During this, the centenary celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, St. Louis’ Missouri Historical Society Press has issued a slim but significant (and altogether splendid) trade paperback by writer Katie J. Moon and illustrator Rori!: Groundbreakers, Rule-Breakers & Rebels: 50 Unstoppable St. Louis Women.
The 104-page publication accompanies the Missouri History Museum’s free but ticketed “Beyond the Ballot: St. Louis and Suffrage” exhibition, which opened Aug. 1 and which will run till March 20, 2022.
The two-page biographies in Groundbreakers range chronologically from Native American diplomat Aramepinchieue/Marie Rouensa (ca. 1677-1725) to poet Maya Angelou (1928-2014). Bracketed between those two bios are those of everyone from civil rights activist Harriet Scott and educator Susan Blow, through firebrand journalist Martha Gellhorn and dancer Katherine Dunham, to singer Fontella Bass and politician Harriett Woods.
Moon handles with aplomb the unenviable task of encapsulating in just two to four paragraphs each of the lives of the 50 women showcased, while Rori! displays breathtaking ligne claire skill in providing full-figure portraits of the book’s subjects.
When asked to specify her favorite among the 50, Moon names Civil War nurse Emily Parsons. “Born into a wealthy family, physically limited, unmarried and quickly approaching middle age, no one could have expected her life to amount to very much,” she says. “But by the age of 40, she was in charge of the medical care of over 2,000 wounded soldiers at Benton Barracks, in the middle of a war zone.”
For her part, Rori! cites entertainer Josephine Baker. “I was already a huge fan of Baker’s, and I think I was able to capture a little bit of her charisma and magic,” she relates. “And the research was really fun, watching old clips of her performances and of her speech in D.C. She was just such an incredible lady – and that smile! It’s one of the most iconic smiles, probably.”
Although enjoyable for those of all ages, Groundbreakers likely falls into the young adult reader category. And at a time when the glass ceiling at last seems to be cracking, it may inspire many a modern lass to contemplate adding her own name to some future update of Moon and Rori!’s 50-strong roster.
Missouri Historical Society Press, c/o Missouri History Museum, 5700 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, 314-746-4599, mohistory.org
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