son is a swing, while his two-year-old brother is a slide. Sometimes this surprises me since they look so much alike. Scattered baby pictures that haven’t made their way to photo albums make it hard to distinguish between the two. Both share big, warm eyes framed by long eyelashes, curly hair, and knock em’ dead smiles.

The seven-year-old has adopted the leanness of childhood, while his brother still retains some toddler chubbiness. But it’s impossible not to see that they are brothers.

But the seven-year-old is a swing. At a young age, he preferred the swing among all the choices at the park. The smooth ride of the swing was similar to what he preferred in life. No surprises. Just an even back and forth, slow and easy ride.

He has since graduated to other playground equipment like the monkey bars and the slide, but only after time spent observing and studying. I used to worry about such extreme caution. After all, isn’t childhood about living? Taking chances? Knowing no fear? Leaving the fear to parents who suddenly develop a fear of heights when they discover their child twenty feet up in a tree?

However, he brings this careful study to the beginning of each school year and each new extracurricular activity. I am beginning to realize that these traits are part of his personality.

When the two-year-old was first introduced to a playground, the first thing he headed for was a slide. And not one of those tiny slides I could lift him onto either. No, he wanted the full-size slide. The thrill of climbing to new heights, and then gliding down fast and out of control.

My two-ear-old loves all kinds of slides—short, tall, straight, spiral—and the many ways to go down a slide too. Feet first. Head first. Sideways. Never are two trips the same.

The two-year-old approaches life the same way. Seeking out new challenges, looking for the thrill. Is that a ladder over there? Let’s see where it will take me. He flashes me a look and says, “me do it!” with all the determination his little body holds. I hover near the steps until he is safely seated at the top before rushing around to the bottom of the slide. I move away, to watch and not catch. Even when the slide is so slick that he glides right off onto his knees or the seat of his pants. I watch and let him experience the ride.

According to pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, first-born children are often more conscious and anxious, even physically fearful about their achievements. Parents play a part in this by rushing to help the child with a task before he masters it on his own. In a way, all the attention we pay to the first-born results in pressure that makes every success and failure a major undertaking.

Second-born children typically don’t feel the same pressure that first-borns do. The second child is looking for his place in the world, and he does this by experimenting. He’s more relaxed because like most parents, we are more relaxed the second time around.

The seven-year-old is now quite adamant about not wanting to go to a park with “baby things.” He likes to climb those huge wood jungle gyms. If he’s never been on a particular playground toy before, he studies it and watches what the other kids do before trying it on his own. But the entire experience of climbing up and climbing down is still under his control. There are few surprises because he has a pretty good idea of what his body can do.

The last time I took the two-year-old to the playground, most of the slides were hot from the sun. Before I knew it, he was climbing up a monkey bar contraption where kids climb curved bars until they reach a platform. Then there’s a pole to slide down.

I was allowed to help the two-year slide down the pole because his arms and legs were just a little too short to reach. But before he even climbed to the first rung of the monkey bars, he turned to me and said, “Mommy, me do!”

At two-years-old, he knows his mother has a tendency to help too much. So I stood there, hands stretched out, ready to catch him if he fell and trying so very hard not to give him help.

Now, I wait for the arrival of my third child. I wonder what he or she will be like. A swing? A slide? Or perhaps this time a merry-go-round?


Note: I wrote this essay many years ago, but liked the concept so much that I decided to use it for Write Time. And I am happy to say that child number three was indeed a merry-go-round, but that’s another story.

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Not a Math Person?

Just the other day, I had a talk with my youngest son. One of the courses he’s taking is a statistics course, although it has a much more complicated name. He said that he’s had to relearn some math that he hasn’t used in a couple of years because he’s just “not a math person.”

It’s something I’ve often said about myself. Also, that I wasn’t a “science person.” I was an English person, a literature person, and yes, a history person. Now as I find myself writing STEM books about amazing women in the fields of marine biology, meteorology, paleontology, and coding, I realize how I limited myself by using such phrases. In fact, I put myself in a box and all but threw away the key.

Actually, I was good at math once, but when my majors didn’t require math in college, I didn’t take any. I took only two science courses—zoology and astronomy—because I was required to take a life science and a physical science. And now, I find that I regret not learning more math and science. I am fascinated by space, genetics, the environment, and growing things. I think digging in the ground to find evidence of past life is fascinating. So is being able to accurately predict weather in order to save lives.

It’s not that I wasn’t exposed to STEM as a child, although they didn’t call it that back then. My father was an engineer. When I was young, he worked in aeronautics and going to work included having a slide rule in his pocket. By the time I understood what engineering was, he had moved into mechanical engineering and doing stress analysis. But did I know any women engineers? I don’t think I knew women who even worked outside of the home.

My mother is a wonderfully creative person. During my childhood, she took care of the home and family. She organized the PTA both as a homeroom mom and as a PTA president. And she mastered every type of craft she attempted. In between, she worked on an accounting degree. After I started college, she switched to education, earning both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in it and working as a special education teacher until her retirement.

Would things have been different had I been exposed to women in STEM fields? Perhaps not. I still believe I’m a writer at heart and prefer telling other people’s stories (both real and fictional). But sometimes I feel a tinge of regret and wonder “what if?”

What if I had believed I was a math person or a science person? Perhaps I would have made contributions to slow climate change or created environmentally conscious landscapes or made genetic discoveries for cell science. For now, I choose to write about women who do these things.

Perhaps there’s a young girl out there wondering what she will do when she grows up. And she needs to know that anything is possible.

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A Journey Across America

Immigration is in the news a lot these days. No matter your opinion about today’s immigration controversy, the truth is that at one time, the U.S. government encouraged its population to leave America. Yes, that’s right. The federal government wanted people to emigrate to Oregon Country. And almost 400,000 people did.

When people first began emigrating to the West, it was not part of the country. But the United States had its eyes on the West and believed that settlement would help their case. Although people who emigrated to the West stopped and started at different locations, the Oregon Trail was most commonly used—a 2,170-mile trail from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

The Oregon Trail: The Journey Across the Country from Lewis and Clark to the Transcontinental Railroad (I know, a mouthful of a title, right?) shares the stories of people who made hazardous journeys to new lives. From fur trappers and traders to pioneers and railroad workers, this is the tale of generations of explorers.

Readers ages 9 to 12 also have the opportunity to learn more with the 25 projects included in the book and QR codes that lead to more information, including Primary Source information.

10 Interesting facts about the Oregon Trail:

  • 180 years after the fact, you can still see some of the wagon ruts in the land where people traveled.
  • Most likely, the Lewis & Clark expedition wouldn’t have succeeded without the help of a 17-year-old Shoshone woman (and mother)—Sacagawea.
  • If you spread the number of deaths along the trail, you would see 10-15 deaths per mile. The majority of deaths were due to disease such as cholera and dysentery.
  • It would take today’s teenager an average of 334 days of walking to make the trip
  • The first African American to make the trip to the Pacific coast was York, who traveled with William Clark as a servant and companion. He was an indispensable member of the Lewis & Clark expedition—he hunted, cooked, and provided medical care. Although York was treated equally on the journey, he was still a slave denied his freedom for almost 10 years after the end of the expedition.
  • The Oregon Trail was too rough for Conestoga wagons. Instead, most wagon travelers used Prairie schooners, essentially a cart on wheels (a very uncomfortable ride). Prairie schooners could carry over a ton of cargo and when properly caulked, float on rivers.
  • You’ve seen graffiti marking who has been at a location, right? Did you know the pioneers who traveled west did something similar? Pioneers carved their name and where they were from on “register rocks,” such as Independence Rock along the trail.
  • Westward Expansion and the Oregon Trail weren’t all good. The trail was responsible for the displacement of many Native American tribes. As far as deaths on the Oregon Trail, more Native Americans were killed than pioneers.
  • One of the most popular computer games in history was made by teachers wanting to get children excited about history. More than 40 years old, the Oregon Trail game allowed players to purchase supplies and see if they could make it West (personally, I never won).
  • Most of the travelers on the Oregon Trail settled somewhere besides Oregon. Only about 20% settled in Oregon. Others settled in California, Wyoming, and Idaho.

Go to Amazon to buy The Oregon Trail today.

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