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Check It Out

Courier Article by Carol Banks
Sunday, March 12, 2006

Accomplished Women Have Stories for Children

One of my fondest memories of growing up in Rushville, Ind., involves weekly visits to the l ibrary. I always knew I would find something exciting to read.

Once inside, I headed for those familiar blue-bound Childhood of Famous Americans books, with their signature silhouette drawings. I still love to read biographies. Here are three recent ones published for children . The adage "Go West, young man" may have inspired many hearty males to find fame and fortune in our Western territories, but Esther (McQuigg) Morris was one take-charge female who also possessed the true pioneering spirit.

Linda Arms White's picture-book biography, I Could Do That! Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote, captures the essence of Morris' life and philosophy as well as her place in American history. From her early years in New York, Morris never liked being told she could not do something.

"You're too young to make tea," someone said.

"I could do that," thought Morris. And she did.

"You're too young to run a business ," someone said.

"I could do that," thought Morris. And she did.

An early advocate of women's suffrage, Morris was firm in her beliefs and was not afraid to voice her opinions. At age 55, she and her 18-year-old twin sons joined her husband, John, to help settle South Pass City in the Wyoming Territory. Once there, she read a notice that advised, "All male citizens 21 and older are called to vote in the first territorial elections."

Dusting off her well-used teapot, she invited citizens and political office seekers for some very early "Meet the Candidates" forums. She believed that if women were good enough to help settle new territories, they should be good enough to vote. After much letter-writing, arguing and persuasive talking on her part, in 1869, Gov, John Campbell signed a bill giving Wyoming Territory women the legal right to vote.

When the local justice of the peace resigned, refusing to mete out justice "in a place where women helped make the laws," Morris once again said, "I could do that," and became the first woman in the country to hold political office.

Environmental preservation and beautification were the lifelong hallmarks of a woman who grew up lonely in East Texas. Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appelt tells the remarkable story of little Claudia Taylor, who lost her mother when she was 6.

She was raised by her doting father and Aunt Effie in a household of privilege, and although she loved her home, known as the "Brick House," and the surrounding countryside and bayous, she longed to see the world.

After graduating from the University of Texas-Austin, Lady Bird (a nickname given to her by her nanny) met a lanky Texan named Lyndon Johnson who would forever change her life and the course of American history.

Lady Bird was appalled to find that many Washington city parks were little more than concrete slabs, the streets were dirty and the Potomac and Anacostia rivers were unkempt and weedy. She worried about children who would know only "cement and asphalt beneath their feet." Remembering the beautiful Texas wildflowers of her childhood, she vowed that at least her home in Washington would have beautiful gardens for her two daughters, Lynda Bird and Luci.

A fter President Kennedy's assassination, Lady Bird felt that beauty would help the country recover. She directed the plant-ing of a million daffodil bulbs along the banks of the Potomac. She pushed for legislation that resulted in the Highway Beautification Act.

Thanks to her efforts, the roadsides of many highways are now carpeted with wildflowers. At 70, she helped establish the National Wildflower Research Center, where scientists can study various uses of wildflowers and preserve the seeds of those that are endangered.

No family who has resided in the White House has been more rambunctious than the lively clan of Theodore Roosevelt. The antics of his five children and their older half-sister, Alice, entertained and delighted Americans at the turn of the 20th century.

Kimberley Brubaker Bradley's fictional biography of Ethel Roosevelt, The President's Daughter, provides insights into a 10-year-old growing up in unusual circumstances. Ethel adored her father, who was just as famous as a cowboy and a war hero as he was a politician.

She also loved her home, Sagamore Hill, on Long Island, N.Y., where she and her brothers shared blissful, carefree days. Moving to the White House gave them culture shock.

The White House of 1901 was far from the splendid residence it is today, with threadbare carpets, ugly, overstuffed sofas and a stairway the public could climb to the private family quarters.

She worried about school. She desperately wanted to fit in and have friends who would like her for herself not for her family's position.

Ethel grew to be a poised woman. After her marriage to Dr. Richard Derby, the couple served in France during World War I; he as a surgeon, and she as a nurse. As a result, she began a lifelong commitment to the American Red Cross.

Carol Banks is supervisor of the READ Center, Central Library's children's Department. Contact her at (812) 428-8222. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of the library.