"Deny the world, defy the devil, despise the flesh, and delight yourself only in the Lord."
— Lady Jane Grey
Inspirational examples of women moving beyond their cultural, social, familial, or even physical limitations are something I’m always drawn to. Often, I read aloud books to my girls books like Clementine, or the American Girls series, or Betsy-Tacy books where they learn from heroines past and present. My little girls love the Paperbag Princess where she saves the knight instead of the other way around.
I am a sucker for a good mystery, so because I’ve visited many, we’ll start there.
“Nancy, every place you go, it seems as if mysteries just pile up one after another.”
― Carolyn Keene, The Message in the Hollow Oak
When I first truly fell in love with reading it was because I met Nancy Drew. I visited every library nearby gobbling every book in the series that I could get my hands on. She taught me to be courageous, to use my mind, to mull over information to make better decisions, and that it’s possible to have an appropriate boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. Nancy always saves the day and she does it because she loves to help, not for the fame, the glory, or for money.
Flavia de Luce
“You are unreliable, Flavia,' he said. 'Utterly unreliable.'
Of course, I was! It was one of the things I loved most about myself.”
― Alan Bradley, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag
The precocious, adorable, witty, loveable Flavia de Luce, age eleven, saves the day. She has a passion for chemistry, mostly poison, and an intelligence that astounds. She’s always pouring over books, checking the library, taking notes of facts she discovers. She’s a regular scholar in a quiet town in England where nothing ever happens…except for a murder every now and then. She always seems to be in the wrong place at the right time; but if you ask her, it’s the right place at the right time. She keeps the local inspector on his toes and he often swallows a bit of crow, ‘er jackdaw?, to find out what Flavia knows so no stone is left unturned. She loves every bit of it, especially if it impresses his wife Antigone, who she hero worships. Flavia is a girl who loves to save the day because it’s just who she is and she can’t help it. With her best friend Gladys, her trusty bike, she sets off each day with a plan.
“People can save the world by the way they think and by the way they behave and what they hold to be important.” ~Cyndi Lauper
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” -Jane Eyre
“I would always rather be happy than dignified.” -Jane Eyre
Oh, Jane! One cannot read Jane Eyre and not be transformed into a better person. Jane had trial after trial, yet remained steadfast in her faith, in what she believed. She was a woman of integrity. As a governess for a man she fell in love with, she refused to become his mistress. She knew she was worth more than that. She held her ground as hard as it was and miserable as she felt. Jane saves Rochester because of her integrity and self-respect, she saves him from himself. This story has so many layers of depth, one paragraph doesn’t do it justice, and I’ll bet, by reading it, her story will save aspects of your life as well with her example and wisdom.
“What men and women need is encouragement. Their natural resisting powers should be strengthened, not weakened ... Instead of always harping on a man's faults, tell him of his virtues. Try to pull him out of his rut ... Hold up to him his better self, his real self that can dare and do and win out! ... People radiate what is in their minds and in their hearts.”
― Eleanor H. Porter, Pollyanna
Pollyanna is a lovable orphan who is taken in by her Aunt Polly to live after her father dies. Aunt Polly is wealthy and powerful in the town she lives and most people, including the pastor, allow her to be the main decision maker. This is partially because she is the one with the money and the town relies on her contributions. When Pollyanna comes she single-handedly pulls the whole town together in a more loving way by teaching them the Glad Game.
“I think we are ready to know that there are going to be people who are ready to save the world, who come out when you're in trouble and make sure that you're okay.” ~Jennifer Love Hewitt
"It seemed very important somehow, though she knew she was presuming things about the Indian character, that she and the others should exhibit all the dignity their destitute circumstances would allow. Somehow, she felt, dignity might be all that could keep them alive. It was a notion she had arrived at largely by watching the straight-backed carriage of the tall chieftain."
“Mary Ingles was a twenty-three, happily married, and pregnant with her third child when Shawnee Indians invaded her peaceful Virginia settlement in 1755 and kidnapped her, leaving behind a bloody massacre. For months, they held her captive. But nothing could imprison her spirit.
With the rushing Ohio River as her guide. Mary Ingles walked one thousand miles through an untamed wilderness no white woman had ever seen. Her story lives on extraordinary testimony to the indomitable strength of one pioneer woman who risked her life to return to her own people.” (James Thom’s website)
She had ESP and often she and others narrowly escaped harm because she trusted her instincts. Her courage saved her family members and got her back to her husband’s arms again and soon after to save their community with her spiritual vision. This is a truly life-changing book, though more for adults.
"Well then, seconds," Mamma said, cutting the rest of the huge pastry. "Now mind, tomorrow I don't want anyone acting as if they never saw food before. If you're going to starve, any of you, do it politely in the barn, and not before company." (Applesauce Needs Sugar by Victoria Case)
Mamma is another quintessential mother I look to as someone I identify with. She lived in a different era than I and because she a woman was often under the thumb of men. Society limited what women could do. Oh, but Mamma was a thinker. She always had a way of getting the upper hand in a situation and changing the community, protecting her family, and gaining due respect. Reading her story is like watching her in action. She is a woman who saves the day despite her limitations. I think this is the first book I've ever almost completely identified with the protagonist...all the way down to the number of children she had.
There were so many lessons in this book it would make a great read aloud. This is now a classic for our home.
“Women are leaders everywhere you look -- from the CEO who runs a Fortune 500 company to the housewife who raises her children and heads her household. Our country was built by strong women, and we will continue to break down walls and defy stereotypes.” -- Nancy Pelosi
Portia is an amazing example of woman’s power, even in a time when women had fewer rights and respect.
• She is beautiful and intelligent.
• She is wise: “I never did repent for doing good, Nor shall not now.” (line 1760)
• She is discerning: “Very vilely in the morning, when he is sober, and most vilely in the afternoon, when he is drunk: when he is best, he is a little worse than a man, and when he is worst, he is little better than a beast: and the worst fall that ever fell, I hope I shall make shift to go without him.” (line 280)
• She is determined: “I will have nothing else but only this; And now methinks I have a mind to it.”
• She is a faithful wife: “We have been praying for our husbands’ healths, Which speed, we hope, the better for our words. Are they return’d?” (line 2575)
Portia not only saves his skin, literally, and a pound of his flesh, she also preserves his life. What an amazing example of womanhood is Portia!
You don’t need to wear a red cape to save the day. Women in these seven books manage it as part of who they are. What they all have in common is they think deeply, they never give up, they are creative and clever and take on a challenge head on.