A Woman’s Place is in the House (and Senate!) by Annie McMahon Whitlock
Whether we like it or not, the 2016 election is already everywhere we look—and no doubt our students will have questions as they are inundated with information for the next year and a half. There is a need for resources that teachers can use to teach about government and the election process that is unbiased. Learning about the inspiring women who have served in Congress (both Democrats and Republicans) can be a great place to start.
This is why A Woman in the House (and Senate) by Ilene Cooper (published in 2014) is a great non-fiction book to have in a classroom library for upper elementary, middle, or high school students. The book consists of several short chapters that progress chronologically through time, highlighting important women elected to the House of Representatives and Senate in different decades. This includes amazing stories about such trailblazing women like Jeannette Rankin from Montana, the first female representative in the country who was elected before women were given the right to vote in the Constitution. The book also features important women like Martha Wright Griffiths, who worked for equal pay for equal work; Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first Asian representative; and Shirley Chrisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress. There’s information about famous “first” ladies like Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman on a presidential ticket; Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House; and Hillary Clinton, the first female presidential candidate. Each chapter focuses on the challenges each woman faced relative to the context of how the world was viewing women in politics at that moment in time. It is inspiring to read their stories of how they overcame these challenges and fought hard to serve our country.
The short chapters make it easy to read this book with students in sections (either aloud or with small groups) rather than reading it cover to cover. One strength of the book is the extensive supporting information included. There is an Appendix with more short text on civics concepts like “how a bill is passed,” “impeachment,” and “women’s suffrage.” There is a complete list of all of the women who have ever been elected to Congress, and an extensive bibliography of sources for teachers and students to learn more about each person features. Bold photographs are on nearly every page. This is a great example of a book teachers could use to teach about the characteristics of non-fiction text, but they could (and should) use this for much more than that. A Woman in the House can be used as a resource for writing bibliographies of these amazing women, or to spur discussion about gender disparities that still exist today.
Hopefully in our students’ lifetimes there will be a female president. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work to do. Only five current governors are female, and even today only 18.5% of Congress is female. A Woman in the House doesn’t shy away from this statistic, encouraging everyone who reads this to think about the lack of diversity in our government. In addition to inspiring, perhaps it can influence some students to think, speak, and act.
Annie McMahon Whitlock is an Assistant Professor of Elementary Education at the University of Michigan-Flint. She serves on the National Council for Social Studies’ Notable Trade Books Committee, who chooses the best books published each year that can be used for teaching social studies. She reviews these books on Twitter (@AnnieWhitlock) and on Goodreads.