Monday, March 4, 2013

Women in History: Esther Morris

I Could Do That! Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote
By Linda Arms White; illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
40 pages, ages 7 - 9
Melanie Kroupa Books (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)  2005
 “In 1820, six-year-old Esther McQuigg studied her mother making tea. ‘I could do that,’ she said.
‘Make tea?’ asked Mama. ‘The older girls do that.’
‘But I want to learn,’ said Esther, and she did.”

So begins the story of Esther Hobart Morris, a woman who thought women “could do that” – whether it was supporting their families with jobs to voting for president.  Linda White paints a portrait of a young girl who has gumption and doesn’t let social convention hold her back from her dreams.

Esther was born in Spencer, NY – a town 20 minutes to the west of me. When she was a young woman, she opened a hat shop in Owego – a town 20 minutes to the south of me. She attended abolitionist meetings, married, raised a family and, when her husband died, tried to claim his land. But inheritance laws worked against women back then.

She eventually remarried, saw one son off to the Civil War, attended lectures by Susan B Anthony and retained her belief that one day she would vote. In 1869 she joined her husband and oldest son in South Pass City, Wyoming where she opened another hat shop.

Esther Morris memorial & home, South Pass City, WY
“One day,” writes White, “Esther read a proclamation tacked to a wall: ALL MALE CITIZENS 21 AND OLDER ARE CALLED TO VOTE IN THE FIRST TERRITORIAL ELECTIONS. Esther looked around at the disorderly young men.
‘It’s time I did that,” she said.”

After a politically strategic tea party, lots of lobbying and a testy legislative session, she and the women of Wyoming won the vote. That same year she was elected to public office, and became the first woman justice of the peace in the nation and the world – but that’s a different story.

What I love about this book is the theme of “I can do that” – a sentiment all children can identify with. Check out more nonfiction about amazing women and other cool topics over at Supratentorial today. Review copy from Finger Lakes Library System.


  1. This looks like a great book. I need more things to inspire my daughter to realize she can do more than be a too-cutesy idol on tv. I will look for a copy of this!

  2. Thanks for sharing this book! I didn't know about it and it fits in perfectly with the one I reviewed today for Nonfiction Monday ... Heart On Fire - Susan B. Anthony Votes for President at True Tales & A Cherry On Top

    1. I noticed you posted that - I think a bunch of us have the same idea...

  3. I had not heard about Esther.. so glad to have found this one. We never tire of inspirational books esp. those on women! Thanks for sharing.

  4. My grandmother was 27 before she was able to vote, so I love to read books like this. May have to give sine if these at baby showers! Never too young to be a feminist!

  5. Hadn't known about Esther till this post -- love her spunk and determination. What an inspiring woman -- will have to look for this book. Thanks.