Leading the Way


Howell, Janet, & Howell, Theresa. Leading the Way: Women in Power. Forward by Hillary Rodham Clinton. Illus. by Kylie Akia & Alexandra Bye. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2019.

Leading the Way: Women in Power is a great new collective biography of 50 American Women that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the women’s right to vote first realized in 1920. The profiles are short but fascinating and insightful. The women portrayed represent history from Colonial America to the present day. The two-page spreads celebrate heroic women facing difficult odds and rising above prejudice to achieve greatness. These remarkable women have broken virtually every “glass ceiling” that has existed on a 250-year continuum. The diversity in the lives of these women of power is noteworthy. The subjects represent an excellent balance across the entire political, racial, ethnic, creed, and belief spectrum. The book is a great resource for girls, in particular, but boys can also learn about heroism and courage by reading about women such as Abigail Adams, Mary McLeod Bethune, Sandra Day O’Connor, Soledad Chavez Chacon, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 
The authors are a mother and daughter team, Virginia State Senator Janet Howell and Theresa Howell. The illustrations are portraits of the 50 women whose lives and courage are celebrated. 
Every profile contains a minimum of two insightful and profound quotations that are set off from the remaining text by large, colorful fonts. A great many of the profiles also include in the main text even further words of wisdom from these great women. The profile of Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina woman to serve as a US Supreme Court justice, is a prime example. Her profile begins with the thoughtful statement, “I do know one thing about me: I don’t measure myself by others’ expectations or let others define my worth.” Her concluding words are, “Understand that failure is a process in life, that only in trying can you enrich yourself and have the possibility of moving forward. The greatest obstacle in life is fear and giving up because of it.” Embedded within her profile are still further words of advice such as “You can’t dream unless you know what the possibilities are.”
Patsy Takemoto Mink was the first woman of color and the first Asian American elected to Congress. One of her legacies has had an enormous impact of the lives of young women, especially athletes and those who have desired to pursue degrees in disciplines or fields of study (e.g., law and veterinary medicine) that had once been exclusively the domains of male students. Congresswoman Mink coauthored the Title IX Amendment to the Higher Education Act that banned gender discrimination in any high school or college that receives Federal financial assistance. 
While the majority of the women have demonstrated power in local, state, and national legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, some of these 50 great women have wielded power in other ways. Abigail Adams wrote more than 2,000 letters in her lifetime, a great many of which influenced the Founding Fathers who authored the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. Ida B. Wells-Barnet was a journalist and activist who used the power of the press to crusade against lynchings and on behalf of the rights of all women and African Americans. Edith Wilson never held political office, but as First Lady of the United States she was, in reality, the first de facto president of the nation from 1919 until 1921 following a massive stroke that incapacitated her husband, President Woodrow Wilson. She made cabinet appointments and monitored foreign policy during much of the final years of Wilson’s second term of office. Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president, never held elective office but she was an extraordinarily astute capitalist and she became the first woman stockbroker in America. 
While many of the women, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford, Bella Abzug, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Elizabeth Dole and Margaret Chase Smith, are familiar names, the profiles include women of much lesser fame but significant deeds or firsts. One such woman was Susanna Madora Salter. As a young wife and mother in the small city of Argonia, Kansas, Salter was active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), a nation-wide organization that advocated the prohibition of alcohol because of the devastating impact of hard drink on American families. Because the support of women was necessary to their primary cause, WCTU members also campaigned for the right of women to vote. In 1887, women in Kansas earned the right to vote locally. Bigoted men in Argonia who felt threatened by the new law held a secret meeting during which they maliciously added Susanna Salter’s name to the ballot for a mayoral election. They believed a trouncing defeat would humiliate both the local branch of the WCTU and people who supported women’s suffrage. On election day, both men and women showed up on Susanna’s doorstep and asked her a single question: “If elected, will you serve?” Her answer was in the affirmative and that day she was elected by sixty percent of the votes cast! She became the first woman in American history to be elected a city mayor. 
Perhaps the most heroic profile is that of Senator Tammy Duckworth. Born in 1968 in Bangkok, Thailand, her family moved all over the world because of her father’s refugee work for the United Nations. She arrived in Hawaii as a teenager and worked multiple part-time jobs to help support her family. In graduate school, Tammy Duckworth joined the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). She became a helicopter pilot and rose to the rank of a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel. She was deployed to Iraq where in 2004 her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. She lost both of her legs in the ensuing crash. She was fitted with two titanium legs and had to learn how to walk all over again. After her recovery, Duckworth became a powerful advocate for the healthcare treatment of veterans. In 2012, she won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first disabled woman ever elected to Congress and in 2016, she was elected as a United States Senator from the state of Illinois. She was the first senator to give birth while in office. Her baby daughter also achieved a significant first; she is the first girl to have been on the floor of the U.S. Senate while her mother voted. Senator Duckworth is also the first Thai American Woman to be elected to the Senate. 
A unique feature of Leading the Way that may have special appeal to visual learners is the use of distinctive graphic symbols that represent eight character traits utilized by the 50 women who are the triumphant subjects of the collective biography. The key character traits outlined in “A Guide to Power Symbols” are integrity, resourcefulness, diligence, courage, persistence, empathy, communication skills, and a sense of community. Each symbolic character trait that defines powerful women is articulated further with nine examples of approaches young people can take to achieve personal success. 
A wealth of back matter in this insightful book include the names and key data about 30 additional women leaders students may research, such as Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago. Seven steps to leadership, such as staying informed and volunteering, are well articulated in a mini-guide titled, “How to Stand Up, Speak Out, and Make a Difference: A Take-Action Guide.” Complete source notes, especially guides to speeches and writings by the featured women of power, are both extensive and scholarly. 
Activities for Teachers and Homeschoolers
Leading the Way is specific to women who have achieved power and influence in the United States. Although America has been a beacon of liberty and democracy that shines around the world, it is one of a minority of nations that has never seen a woman rise to become its chief executive. Every inhabited continent on Earth contains nations that have elected or appointed women presidents, chancellors, or prime ministers. Gifted students can utilize Internet search engines to find the names and biographies of women who have served as the primary leaders of their countries. Students can fashion their own version of Leading the Way on an international scale with profiles of women chief executives such as Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Corazon Aquino, and Angela Merkel. 
In 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress at the age of 29 years. Many of the heroines of Leading the Way actually began achieving greatness as activists at an even younger age. Students can also use Internet searches to learn more and create profiles of contemporary young women who are having a powerful impact on the world at exceptionally young ages. One example is Malala Yousafzai, who, at the age of 17 years, in 2014, became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Another example is Greta Thunberg of Sweden, who became world famous at the age of 15 years as an activist for global climate change. In 2019, Greta won both the Rachel Carson and the International Children’s Peace Prizes. 
Regardless of gender, creative young people can begin today to dream about their powerful futures. Encourage young women and young men to write personal future scenarios similar to the 50 profiles in Leading the Way. What accomplishments do they want to achieve now and in the future? What power symbols will characterize their pathways to success? It is never too soon to have big dreams.  
As young people read the profiles of great women in Leading the Way, encourage them to keep a journal of extraordinary quotations found in the text. Encourage students to create a mini-book of quotations or a set of posters, which they illustrate using a wide variety of media from collages to watercolors. Their completed works will be works celebrating both words and images.