Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) follows up her bestselling book American Heroines with Leading Ladies: American Trailblazers (Harper, 365 pages, $25.95), another excellent collection of biographical portraits of women who've paved the way for the rest of us, in all walks of life...
Hutchinson decided to focus on areas she did not include in her first book: the military, science, suffragettes and medicine, to name a few. She thought the chapter on the military would be pretty short. "Was I wrong!" she writes in the book's preface. "Women fought in wars as far back as the American Revolution."
Two of those women were Sybil Ludington, whose all-night ride through Putnam County at age 16 earned her the nickname "the female Paul Revere," and Lydia Darragh, who let British troops meet in her house — then spied on them and reported her findings to Gen. Washington at Valley Forge.
There is a chapter on first ladies, titled "The Hardest Unpaid Job in the World," which features women we already know quite a bit about — Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, Betty Ford and Hillary Clinton, among others — along with those we don't know that much about, such as Helen "Nellie" Taft, whose own ambition is mostly what spurred her husband, William Howard Taft, into the White House, and Edith Wilson, who stepped into her husband's shoes, secretly and unofficially, while he recovered from a stroke in 1919-1920.
Hutchinson ends with a chapter on today's women leaders, namely those elected to public office. The final entry is a profile of Mary Bono, who was elected to Congress following the death of her Congressman husband, Sonny Bono. At first, her agenda was to follow through on many of her husband's initiatives, but now she's been in Congress since 1998 and has established her own platform. Some of her main interests include health care and Native American rights.
This book is inspiring, not only because we can see how so many women have broken barriers in many different fields, but also because it can encourage us to look at ourselves and our sisters, daughters, nieces, etc., and start really striving to level the playing field across the nation. Only 20 percent of our Congressional leaders are women. We can do better than that. We should do better than that.