A biography for middle-grade readers tells the story of the first woman elected to federal office in the United States.
Aronson (Bronislaw Huberman, 2018) introduces young readers to Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973), who was elected to Congress twice and voted against the United States’ entry into both world wars. The book takes readers on a chronological tour of her life, from her childhood on a Montana ranch to her work as part of the women’s suffrage movement and social work, moving into her political career and anti-war activism. It brings the story full circle with her late-in-life opposition to the Vietnam War, when a new generation of activists looked up to her as a role model. Through well-documented research—the backmatter includes citations, a bibliography, and a timeline of Rankin’s life—Aronson provides a thorough overview of her subject. He includes plenty of specific detail (“She was handed a bouquet of flowers and then driven down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol in an open car, waving to supporters as she was escorted by 25 flag-draped cars”) while sticking to documented facts, and the numerous photographs and scanned newspaper images add to the reader’s understanding of the various time periods. Aronson’s prose is straightforward, conveying information without rhetorical flourishes: “On November 6, 1916, Rankin had the opportunity to vote for the first time in her life in a main election—and she voted for herself.” He does a good job of establishing Rankin’s historical noteworthiness but not overselling her legislative accomplishments, acknowledging the symbolic value of her initial election and her votes against the wars but also noting that the votes cost her re-elections in both cases. He also draws links between her relatively short congressional career and her lifelong activism. The concise narrative provides an age-appropriate amount of information, and it will be a useful addition to middle-school library shelves—particularly in light of the historic number of women elected to Congress last November.
A well-organized and thoroughly researched account of a remarkable historical figure.