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Book Review: Ladies First
Reading Level

Ages 9–12

This is the story of 40 women who were the first at something in America. Each portrait is just a couple pages long, yet in those portraits we get enough of the women to appreciate their determination, strength, and importance.

The historical range is from the very beginning of the American experience—colonial times—to today. Familiar faces such as Sacagawea and Helen Keller are here. Others not so well-known are featured as well. Among those are Madam C.J. Walker, the first African-American self-made millionaire; Wilma Mankiller, first female chief of the Cherokee Nation; and Shirley Muldowney, the first female member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Muldowney is one of a handful of women profiled who are still alive. Also examined are Susan Butcher, the first man or woman to win three Iditarod races in a row; Lynn Hill, who achieved a rock climbing feat no man had yet done; and Victoria Murden, who rowed by herself across the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

It's not just athletics and political causes, however. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor, is here, as is Antonia Novello, the first female U.S. Surgeon General, and Kathleen McGrath, the first woman to command a U.S. Navy warship.

Artists are represented as well, among them Pearl S. Buck, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for Literature; renowned architect Julia Morgan; and the epitome of grace, dancer Martha Graham.

These are clearly extraordinary women doing extraordinary things. Yet they faced nearly insurmountable challenges with grit and grace, making their marks on the history of America.

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