I admit it, I love reading about strong women, women who were “ahead of their time,” women who overcame adversity, women who stood up against injustice—and that always leads me to wonder how that author came to write about that particular woman. Upon reading the highly recommended A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women’s Rights, I just had to put that question to the author, Kate Hannigan.
Why Belva Lockwood, what led you to her specifically?
I came across Belva Lockwood as I was researching another remarkable woman from history—Nellie Bly. I was reading a series of interviews Nellie had done, and when I turned the page I saw a big photo of this serious, dignified woman. When I learned this was the first woman to launch a viable presidential campaign, I was hooked. I put off the Nellie story and conducted the “have you heard of her” test on friends and family. So when it came back that nobody else had heard of Belva, I knew I wanted to dust off her story and tell it for a new generation of readers.
Talk a little about the process involved in researching/writing a book like this.
I come from a newspaper background, so I tend to go to books and archival news articles first. Because my husband works for a university, I have access to a pretty remarkable library. A great many things have been digitized now, so I was able to call up newspapers from 1884 and 1888, when Belva ran for office, and see how the press treated her (quick answer: not very well!). And thankfully Belva was a smart, articulate woman who was trained as a lawyer, so she wrote eloquently about her commitment to social justice and women’s suffrage. I studied her own writings and those of others who knew her well.
How do you take a figure like Belva Lockwood—and all the information you gathered on her–and make her accessible for a younger audience?
That’s the real fun! As I did with another woman I’ve written about from history—America’s first female detective, Kate Warne, in The Detective’s Assistant (Little, Brown, 2015)—I imagined a child standing in the stacks of a library. What does she want to read? What resonates with her? In Belva’s life, she faced discrimination from an early age, from her father who saw no purpose in educating a female, from the schools who hired her for half the wages they paid male teachers, from the boys and men in her classes who scoffed at her wanting to learn and refused to sit near her. These are things a child can relate to, female or male. I tried to tap the feelings we all have about fairness and justice and being denied things we want so badly.
I think it’s an interesting progression to go from the purely fictional Cupcake Cousins, to The Detective’s Assistant, a historical fiction featuring the fictional niece of Pinkerton detective Kate Warne, to Belva Lockwood. What’s next? Are there other women you have your eye on?
Mining history for interesting lives well-lived seems to be my thing right now! I have a whole bunch of manuscripts under submission with publishing houses, most all of them featuring remarkable women from history whose accomplishments deserve the spotlight. I’d list them, but as with newspaper journalism, I dread getting scooped! But please stay tuned: I just received an offer on another book this morning, so there’s definitely more to come!
Keeping in mind that we’re a magazine for K-12 school librarians, is there anything you’d like to add that we haven’t touched on?
Truth and facts and history are so important right now—not only in our schools but in the workplace and our national dialogue. I want to be a part of that by writing stories about people who fought for justice, who upset the status quo, who tried to make a better world, and who didn’t get the attention they deserved. This nation was built by great men, but also great women, people of color, people who loved differently and lived differently. They say history is written by the winners, which is why for so long it’s been basically white and male. But now we can take deep dives into the past and find others who time forgot but who also played crucial roles, and we can tell their stories too.
“I have not raised the dead, but I have awakened the living” ~~Belva Lockwood
You’ll find more about Kate Hannigan and her books at http://www.katesbooks.com/en