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Shelf life: Celebrating women's achievements through history

March 19, 2023 at 12:00 a.m.

By Lauri Wilson

It's too bad that we have just one month designated especially for the celebration of women and their accomplishments, because our history, like our work, is never done. Whether it's trekking a rugged mountain path in the Blue Ridge Mountains, or researching the movements of stars at the edge of the universe, women were participants in much of history that's gone unnoticed.

No matter their age, women inspire us -- women like Emma Gatewood, a 67-year-old mother of nine who made her way down the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail not just once, but three times, beginning in 1955. Her story brought needed attention to the trail and made it much more than just a remote footpath in the woods. With no fancy equipment, guidebooks, tents and GPS systems, Grandma Gatewood didn't look like a present-day hiker. She didn't even tell her family about her plans, but the reasons are found in Ben Montgomery's "Grandma Gatewood's Walk."

Temple Grandin is another woman who overcame obstacles. Doctors claimed she had brain damage as a child because she was non-verbal until the age of 4. Diagnosed with autism later, Temple never let herself be labeled. Like Gatewood, she blazed her own trail. Her work with animals made huge impacts when she designed more humane ways to handle livestock. Now she juggles being an author, scientist, livestock industry designer and animal behavior specialist. As a visual learner, she has a lot to say about different styles of learning and the value of giving kids a hands-on education. Grandin's latest is "Visual Thinking."

Even before the latest push for girls to enter the science, math and tech fields, women were forging the way at the foundations of those disciplines. Stars and planets, however, have been objects of wonder for thousands of years, and it's only recently that science has been able to really measure them and study their movements. Back in the 1880s, a group of women paved the way for the brand-new field of astronomy by reading the data after it was captured on glass photography plates. This tedious work was considered too menial for men. However, the women spent so much time observing the sky that they expanded the knowledge of stars and astronomy. Science reporter and author Dava Sobel looks at the beginnings of the science of reading the stars in "The Glass Universe."

Another group of mathematically-inclined women were on the forefront of technology right after World War II. The top-secret project was called ENIAC, an acronym for Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer. Although they didn't have security clearance to be in the room with the machine, these women were among the first to break into a mostly-male world of computer programmers. Many years of research and interviews concluded with this story of their pioneering work in "Proving Ground" by Kathy Kleiman.

Go behind the scenes during one of the most important diplomatic negotiations of the past century with "The Daughters of Yalta" by Catherine Grace Katz. As three world leaders planned a hopeful future at the Yalta Conference in 1945, three daughters of key participants in the talks were also there--and they had their own important duties. They were caregivers, housekeepers and keepers of family secrets, and they shared a common frustration. Left out of all the pivotal discussions, they were allowed to go on sightseeing excursions instead. What remains is the best of their memoirs, diaries, and oral histories, included in the book to give us a backstage glimpse of what it's like to be sitting on the sidelines of history.

There are a lot more books about women and their achievements available in our library, and if you're interested in these or others, come by and visit the library soon!

Lauri Wilson is the cataloging and digital content librarian at South Arkansas Community College.

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