When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to read was a series of biographies called Childhood of Famous Americans. They were hardback books with orange covers, and told about the childhoods of, yes, people who grew up to be famous Americans. I think I checked out every single one my library had at least four times, but with one caveat: I only wanted to read the stories about girls. Amelia Earhart, Mary Todd Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Pocahontas, Louisa May Alcott, Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Annie Oakley (oh how I loved the Annie Oakley story!), Martha Washington, Molly Pitcher, Abigail Adams.
I can’t quite pinpoint exactly why I didn’t want to read stories about boys. Maybe because my family, with our four sisters, was so girl-centric. No one told me I couldn’t read stories about boys. (Actually, the more I think about it, if someone had told me “girls shouldn’t read stories about boys” I would’ve been more likely to read the boy stories.) No one told me girls’ stories were better. I just, when I looked at the names on the spines, felt a deep sense of boredom and even annoyance at the boys’ names.
But it’s a long-established fact that I was a strange child.
I have since learned to read about men in history, too. King Henry VIII, Walt Whitman, William Blake, Van Gogh, Degas, both Lewis and Clark are especially fascinating to me. But I will always be more drawn to women’s histories (Anne Boleyn is far more interesting than Henry, who just blustered around being a complete jerk), as they have always felt like the stories most imperative to know. Whether in novels or in non-fiction form, I like reading the stories of how women have influenced their current times. I like knowing how they lived, the details of their lives, how they dressed and cooked and interacted with people and with the world. I like discovering how, despite the limits of patriarchy and social mores, they achieved their remarkable achievements, or they lived their quiet, average lives.
March is Women’s History Month, and I have been thinking all February, since I wrote this post about writing down your stories, about how I could contribute. Because I don’t think that only important women’s histories are valuable. I think those “average” lives that most of us are living are important to document, too. One day, those stories will be histories, and someone in the future will be interested in learning how we lived, what we thought, how we dressed and cooked and interacted with the world.
So! Today I am posting a list of 31 questions for Women’s History Month. You could answer a question every day and then, on April 1, have told a chunk of your stories. I’m going to answer all of the questions, and I am planning on sharing some of the responses on my blog. I wrote the questions like I used to write essay questions for my students: several different sub-questions to flesh out the more general main question, to help you structure your thoughts.
If you want to play along, don’t make it complicated. You could use a notebook or your computer (or, heck, use your phone if writing long things with your index finger doesn’t drive you nuts!); you could post on your blog or keep it private. You could ask your mom, daughters, sisters, cousins, nieces, grandchildren and/or best friends to join you. You can write as short or as long as you want; some questions will evoke more words than others.
Later in the month, I’m also going to post a list of photo prompts for recording your personal history.
I hope you’ll join in. Let me know if you do. Here is the document:
Just download the PDF to get started.
Happy women’s history month! Happy writing!