The Wisdom Trail: In the Footsteps of Remarkable Women by Janet Lieberman and Julie Hungar, published by The Penguin Press (2009), New York; 209 pages; ISBN 978-1-59420-222-3
What was it like to be a woman living in the period of time in which the role of women changed from the expectation to get married and look after the home and the children, to the expectation to balance family life with a working life? Women who were born just before and during the depression lived through that change. Today many women move from work to homemaking and raising children and back to work again while still raising children. However, the women of The Wisdom Trail had no footsteps to follow on that path. They were the ones who blazed such a trail for their daughters and the women of today.
The Wisdom Trail is a nonfiction book. The authors are Janet Lieberman and Julie Hungar who are both members of the group about whom they are writing. In addition to their own stories, they interview 20 other women who they feel represent the “best of their generation”. Their purpose in writing this book is to profile the lives of these rather ordinary women who made significant accomplishments over their lifetime, and whose contributions have been widely overlooked by other writers.
These 22 women were individuals who had to forge a trail of their own to a “well-lived” life. Each story is unique. What they did have in common were the remarkable events that they lived through during this period – the depression, the Second World War, the civil rights era, and the women’s movement. They also had some common characteristics that they used to help accomplish some important changes in society. In the introduction the authors state that, “The capstone characteristic of all Wisdom Trail women is a lifetime commitment to serving the community and the world beyond.” Courage, flexibility, perseverance, love, and the ability to improvise are other traits that are identified as necessary to their achievements. These stories show the large variety of possibilities to live a life of both service to their community and personal satisfaction.
The Wisdom Trail is organized around these characteristics of the women in the stories. This means that portions of several of the women’s lives are discussed in each chapter. For me and for others, that structure made it difficult to remember which woman we were reading about at any given time because no clues were given to remind us about what we had already learned about each person. I would have preferred to read the complete story of each woman’s life in one chapter each. Picking out each woman’s strengths would have been much easier than flipping back through the book to remind myself what I had already read about that person. I think that should have been remedied by the editor.
Other than the book's structure, I feel that the book has something to offer women in general and students of women’s studies. It was very interesting to me to see how some women of that generation fought in a quiet determined way to meet their own personal goals against the norms of society at the time. I think stories in this book offer insight and motivation to other women. They show that it is possible to realize important personal and community goals in their own unique way by having courage, persistence, and the will to do so. Therefore I feel that many women who need that encouragement and motivation will benefit from reading this book.
I also feel that the book is one that should be read by those who are taking women’s studies courses. Just because a woman does not get thrown in jail or write a book about feminism or organize a country-wide rally does not mean that they have not made an important contribution to change in our society. These stories share some important information about how to help bring about change in courageous but quiet ways. Women such as those in this book, who often go unrecognized, have very significant effects on our lives. This book helps us to appreciate their contributions. It also helps us to learn how we, as more ordinary women can make a difference in the world. I therefore recommend The Wisdom Trail for students of women’s issues and for non-students who are interested in how women often bring about change in relatively quiet ways.
I received this book free of charge from the BellaOnline management to read and review. The review is my honest opinion about the book.
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The Wisdom Trail: In the Footsteps of Remarkable Women