Thursday, June 10, 2010

Shady Ladies: Nineteen Surprising and Rebellious American Women by Suzann Ledbetter

Title: Shady Ladies: Nineteen Surprising and Rebellious American Women
Author: Suzann Ledbetter
ISBN: 0765308274, Forge Books, 2006
Genre: Biography, Women's History
Rating: B+
Source: Paperback Swap

First Line: "So," I've been asked repeatedly, "what *is* a shady lady?"

Shady Ladies is a series of light and breezy biographies of nineteen 19th century American women who weren't content with the norm. The biographies range from the familiar--Margaret "the Unsinkable Molly" Brown-- to the more obscure, and Ledbetter has done an excellent job in finding women who will whet our appetites for more.

My favorites?

Sara Parton, who left an abusive husband to become a successful novelist under the pen name of Fanny Fern.

Sara Knight Borginnis Bowman, who "stood at least six-two in her stockinged feet and tipped a feed scale at better than two hundred exceedingly top-heavy pounds" and had a tendency to discard husbands whenever she felt like it. Sara rose from camp follower to the proprietor of a "full service hotel" for soldiers during the war with Mexico.

Frances Benjamin Johnston, who was a photojournalist fifty years before they had a name for her profession.

And Lydia Pinkham, who made a fortune with her Vegetable compound. (Before you laugh, how many other elixirs first marketed in 1875 can still be purchased today on Internet drugstore sites?)

Ledbetter clears up misconceptions concerning the more well-known figures, and brings others to life who had been long buried in the sands of time. I love reading about anyone who bucks the trend, and the author provides a bibliography for further reading, which is always a plus.

If you're in the mood for a fast-paced, fascinating account of women who didn't like the status quo, Shady Ladies is the book for you.

To close out this review, I'd like to include a video of how I first became acquainted with Lydia Pinkham as a teenager. I didn't realize this song was really about her!


  1. What a lively way to start my day! Love the song, and will certainly read the book.

  2. Sounds for interesting..I like reading about woman who didn't follow the trends too.

  3. This sounds like something I would love and it would work well for the Women Unbound challenge!!

  4. Barbara-- Good! Denis had to tell me that he liked the song version by Scaffold the best, but the Irish Rovers is the one I grew up on.

    Kris-- They're so much more interesting, aren't they?

    Lola-- Women Unbound? Most definitely!


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