Three and a half years ago I started on a journey that has led me to a place I never could have imagined. After pitching my idea to a magazine and being accepted, I wrote my first Heroine of History article. It was a short biographical piece about Mary Elizabeth Bowser, who was arguably the best placed Union spy during the American Civil War. This was my first attempt at biography, and I loved it. It wasn’t easy, but I loved unearthing her story and telling it.
That is largely how I’ve felt about all of the women that I’ve written about. Those biographies are the hardest things that I write. The research alone is daunting. The Internet is amazing in that there are literally millions of resources right at your fingertips. But anybody can post things on the Internet, so who’s to say what is fact and what is fiction. That’s not to say that books are 100% reliable either. I have read many an erroneous account in a book. I would guess that close to two-thirds of all of my research time is spent corroborating or dispelling facts.
I’m researching Shirley Chisholm right now. Two sources say that she was born on November 20, 1924, three sources say that she was born on November 30, 1924, five sources say November 1924, and a handful of sources don’t mention her birthday at all. Now multiply that by almost every relevant fact about the woman. Half the time I feel like I’m taking a poll: “Was Shirley Chisholm the oldest of four children or the oldest of eight children?”
I spend hours weeding through similar yet varied information, and then picking and choosing which “facts” seem to be the most factual. Then comes the daunting task of telling their story in a way that honors their life. I obviously pick these women because I find them inspirational, so I therefore want to do them justice.
And none of this takes into account the content of the stories. Yes, these are amazing, take-charge, get-things-done, and overcome-the-odds, inspirational women. However, in order to overcome something bad must happen first. So these stories are also full of loss, poverty, abuse, racism, sexism, disappointment and the destruction of dreams. It is heavy stuff.
Yet, they are also the most fulfilling. The more I research and the more I delve into these stories, the more I come to realize that these women have something in common. Regardless of race, social status, background, era, etc., all of these women place their focus on something external. Their communities, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, those who have trouble speaking for themselves. These women served. They lifted up those around them, and in doing so, lifted themselves up too.
One of the most magical things about helping others, is that it is almost impossible to do so without also helping yourself. I can’t think of a single time that I willing offered and gave my help that I didn’t feel better about myself afterwards. Despite the hours of work and the emotional drain that each of these biographies takes, I feel better after having written them. I feel better after telling their story, after doing my part to ensure that their deeds won’t slip into the darkest corners of history to wilt away forgotten.
I also feel better knowing that I have done my part to pass their inspiration on. Every person needs a hero to look up to, and it’s even better if you can relate to that hero. I had one growing up, and it’s her story that started me down this road in the first place, and so it is in her honor and the honor of every other heroine that has lent me their strength that I’ve decided that it is high time to expand beyond the Heroines of History. What started as a simple magazine article, has grown into so much more. The ball is rolling on two new steps – okay, being nudged down the road is a bit more accurate than rolling – but I am excited for these two new ventures: Through Her Eyes and the Heart of a Heroine Alliance. Onwards and upwards, here we go!