March has been designated as Women’s History Month. Eric Metaxas has written a book about seven very different, but incredible women that will interest and inspire middle school and high school students. 7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness is published by Thomas Nelson; Reprint edition (2016)
The question that Metaxas answers is “what makes a woman great?” Is it leading the French army, having nineteen children of which two will become preachers and hymn writers, helping to abolish slavery, saving Jews during the Holocaust, standing up for civil rights, or working in the poverty neighborhoods of Calcutta? Each woman in the book was not afraid to stand up for God or what was right.
Joan of Arc was a teenager when she led the French army into battle against the English. She faced the challenges both of men not wanting to fight for her because she was a woman and of faction groups not taking her seriously. Despite these trials, her battle victories led to a France free from British rule. The triumph came at a personal cost. It ended her life, but with Mextaxas’ help the reader sees that it is not the end of her story.
Susanna Wesley was the wife of Samuel Wesley and the mother of 19 children. Susanna’s husband was not good with money. He borrowed often until he could not repay. Despite her husband’s debt, Susanna found her joy in raising her children to be strong people. She started educating her children at age five about faith, wrote two textbooks for her children, and she believed her daughters should be educated as well. The family would survive poverty and two house-fires.
Two of her sons would lead the modern Methodist movement: forming churches, starting hospitals and orphanages. Her son Charles wrote many hymns. The reader will recognize the names of some of the songs which are still sung today.
Hannah More was a writer who changed the world. She wrote books and plays. After reading John Newton’s book Cardiphonia, she was inspired to join with Wilberforce in the fight to end slavery. Her role was to help everyday Britons look at the inhumanity of the slave trade. It will prove satisfying to read that just before her death in 1833, Parliament passed a law ending slavery in the British Empire.
Mextaxas also gives the reader glimpses into the fascinating but relatively unknown life of Saint Maria of Paris. Of Ukrainian ancestry, she would, after the Russian Revolution, spend many years in France. She was raised Eastern Orthodox, but after her father’s tragic death she claimed to become an atheist.
As a young woman, she married a Bolshevik and became immersed in revolutionary ideas, but the marriage did not last. She subsequently returned to her Christian faith. In time she married again. Forced to flee Communist Russia, she and her family eventually ended up in Paris. After the tragic death of her third child and the end of her second marriage she began to open up her home to those who needed a place to stay. During the German Occupation of France, she helped with the resistance, actively transporting, hiding, and helping Jews escape France. She was discovered, arrested and . . .
Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch woman and a devout Christian, believed that the Jews were God’s chosen people from the Old Testament. As adults, she and her sister Betsie led boys’ and girls’ clubs, teaching Bible study and leading other activities for teens.
In 1940, Holland was invaded by Nazi Germany. Corrie and her family resisted the Nazis and provided a hiding place for Jews in their home. In time Corrie and her family were arrested for this choice. Corrie and Betsie were transported to Ravensbruck and. . . . There, the two led Bible study with a smuggled Bible. The two women prayed for the women in the camp and the guards as well. Betsie died in Ravensbruck, but Corrie was released. She made her way back to the Netherlands where she once again opened her home–this time to concentration camp survivors.
Rosa Parks is most famous for refusing to give up her seat to a white man during the era of segregation in the American South, but there is more to her story. Parks grew up attending church and learning from her family about her history. In 1932 Rosa married Raymond Parks a barber, church sexton and member of the Montgomery, Alabama chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). During the 1940’s she and her husband became more involved in the civil rights movement.
In 1954 a break came for the movement—the Brown v. the Board of Education decision. Public education was no longer segregated, but buses remained segregated. Many African-Americans began to think about a boycott while the Montgomery NAACP filed a lawsuit against the public transportation. The plan was for a woman to not give up her seat, but who would do it? Little did Rosa Parks know, it would be she.
Mother Teresa was born Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu. Her father died when she was young, sending her family into poverty. Despite their own poverty, young Agnes’ mother looked after the poor in the community and helped clean or cook for them. The family lived a life of faith and religion. At age 18 Agnes learned about Society of Jesus in India, who worked with the poor and sick in Calcutta. In 1928, she began her life as a nun and dedicated that life to working with the poorest of the poor in India. Metaxas’ description of that work shows how she lived her life by Jesus’s command in Matthew 25:34-40.
This book is about women who made a difference in their world. All stood up accepting their mission from God. Each teaches us a lesson in faith and inspires us to follow in their footsteps. I would encourage middle school and high school students to read this book. There are some words and details a parent might need to explain, including the context of history and the use of certain language.
Kristina O’Brien is a mother, an avid reader and a credentialed teacher. She has taught both middle school and high school history.