Celebrate Women!

March is Women's History Month, and this year's theme is "Women Inspiring Innovation through Imagination." Join the Mercer County Library System in honoring generations of women who have used their intelligence, creativity, sense of wonder, and perseverance to make extraordinary contributions to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  Here are five volumes that make perfect reading for the month of March!

Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion
By Jean H. Baker
In this lively biography, an historian argues convincingly that Margaret Sanger deserves the vaunted place in feminist history she once held. Baker's nuanced account of Sanger's life emphasizes the passion of her convictions.
“In an era when men ruled the roost and women's only purpose was to bear children, Margaret Sanger, pioneering activist for birth control, had other plans. She watched her mother give birth to 11 children, suffer multiple miscarriages, and ultimately die at a young age. She rejected the idea that such a sacrificial existence was her mother's patriotic duty and that planted within her the seed that spawned an entire movement for women's control of their bodies. Prominent feminist historian Baker relates Sanger's crusade with unfailing precision as she recounts Singer's years as a nurse, when she mended the damage caused by self-induced abortions and listened to the pitiful plights of young women enchained by the relentless cycle of childbirth. Sanger distributed pamphlets on contraception, risking imprisonment on account of their legally designated obscenity; opened the first legal family planning clinic in 1940; and at the culmination of her career, in the 1960s, promoted use of the birth control pill. Connecting the details of each battle Sanger won and lost, Baker re-creates the train of events in an arduous, iconic, and controversial journey. A moving biography chronicling the hard-fought struggle for women to gain control of their reproductive destiny.”—Booklist  (Starred Review)

“The book fairly balances Sanger's personal faults and political miscalculations against her successes in changing the national discourse, influencing laws on family planning, and educating tens of thousands of women on the tools needed to control their own reproductive lives.”—Library Journal

Grace Hopper: And the Invention of the Information Age
By Kurt W. Beyer
In Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age, Kurt Beyer goes beyond the screenplay-ready myth to reveal a more authentic Hopper, a vibrant, complex, and intriguing woman whose career paralleled the meteoric trajectory of the postwar computer industry. Hopper made herself "one of the boys" in Howard Aiken's wartime Computation Laboratory at Harvard, then moved on to the Eckert and Mauchly Computer Corporation. Both rebellious and collaborative, she was influential in male-dominated military and business organizations at a time when women were encouraged to devote themselves to housework and childbearing. Hopper's greatest technical achievement was to create the tools that would allow humans to communicate with computers in terms other than ones and zeroes. This advance influenced all future programming and software design and laid the foundation for the development of today's user-friendly personal computers.

“Grace Hopper was the queen of computer programming; no, make that the admiral. Innovative, inquisitive, and up for any intellectual challenge, she was the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics at Yale. Stifled by her marriage and tenured position at Vassar College, Hopper enlisted immediately after Pearl Harbor, completed naval officer training, and was assigned to the Harvard Computational Laboratory to work on the enormous (8 feet high, 3 feet wide, 51 feet long) Mark I computer with Howard Aitken. Her destiny was set. Military protocol shielded her from sexism, while her commanding problem-solving skills, prankish humor, and gift for orchestrating collaborative efforts enabled her to elevate the fledging practice of coding to the art of programming. Beyer cogently and enthusiastically explains Hopper's pioneering breakthroughs in documentation, memory, and machine-to-machine communication, and he chronicles how she wrote the first computer manual, spearheaded the formulation of a common computer language (COBOL), and, in the private sector, tirelessly pursued her vision of a democratic information age. Hopper's world-altering achievements came at a price, but she kept working until her death at 86 in 1992. Bravo to Beyer for unearthing the fascinating, many-faceted history (including priceless photographs) of a phenomenal technology we take for granted and for portraying a woman of astonishing powers.”--Booklist  (Starred Review)

On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson
By William Souder
Marking the golden anniversary of Rachel Carson's seminal environmental tome, Silent Spring, Souder pays tribute with this extensively researched biographical account of Carson, one of the most important environmental writers of our time. Silent Spring decried the use of DDT, among other chemicals and pesticides, and changed the face of the environmental movement, even garnering the attention of President Kennedy. Carson's legacy influenced modern environmental policy and regulation and Souder highlights this while meticulously detailing the private author's story. The book is divided into two sections, the first detailing recounting Carson's life around the time of the publication of Water World and the second focusing on the time and impact of Silent Spring.  Includes a section of black-and-white photos.

“Fifty years ago, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, an eloquent expose of the dangers of pesticides, transformed our perception of life on earth. To mark this watershed, Souder... brings a fresh and delving perspective to Carson's trailblazing achievements and heroic sacrifices. Born to a hardscrabble Pennsylvania life in 1907, Carson was passionate about nature and always wanted to be a writer. Fired up by a gutsy woman science teacher, she ditched English for biology and went to work for what is now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  As Carson courageously battled against pesticides and issued prescient warnings about global warming, she was under siege from within and died of cancer at 56. Souder returns Carson to us in all her poetic glory and strength as a singular artist and clarion champion of the living world.”—Booklist (Starred Review)

“In this expansive, nuanced biography, Souder portrays Carson as a woman passionate in friendship, poetic and innovative in her books about the sea, gentle but ambitious, assiduously keeping tabs on her publisher's promotion of her work. A writer since childhood, Carson, inspired by a college professor, developed a love for biology and combined her two passions in a career that included three bestselling books. A "spinster" and professional in a time when marriage was the norm, Carson supported her family all her life, first her mother and siblings, later adopting her nephew, and followed her vision with an artist's determination. Extending beyond Carson's immediate biography, Souder meanders into the lives of writers who influenced her and devotes long sections to the hydrogen bomb and cold war anxiety about nuclear annihilation, the chemistry of pesticides like DDT and their flagrant postwar use, and an emerging understanding of ecology.”—Publishers Weekly

“Explores the life and works of Rachel Carson through meticulous research on her writings, relationships, and struggles. Portrayed alternately as full of stamina and fragile, Carson is depicted as a smart, hardworking woman who was not afraid of success and often fought her way into the limelight more aggressively than her introverted personality might have indicated. More than a biography of Carson, this book is a biography of oceanography, of naturalism and conservation, and of science writing. As Carson did in her own work, Souder presents the development of modern science writing as a living thing, evolving and changing in relation to what it encounters.”—Library Journal

The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science
By Julie Des Jardins
Why are the fields of science and technology still considered to be predominantly male professions? The Madame Curie Complex moves beyond the most common explanations—limited access to professional training, lack of resources, exclusion from social networks of men—to give historical context and unexpected revelations about women's contributions to the sciences. Exploring the lives of Jane Goodall, Rosalind Franklin, Rosalyn Yalow, Barbara McClintock, Rachel Carson, and the women of the Manhattan Project, Julie Des Jardins considers their personal and professional stories in relation to their male counterparts –Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi—to demonstrate how the gendered culture of science molds the methods, structure, and experience of the work. With lively anecdotes and vivid detail, The Madame Curie Complex reveals how women scientists have often asked different questions, used different methods, come up with different explanations for phenomena in the natural world, and how they have forever transformed a scientist's role.

Patently Female: From AZT to TV Dinners, Stories of Women Inventors and Their Breakthrough Ideas
By Ethlie Ann Vare and Greg Ptacek

“A fascinating and gratifying book..It gives us a positive view of women's inventiveness, from the frivolous to the noble."—The New York Times Book Review

"It is the wide spectrum of female humanity and ability in this book that makes it an especially valuable addition to the growing popular library on the accomplishments and work lives of women."—Los Angeles Times

 "An informative collection of talent, trivia, and history, Mothers of Invention will interest most anyone. More importantly, though, it will serve to inspire girls and women of all ages.”—Tampa Tribune

 “The authors explore female innovators, a role history has often failed to record, let alone reward. The first U.S. patent was awarded to a woman, Hannah Slater, in 1793, for perfecting cotton sewing thread. But the authors quickly demonstrate that women's inventions aren't limited to the home. Both the brassiere and the jockstrap were invented by women. Can't do without that cordless phone? Thank Terri Pall. Interested in voting reforms? Susan Huhn invented the most reliable and mobile voting machine. The brilliance of physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking is transmitted through computer technology invented by Martine Kempf, Leslie Dolman and Carrie Heeter. And Hawking studies the universe in good company: Jocelyn Bell discovered the pulsar, and women invented the Mars rover and the space suit. Dr. Gertrude Elion's immunosuppressants make lifesaving transplants possible, including bone marrow transplants, which were Dr. Suzanne Ilstaad's revolutionary treatment for end-stage cancers and anemias. The major AIDS-fighting drugs, AZT and protease inhibitors, were also invented by women. Of course, not all women's inventions are so dramatic witness the TV dinner, Jell-O, tract housing and Barbie. Vare and Ptacek detail how women's ideas like the cotton gin, automatic sewing machine and even the Brooklyn Bridge have often been attributed to men and how history books and museums like the Smithsonian and the National Inventors Hall of Fame have ignored women's achievements.”—Publishers Weekly

- Lisa S.


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