Review: Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change

Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change
Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change by Barbara Winslow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I remember Shirley Chisholm running for president when I was in kindergarten. I was so impressed and was sure things would be so different by the time I was a woman. I’m eager to read her story and learn more about her ideas beyond my 5 year old comprehension level.

So, it’s a mixed bag: I am definitely enjoying the history, both national and New York, and the stories of Chisolm’s personal growth. I am jarred every few pages by things that were missed by the editor: errors in chronology; important players introduced by last name only as if they’ve appeared previously in the text, but they haven’t; and at least one political contest reported with an incorrect victor. There are also places in which, every time a person is mentioned, his name is spelled a new way. Because I know little about Chisolm herself, I can’t avoid wondering what else is wrong that I am not noticing. This is a big bummer because the book is part of a series (Lives of American Women) and is edited by an important women’s history scholar.

The persnikety editing bits aside, this is a book worth reading and Chisolm was a truly remarkable person. She appears to have been exceedingly brave and sure of her core inside herself. She kept her focus on advancing critical improvements for her constituents even in the face of constant derision by the old guard. It’s important to remember just how unusual it was for a woman to claim her power and authority in American politics in the 1960s and 70s. Even in grassroots organizations, women were expected to do the envelope stuffing, make coffee, and be girlfriends. Chisolm set the agenda. She’s just as cool as my kindergarten self thought she was. I wish I had known that she was teaching at Mt. Holyoke in the late 80s. I was nearby and would have definitely tried to sit in on one of her classes.

I would give this 4 stars, not because it’s a scintillating read, but because it is an extremely worthwhile one.

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