Picks and Pans Review: Women of Achievement
Anyone who still doubts that women have made significant contributions to history—good, bad and indifferent—ought to be sentenced to memorize these three Who's Who-ettes. In her book (St. Martin's, $14.95), Blashfield, a former encyclopedia editor, goes in for superlatives. She lists the Most Successful Female Financial Wizard of the 19th Century (Hetty Green), the Most Influential Female to Oppose Women's Suffrage (Queen Victoria), the Only Former Child Star to Be an Ambassador (Shirley Temple Black) and the Last Woman to Have Her Breast Serve as the Mold for Drinking Goblets (Marie Antoinette), among hundreds of others. There's some amusement in the choices, but Blashfield may henceforth be known as the Only Woman to Trivialize Feminist History. Nash, a Chicago-based crime writer, offers a more pointed, fascinating compendium of women outside the law (Evans, $18.95). He includes such historic figures as Moll Cutpurse, the 17th-century London pickpocket, Elizabeth Hicks, an English girl hanged in 1716, at age 11, as a witch, and Mata Hari. More modern criminals are represented by Ma Barker, the 1930s Midwest terror whose gang included her four sons, three of them homosexuals, and Alvin "Old Creepy" Karpis, one son's lover and a procurer of young girls for Ma, who was bisexual. But perhaps the most interesting (and longest) entry is on Marie Lafarge, the Frenchwoman convicted in 1841 of poisoning her oafish husband, who had pretended to be a rich landowner so he could capture her and her dowry. The Raven-Weir work (Harmony Books, $19.95) would have profited from the sort of extensive bibliography Nash provides, but it's still intriguing. Raven, a British historian, and Weir, who teaches at London University, concentrate on universally admired women. Their choices focus on innovators, not merely achievers, and include Cleopatra, Sappho, Queen Elizabeth I (though not II), Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Betty Friedan (not Gloria Steinem), Marilyn Monroe, Billie Jean King (not Chris Evert) and Indira Gandhi. Among the lesser-knowns of the 476 listees: Boudicca, the warrior queen of Britain's Iceni tribe, who fought the Romans around A.D. 61, Walladah al-Mustakfi, an 11th-century Spanish poet, Carrie Chapman Catt, the American suffragist, and Valentina Tereshkova, the only woman astronaut.