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Multimedia Bibliography: Trailblazing American Women

By Kathryn Benson


This bibliography is intended as a tool for public librarians seeking to grow their collection of women’s history resources for middle grade and early teen patrons. This bibliography puts particular attention on fields where men are typically celebrated and women overlooked: those of science, civil rights, combat, and aviation. In building this bibliography, I consulted resources such as the Odyssey Audio Book Award and ALSC’s Great Websites for Kids list. However, I had trouble finding items that would adhere to this bibliography’s project on mainstream media awards lists, so I also sought out suggestions by book bloggers and considered GoodReads reviews in the course of making my suggestions.

General Resources:

Discovering American Women’s History Online. http://digital.mtsu.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/women. Website.

This history site allows students to browse its collection of articles and links by subject, state, time period, and primary source type. Though the website’s interface is a bit dated, the information is still solid–it just needs a facelift. The site is an index of women’s history resources and archives throughout the web, and most searches compile a list of links that will lead to sites hosted by other libraries and universities. This resource would be most helpful for a middle or high-schooler undertaking an in-depth research project, whether for school or because of personal interest. Because of the site’s clunky interface, the student may require help navigating its bountiful resources.

Distinguished Women of Past and Present. http://www.distinguishedwomen.com/.  Website.

At this website, again, an outdated interfaces hides a wealth of valuable information and resources. Visitors can browse by subject or search for women’s profiles by name. The subject list is long, and the amount of women included is impressive. The profile for each woman is short, but it includes important links to other resources on the web, making this site a good starting point for students undertaking research projects. The interface at this site is slightly more user-friendly than ‘Discovering American Women’s History Online,’ making this a good site for middle- to high-school-aged patrons to navigate on their own.

The Library of Congress, American Memory: Women’s History. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/browse/ListSome.php?category=Women’s%20History. Website.

There are seven collections grouped under “Women’s History” in the Library of Congress website, and this site includes portals to four different collections related to the suffrage movement, a collection of broadsides and ephemera, a collection of manuscripts, and a general multi-format women’s history collection. This general multi-format collection is a good gateway for young researchers, although children may require assistance in navigating the somewhat-confusing Library of Congress Interface. Once that is conquered, however, there is a wealth of primary source material here, and for young users especially the photographic archives will be especially fascinating, since they offer a peek into a very different time in America’s history.

Women in World History. http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/. Website. 

This site for teachers and students provides a good starting point for research as well as a great resource for teachers searching for curriculum guides for women’s history lessons. The site offers thematic units built around such concepts as “Women of Courage” and “Women’s Ways to Connect Across Cultural Borders.” The site also includes biographies of female heroes and rulers, ranging from Shagrat Al-Durr to Anna Comnena. This is another site that could benefit from a digital update, but the information housed here is still sound and valuable.

Krull, Kathleen. Lives of Extraordinary Women. Audio Bookshelf, 2001. Audiobook on CD. 2hr.

This audiobook covers the lives of 20 extraordinary women who influenced history, ranging from Wilma Mankiller to Jeanette Rankin to Cleopatra to Joan of Arc. A well-rounded profile of each woman’s life is provided, highlighting the bad as well as the good, and presenting each historical figure as a complex and fully realized individual. The women covered range from politicans to adventurers and explorers to activists. This would be an excellent starting-point text to read or listen to in celebration of Women’s History Month, or at any time of the year.

Civil Rights Leaders:

Freedman, Russell. The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights. Recorded Books, 2005. Audiobook on CD. 2hr 30min.

This audiobook explores the life of Marian Anderson, the African-American singer who, aided by Eleanor Roosevelt, gave a landmark performance in 1939 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial which signaled the beginning of the end of segregation in the arts. This Newbery Honor book is carefully researched and told in a style that is both lyrical and factual. Young readers will find this audiobook inspiring. The story of Marian Anderson is a good starting-point for further studies of the later Civil Rights movement.

Hoose, Phillip M. Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice. Brilliance Audio, 2009. Audiobook on CD. 3hr 40min.

Hoose’s Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice tells the story of a fifteen-year-old in Montgomery, Alabama who, in 1955, refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus. However, instead of being remembered as a hero like Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin is largely forgotten by history, though her role as a key plaintiff in the Browder v. Gayle case aided in striking down segregation laws in Montgomery.Hoose’s recounting of her role in the Montgomery bus boycott includes extensive interviews with Colvin herself, as well as important contextualizing of Colvin’s role in the civil rights movement for young readers who may not be familiar with its background. This nonfiction audiobook is suitable for high school and later middle grades.


4,000 Years of Women in Science. http://www.astr.ua.edu/4000WS/.  Website.

This website provides access to a series of biographies of women scientists ordered alphabetically, by historical period, and by discipline. The biographies vary in length and detail according to how much information is known about each figure. Though the website’s interface is dated, it is easy to browse and provides a good staring place for young people interested in learning more about women in science. This site is most useful for providing some sense of the breadth of women in science. Since very few women scientists have achieved fame or notoriety, this website, which offers biographies on dozens of important female scientists, makes information available that may be hard to find elsewhere. Appropriate for middle grades and higher.

I Was Wondering… A Curious Look at Women’s Adventures in Science. http://www.iwaswondering.org/. Website.

This website, which stars a girl named Leah, is accessible to elementary and lower middle grades. The website provides extensive profiles of ten women scientists, as well as a timeline with basic information about twenty-five more women in science. The website is colorful and exciting, with video clips, audio narration, and games, and does a great job of making science entertaining for young visitors to the site. It’s unfortunate that more women aren’t profiled, but the amount of information presented is engaging without being overwhelming. It’s also great that the background concepts behind each scientist’s work are explained, making this more than just a list of biographies.

Zoom List of Women Inventors and Inventions. http://www.enchantedlearning.com/inventors/women.shtml. Website.

This list of women inventors and their inventions is part of a larger site dedicated to inventors of both genders. This list is a good starting place for middle-grade learners interested in browsing through some historical female inventors. The site includes both short biographies of female inventors (such as Ida Henrietta Hyde, for example, who invented the microelectrode in the 1930s), as well as inventions created by women (such as Kevlar, which was invented by Stephanie Louise Kwolek and first marketed by DuPont in 1971). Unfortunately, the site doesn’t include many modern-day lady inventors, so this is strictly a historical resource. Though the site’s interface could use an update, it’s still a valuable resource on a subject that might be difficult to research elsewhere.

Nivola, Claire A. Life in the Ocean: the Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle. Farrar Strauss Giraux, 2012. Book.

This peek into the life and career of oceanographer Sylvia Earle comes with a greater message: Earler’s work in the ocean is riveting and important because the preservation of the ocean as a habitat and resource is an important and often overlooked issue. Nivola begins in Earle’s childhood, when she began to be fascinated by the natural world. After moving to Florida as a girl, Earle began exploring underwater in the Gulf of Mexico, and went on to have a career that included over seven thousand hours underwater on various dives. Nivola includes quotations from Earle about the wonder of swimming next to humpback whales and walking nearly 3,000 feet below the water’s surface. Earle, who was born in 1935, was often the only woman aboard a research vessel or making waves in her field, and she is an inspiring figure for young scientists today.

Women in the Armed Forces:

Jones, Carrie. Sarah Emma Edmonds Was a Great Pretender: The True Story of a Civil War Spy. Catolrhoda Books, 2011. Book.

This picture book biography seeks to make the life of a somewhat enigmatic Civil War figure accessible to young readers–it would be appropriate for kindergarten through second grade, depending on the child. However, in its attempt to simplify Sarah Emma Edmonds’ story, it takes a great deal of the thrill out of her life and work. Sarah Emma Edmonds enlisted in the army under a false identity–she pretended to be a man and, when the opportunity arose, became a spy while preserving her false male identity. This book outlines her various missions posing as individuals of both genders and multiple races and nationalities, but it does so in far too matter-of-fact of a fashion. Though Edmonds was a heroic and fascinatig figure, Jones’ biography conveys little of the danger, intrigue, and mystery that defined her life. However, this is a serviceable introduction to a woman about whom not much literature exists–a woman who fought against the confines of her gender and time period.

Nathan, Amy. Count on Us: American Women in the Military. National Geographic Society, 2004. Book.

Nathan’s “Count On Us” chronicles the service of women in the U.S. Armed forces, starting at the Revolutionary War and going all the way through the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This title profiles women who served under cover in the early years of America’s military, as well as women who served legitimately as nurses and spies. “Count on Us” then chronicles expanding opportunities for women in the military, as women began to be allowed to take non-combat positions in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Nathan also outlines the positions open to women in the modern Army, Navy, and Air Force, where women are eligible for 90% of all available ranks and positions. However, until that number is 100%, it’s clear there’s still a long way to go, and this text at times skims over the challenges that women still face as military officers. This would be a good addition to a middle grade library collection.

Women and Guns. The History Channel, 1998.Video. 50 min.

This video examines the history of firearms in the hands of women, ranging from Annie Oakley all the way up to today. Some gun-brandishing women have been performers, some criminals, and others soldiers. This video takes a look at an often-unexplored side of women’s history–the history of women and violence. Some of the women profiled fought for their survival in the vast frontier, while others were in the front lines of battle and others were sharp-shooters. “Women and Guns” would be a good resource for middle- or high-schoolers interested in exploring an often-ignored side of women’s history.

Pilots and Astronauts:

The International Women’s Air and Space Museum. http://iwasm.org/wp-blog/. Website.

This website includes access to online collections at the International Women’s Air and Space Museum, including “Women Airforce Service Pilots,” the “Margot DeCarie Collection of Amelia Earhart Photographs,” and a list of collections that are yet to be processed into finding aids but which are still available for research. Though only two collections are available in the form of online finding aids, this is a valuable source of information concerning a topic which is often difficult to find access to and information about online. The images available would be ideal for middle or high school aged visitors in the midst of in-depth research on the early history of women’s aviation.

NASA exhibit of Women’s Achievements in Aviation and Space. http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/women_gallery/sitemap.htm. Website.

This online exhibition space includes a visual map of the various “Galleries” available, which have themes such as “Women Fly High,” “Blazing the Airways,” and “Turbulence, Turbines, and Determination.” When a visitor clicks into a gallery, he or she can access a general description of the gallery’s theme, and then a deeper level of information on the key players at work in the time period/theme being discussed. This is another good source of information about sometimes obscure individuals, and the format is accessible for middle or high school aged researchers. Coverage extends into the present.

Women of NASA. http://women.nasa.gov/. Website.

This website, with a colorful, graphic interface designed to be accessible to children, contains biographies of many women who work at NASA, from scientists to administrators. Oddly, no astronauts are featured. However, the site includes many great resources, including video interviews with the women of NASA, information about applying for NASA’s virtual mentorship program, which seeks to encourage girls interested in STEM careers, and a link to the A2I Project, which stands for “Aspire to Inspire,” and is another NASA project o inspire girls by detailing the great breakthroughs already being made by women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. “Women of NASA” provides good information about less-glamorous careers available at NASA, as well as championing the often under-appreciated background players in the odyssey of space flight. A good resource for middle and high school grades.

Fleming, Candace. Amelia Lost: The LIfe and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Schwartz & 

Wade Books, 2011. Book.

Fleming’s biography of Earhart delves deep, exploring the pain of her father’s alcoholism which led the family to move frequently and experience dire financial straits during Earhart’s adolescence. Fleming celebrates Earhart’s pioneering spirit, courage, and fight for women’s equality while at the same time acknowledging Earhart’s flaws: her bravery frequently outweighed her talent as a pilot, and she could be rash and foolhardy at times, taking unnecessary chances. Fleming also explores in depth the publicity machine which allowed Earhart to make a living with flying stunts and capitalize on her name and fame in order to fund her adventures. However, knowing these things about such a vaunted historical figure humanizes Earhart and, in the end, makes her more likable. Fleming’s book is organized in chronological chapters covering Earhart’s life, which alternate with shorter sections beginning at the moment of Earhart’s disappearance and chronicle the ultimately fruitless search efforts undertaken to find the downed pilot. This strategy keeps tension high throughout the narrative. Fleming’s biography of Earhart is well-written and engaging, and its longer format would be ideal for readers in a middle school or junior high library.

Stone, Tanya Lee. Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream. Brilliance Audio, 2009. Audiobook on CD. 3hr 42min.

Stone’s Almost Astronauts profiles the “Mercury 13,” a group of women who undertook Nasa’s pre-flight astronaut tests to prove that women were capable of participating in the space program in the early 1960s, long before Sally Ride became the first woman astronaut. These women (19 who participated in the testing, out of which 13 passed all the tests) laid the groundwork for future generations to finally be allowed to fully participate in the space program.  Stone’s book does an excellent job of contextualizing the women’s struggle for young readers; she explains both the institutionalized sexism which made the idea of women in space a laughable idea in 1960, as well as the women’s liberation movement which eventually empowered female pilots to go into space. Stone also includes copious photographs, and an extensive bibliography, as well as recommendations for further reading, viewing, and surfing to encourage curious young readers to learn more.

Where’s Amelia Earhart? National Geographic Channel. Video. 50 min.

This National Geographic Channel special explores the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, presenting various themes as to the location and circumstances behind the famous aviatrix’ disappearance. Was she doing covert work for President Roosevelt? Was she captured by the Japanese? Or did she simply run out of fuel before she could find her refueling point? This documentary concludes that the simplest explanation is the most likely, but does a great job of thoroughly exploring other points of view through interviews, photo, and video. This documentary is suitable for middle and high school grades, and would be a good tool for classroom teachers.

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