You don’t have to have lived a long life to have lived a great one. In Patricia Majher’s new book Great Girls in Michigan History (Wayne State University Press, March 2015), the Michigan historian writes about 20 girls younger than 20 who have made a mark on history.
These short biographies written for readers aged eight and older tell the stories of famous and little-known girls. They include female aviator Nancy Harkness (Love); pioneer Anna Howard Shaw; escaped slave Dorothy Butler; professional baseball player Marilyn Jenkins; union leader Myra Komaroff (Wolfgang); Native-American writer Jane Johnston (Schoolcraft); First Lady Betty Bloomer (Ford); jockey Julie Krone; Motown star Diana Ross; tennis champion Serena Williams; and many others.
Majher says she made an effort to find girls with achievements in many different areas from from different areas of the state.
“There are a lot of girls who have achieved greatness before the age of 20 in athletics and in the arts,” Majher says. “But what else? What other areas? So then I started reaching a bit farther and I also tried to get a wider distribution geographically of the stories.”
Majher turned to libraries, historical societies, and archives throughout Michigan during her search. It also helped that she is the long-time editor of Michigan History magazine, published by the Historical Society of Michigan. Majher is also the author of Ladies of the Lights: Michigan Women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service.
Majher says girls and women have long been under-represented in history books, and that was part of her motivation in compiling these stories. One of her favorite stories grew out of her first book: the daughter of lighthouse keeper Orlo Mason.
“She was a teen, I think 12 or 13 years old at the time,” says Majher. “She rowed a boat more than a mile to save a drowning man. She saved him and rowed him back to the lighthouse.”
Other stories in her new book tell of better-known personalities who may not be recognizable until the end of their story. The chapter on Betty Bloomer is about a young girl training to be a ballet dancer, but then becomes the wife of former president Gerald R. Ford, leaving an entirely different legacy.
Majher’s hope is that her youngest readers will be inspired by these stories. “Someone their own age can do something amazing even before they became an adult,” says Majher. “I wanted these stories to be an inspiration to do your best, to follow your dream.”
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