Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Women in the Footnotes of History

March 14 - Today's post provided by Sylvia Branzei-Velasquez

In 1995, my first book Grossology was released. As a science teacher I came up with an idea to teach science through gross stuff. I never gave much thought to my gender as I wrote the book. On the Grossology book tour, I kept hearing, “A woman wrote that book!” “How is it that a female would be into gross stuff? Guys like gross stuff!” and “I’ll bet little boys really like your book.”
 The numbers showed our sales were pretty evenly split between girls and boys. Then the fan mail arrived. Many letters and emails were from young women saying, “You are a girl and you like gross stuff too,” and “I am glad a woman wrote this book.” I had no idea something as simple as a woman writing about snot and farts would cause so much reaction, especially at the end of the twentieth century.

Over a decade later, I began writing Rebel in a Dress- a series about independent women in history. My lists started with the well-known females like Amelia Earhart for the Adventurers book and Annie Oakley for the Cowgirls book. However, as I searched for rebels in dresses, I found I felt more of a connection to the lesser-known females who impacted our perception of women.  Often these women were just doing their own thing and not thinking, "You can't do that, you're a girl."  Like my experience with Grossology, they probably didn't even realize they were being rebels.  These women were following their passion.  I could identify with them.  You might call them accidental rebels in dresses or women in the footnotes of history.

In the autumn of 2006, my husband, Byron, told me, “This person just skied all seven summits of the world. She is the first person to ever do that.” I was impressed, especially since I was still conquering the bunny hill. Kit DesLauriers- the first person to do something, not just the first woman. When it was time to write Adventurers, I remembered her. Research revealed Kit as a footnote. This was a personal goal for Kit, so only a handful of people even knew what she set out to accomplish. I found only one interview that took place one week before she took on her last peak, Everest. Just think, before Kit could ski from each of the Bass list of seven summits, she had to climb them! Only 150 people before her had ever done this and just 21 of them were women. Then after climbing all the way to the top, Kit strapped on her skis and took off from the highest peak on each continent. Whoa! When asked about her amazing feat, Kit said, “I’m someone who followed her heart.”

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Kit DesLauriers
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Kit on Everest

This footnote woman is just a mention, or shall I say “footnote”, in my Cowgirl book. In the section on Johanna July, a sidebar says, “Johanna July, the horsetamer, would have been lost to history if it were not for Florence Angermiller. During the 1930s, Angermiller was hired by the United States government to collect oral histories of pioneer life. Johanna July was one of the people interviewed.” As I searched for rebel cowgirls, I came across the name Florence Angermiller. She worked for the Federal Writer’s Project collecting histories from folks who lived in Texas. Florence’s story gathering included Slave Narratives of Texas, Pioneer Experiences and Tales, and Range Tales and Cowboy Experiences. As I wrote about the Black Seminole mustang tamer, Johanna July, I kept thinking, “If it weren’t for the diligence of Florence Angermiller, I wouldn’t even know about this amazing woman. Wow, Angermiller had no idea of the impact of her work.” So, in the section on the footnote woman, Johanna July, I gave a footnote to Florence Angermiller-Fenley. It just seemed right.
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Florence Angermiller

For Women’s History month, let’s honor the famous woman. And let’s also celebrate the women relegated to the footnotes of Women’s History. Chances are you are one yourself.

For more info:
Kit DesLauriers home page:

Florence Angermiller interviews:

Rebel in a Dress: Cowgirls

Editor's Note:  

Sylvia Branzei Velasquez is a children's nonfiction author, performer of educational shows for kids, and an educational consultant and trainer.  A former science teacher, she now lives in Southern Oregon with her husband and two cats.  She and her husband also have a band for children called Wacky Dog, which performs at schools, libraries, festivals, and events.  


  1. Very interesting! What a shame these women are merely footnotes. Kit DesLauriers sounds especially fascinating. Someone should write a book about her! (hint, hint) ;-)

  2. My kids love your Grossology books. Is the Museum of Science exhibit based on your book too? They loved that too!

    I am mixed on the unknown women of greatness. On the one hand, it's fun to discover these impressive women. On the other, it's crazy that no one knows about them.

    I will be sure to keep your book lying about so my girls see it. I think that's the only way this will change; you have to educate the next generation.


    1. Yup, exhibit is based on my books. And I even co-designed it! Thanks. And yes, I too am mixed on the women of unknown greatness.

  3. It's unfortunate that women can be footnotes in history, but I look forward to reading about all of these wonderful women.