by Barb Conlin
“Gal’s Guide Library, the first women’s history lending library in the US – right here in Noblesville!”
I can’t imagine how many times I say that when I am greeting guests at the library or explaining who we are at a farmer’s market or street festival. It is one of my standard opening lines, and I love sharing it because it is a defining statement for our small but powerful library. Likewise, when the message is received with a surprised expression, a knowing smile, or even a set of arched eyebrows, I get goosebumps. Literally. GOOSEBUMPS! The reason – someone has just connected to our message, our mission, and the importance of doing what we do here at Gal’s Guide.
Usually, but not always, that returned expression of connection is from a woman who has sought us out. However, there have been men who have discovered that Gal’s Guide welcomes everyone and that, if you are open to learning about wonderful women of history, you can share space with us at any of our events or select a book and pull up a chair in the library.
When I am working at the library or our booth, though, I am prepared for battle. It has never come to it, but I am at the ready. I am prepared for the questions…
- Shouldn’t you tell all the stories of history – of women and men?
- We already have plenty of history books; why are you trying to rewrite history?
- Do we really need a library dedicated just to women?
- Who do I need to know about anyway?
Well, shouldn’t we tell all the stories of history – of women and men?
Yes. Yes, we should. Dr. Leah likes to use the visual of the phases of the moon to answer this question. What we see in the night sky, the lunar phase or moon phase is the shape of the moon’s sunlit portion. The whole moon is there, but only a portion is visible thanks to the light of the sun. Just like our history. A portion of our history can be found in our school books. There is more, though – more history that escapes our current view. It is these untold stories that we are trying to illuminate.
So the question should be – why are so many of those untold stories of women? If you read the book, Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly, or watched the 2016 movie adaptation, you would find many of the reasons depicted there. During the Space Race in the 1960s, the work at NASA and at the Langley Research Center, the setting of (part of) the book and movie, was separated by sex and race. Most of the work was done by men but not all of it. Some of the most critical work was done by women, and, more specifically, some of the most critical work was done by women of color. There were men and women, though, who actively tried to prevent the success of the “Hidden Figures” – to keep them in their place, so to speak. In addition, there were men taking credit for the work of these talented women so as to bolster their own position at Langley.
There are thousands of stories just like these – throughout every industry. Our library and others like ours work to preserve books that tell the compelling stories of women of history – stories that are under-told, under-published, or under-circulated. We are not trying to rewrite history; we work to illuminate the missing portions of our history – just as the sun works to light up, over time, the dark side of the moon.
OK. So we do need to tell these stories, but do we really need a library dedicated just to women’s history? Yes. Yes, we do. Young girls and women face many unique challenges while studying, working, and creating. I recently read 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women, by Gail McMeekin. Ms. McMeekin touches on this same topic. One of the reasons to tell the stories of women of history is to propagate the mantra, “if you can see it, you can be it.” Many little girls do not have examples of women in their chosen careers; a library like ours can be a treasure trove of inspiration. Also, in telling these untold stories, we provide the roadmap for other women to follow to their own success. Books about women and by women can add commentary on issues unique to working women such as work-life balance; Ms. McMeekin points out that most working women don’t have the benefit of a stay-at-home husband to care for the kids, clean the house, do the laundry, fix dinner… the list goes on, but you get the point. Societal pressures, even today, continue to enforce the role of nurturer on the woman – even if she works outside the home. Conflicts that arise from these balance issues can be documented, discussed, and shared with everyone at the Gal’s Guide Library. And when everyone works to learn and understand these issues, gals and guys can participate in the resolution.
So who do you need to know about? Where do you start?
- Do you know which actress was once called the most beautiful woman in the world and created technology that was the eventual basis for WIFI, GPS, and Bluetooth communications systems?
- When someone talks about a Babe in sports, do you think of a woman who excelled in basketball, track and field, and golf – winning 2 gold medals and 10 LPGA major championships?
- Do you know who is considered the Godmother of Rock and Roll and was the inspiration for Elvis Presley and his cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as Little Richard and Johnny Cash?
- Do you know which scientist’s work was critical in the documentation of the DNA double helix but never received a portion of the Nobel prize that was awarded for it?
- Do you know the wife of a famous author who was accused of plagiarizing her diary in some of his most often quoted lines?
If you don’t know the answers to the above, stop by! We’ll introduce you to Hedy Lamar, Babe Zaharias, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Rosalind Franklin, and Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of f. Scott. 😉 Oh, and many more!
Come see us. You’ll be glad you did.
Now – Go Be You!