In 2013, television writer and actor Tracy Dawson was passed over for a job writing shows because they didn't have any "female needs." Naturally infuriated, she became interested in women over the centuries whose opportunities and options have been limited by their sex. From this curiosity is born Let Me Be Frank, in which Dawson profiles several dozen women from the 1400s BCE through the present. In a pithy, one-liner-laden style, she brings these remarkable and little-known histories to light with comedic flair.
Some of the women are classics: Joan of Arc, Kathrine Switzer and a chapter's worth of once-anonymous literary figures who are now household names (Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, the Brontës, George Sand). But the majority are more obscure: Hannah Snell, who served as a Royal Marine in the 1750s; Ellen Craft, who fled slavery in 1848 disguised as a white male slaveowner. A teenaged Dorothy Lawrence, rejected as a war correspondent in World War I, took herself to the front by boat, bicycle and soldier's garb. The 1890s entertainer and male impersonator Florence Hines, 1940s comic book creator Tarpé Mills and 1980s miner and entrepreneur Pili Hussein are among these diverse, colorful stories.
Let Me Be Frank is peppered with punchy jokes in an informal, conversational tone that suits Dawson's background in television. Tina Berning's portraits evoke the women's personalities and literally color the narratives. The result is an easy-to-read, eye-opening look at female bravery amid sexism and misogyny throughout history; it is funny and rousing and proud. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia