Book Review: “Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color”

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Book Review: “Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color”

Thumbnail image from Pixabay

By Kathy A. Megyeri 

As the first female governor of New York assumes her post, she, Kathy Hochul, claims to be independent, promises to speak out for what she believes, and vows to live a life of purpose which is to better the conditions of people in her state.  And what a perfect feminist she is—moving beyond “women are awesome” to a greater focus on equal rights, prosperity and opportunities everywhere for everyone.   

But Hochul stands on the shoulders of women who never had a platform for their voices. This collection of inspirational pieces from Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring features stories and quotes by historical feminists that tie in perfectly with today’s political and social issues. Each is highlighted in artwork that combines text and images in graphic design and letterpress of broadsides or broadsheets that were the forerunners of our modern posters. Since women dominate the field of printing today, how appropriate that these two compiled such a beautiful volume dedicated to all women.  

Image from Amazon

Chandler O’Leary received her degree from the Rhode Island School of Design, spent a year in Italy studying art history and writes an illustrated travel blog called “Drawn the Road Again.” Jessica Spring graduated with a Masters from the Columbia College Center of Book and Paper Arts, teaches printing and book arts and designs, typesets and prints artist books at Springtide Press. Both collaborated on these broadsides to feature quotes by historical feminists tied in with current political and social issues.  Each limited-edition broadside was letter press printed from illustrations and hand drawn lettering.  They’ve released new broadsides quarterly since their series began in 2008 and are posted on DeadFeminists.com. 

This particular volume is a joy to read, give or keep. Women like Annie Oakley, Babe Zaharias, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman, Marie Curie, Rachel Carson, Shirley Chisholm and Virginia Woolf are brought to life through their own words and historical images. Feminist history comes alive through memorable and beautiful art as the women’s words and deeds are portrayed in photographs and posters. The volume encompasses design, printing, history and feminism. 

Authors Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Springs. Image from Literary Arts

BookPage says this is art with, “the power to incite and unite women of every age and stage.” Herein lies the wisdom of feminists throughout history featured in hand-drawn letterpress prints. What a combination—so good in fact that I was tempted to rip out some of the high-quality pages and frame them because their drawings, photographs, artifacts and text tell the story of the entire women’s movement. 

Last year, Spring and O’Leary created an original broadside featuring Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s famous quote: 

“We have the oldest written constitution still in force in the world, and it starts with three words, ‘We the people.’” 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The broadside was issued six weeks following her death, was hand-printed in two special limited editions entitled “Weave the People” and “Re-weave the People” and were printed in gold ink to symbolize the preciousness of our democracy. The title “Weave the People” denotes the “fragile hand-stitched safety net that underpins our democracy and is of intricate design inspired by old lacemaking methods and women’s work of knitting, tatting and bobbin lace. And RBG’s words are woven into a collar like the one she regularly wore.”  

All proceeds went to the National Women’s Law Center and the response was so overwhelming that new editions had to be created, which shows the nerve these two women struck with their book and their subsequent broadside featuring Ginsburg. They’ve gone on to create an exhibition on women’s suffrage for the Washington State History Museum.  And although I will have missed this exhibition, I still have O’Leary’s and Springs’ gorgeous volume in my hands with two quotes I shall treasure forever: 

“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals.” 

Marie Curie

“To be human is to grow old.” 

SAPPHO (630-570 BC) SHE WAS THE ONLY WOMAN AMONG THE 9 LYRIC POETS IN ANCIENT GREECE AND WAS CHOSEN BY O’LEARY AND SPRING IN HOPES THAT ALL WOMEN MIGHT SEE THEMSELVES BOTH WITH APHRODITE’S GAZE AND ATHENA’S WISDOM 

Thank you, ladies. 

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