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Literacy Heroines

Women and the Written Word


Alice S. Horning

Literacy Heroines is about twelve amazing women who lived and worked in the period 1880-1930 who used their literacy abilities to address major issues in the country in those years, including some we still face today: racism, sexism, voting rights, educational and economic inequality, health disparities and others. They used their exemplary literacy skills to teach, to bring issues to light, to right wrongs, to publish books, articles, pamphlets and other materials to reach their goals. They benefited from focused help in the form of sponsorship from others and provided sponsorship in many forms to others to foster literacy in people young and old. They stand as Literacy Heroines, working in a variety of roles, using their literacy abilities in heroic efforts to serve as respected exemplars and sponsors of literacy for others. They used their grit and willingness to stand up for their principles, took small steps, worked collaboratively, hospitably inviting people to literacy. Ultimately, it should be clear that in one way or another, the Heroines were addressing the many forms of inequality in American society; their lives and work show that literacy is thus a key tool in the struggle for social justice, then and now. Suitable for courses in the history of literacy or writing studies, history of feminism, history of education and related areas.

“With Literacy Heroines, Alice Horning offers us the profiles and contributions of some major literacy sponsors whose literacy labors helped shape American education, social activism, and culture from the turn of the century to the early quarter of the twentieth century. These women understood the potent force of critical reading and writing, and Horning underscores how their literacy efforts act as exemplary models for our own twenty-first century literacy sponsorships.” —Mark McBeth, Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and English Ph.D. Program, The Graduate Center/CUNY

“Alice Horning has produced a volume that carefully highlights the critical roles twelve American women from the late nineteenth- to mid-twentieth century played as ‘literacy heroines,’ using their exceptional reading and writing abilities to enhance the skills of their own cultural contemporaries. Horning, a specialist in literacy, reading, and writing, explains how these already accomplished women, including Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mary McLeod Bethune, Sarah Winnemucca, Jane Addams, Gertrude Buck, and Ida Wells-Barnett, drew on their literacy to develop self-improvement in others and social justice for all. These critical goals are both pertinent—and indeed urgent—today.” —Shirley Wilson Logan, Professor Emerita, University of Maryland