Reviewed in the United States on March 28, 2006
Pat Paulsen once said that in America every boy can grow up to be president; or, if he never grows-up, vice-president (remember how they portrayed Dan Quayle on "Saturday Night Live"?). But what about if you are a girl instead of a boy? No girl has ever grown up to be president and only one has grown up to even run for vice-president on a major party ticket. However, at this writing the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party for the 2008 election is Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Running for president is not the same as being elected, but Catherine Thimmesh highlights this progress in the sub-title of her book, "Madam President: The Extraordinary, True (and Evolving) Story of Women in Politics."
This book looks at the women who have played key roles in political history, and one of the interesting things is that instead of proceeding chronologically from Abigail Adams to Condoleezza Rice it does so within the context of specific categories. Thimmesh begins her book with a kids talking about what they want to be when they grow up. When one young girl says she wants to grow up to become president, a young boy scoffs at the idea. Others then come up with alternatives, such as marrying a president. Thimmesh then looks at a half-dozen first ladies: Abigail Adams, Edith Bolling Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Lady Bird Johnson, Rosalynn Carter, and Clinton. Each is covered in a two-page spread that tells why each is remembered, with a key quotation highlights in blue print.
From marrying the president the book turns to voting for president, and looks at Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Charlotte Woodward, Susan B. Anthony, Sara Bard Field, and Mrs. J.L. Burn, and the parts they played in getting women the vote. One of the strengths of this book is that it looks at women whose names are not usually remembered in this regard, so it does get beyond the usual women who are remembered. The next category is working in Congress, beginning with the first Congresswoman, Jeannette Rankin, and the first Senator, Margaret Chase Smith, and ending with Nancy Pelosi the current minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives. Then the book looks at women who have been appointed by presidents to serve in the Cabinet and elsewhere: Frances Perkins, Madeleine Albright, Sandra Day O'Connor, Condoleezza Rice.
The briefest category has Geraldine Ferraro, the only women to run on a major party ticket (twenty years ago), and the final category is devoted to women who have been presidents and prime ministers in foreign countries: Sirimvao Bandaranaike of what was then Ceylon, Vigdis Finnbogadottir of Iceland, Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain, and Benzair Bhutto of Pakistan. When young readers get to the end of the book George Washington will help point out that to become president all you need to be is an American citizen, born in the States, and at least thirty-five years old. Clearly, at that point there is nothing else to be said to make the case for a woman becoming president. The back of the book has a Timeline that looks at the history of women and politics in the United States (notice that the first line covers 146 years, the second 58, and the final one only 22 years as the political evolution of women was been speeding up).
If Senator Clinton gets the nomination there will be many who will not vote for her because she is a woman, and there will be many who will vote for her because she is (and even more who will simply not vote, which is arguably worse than exhibiting a gender bias in either direction). So having a woman run for president or even winning and being the first Madam President does not mean sexual equality is at hand. But most young people who read this book will have every reason to believe that the first woman president of the United States is going to be elected during their lifetime. Final Note: The illustrations in this book were hand drawn by Douglas B. Jones with pencil on paper and then color was applied using Photoshop on a Mac. I mention this because they struck me as looking somewhat unique and this process might just explain why in case you were wondering too.