With All Her Might

Gretchen Wilson, Author
Gretchen Wilson, Author Holmes & Meier Publishers $35 (0p) ISBN 978-0-8419-1386-8
Paperback - 231 pages - 978-0-86492-184-0
Paperback - 231 pages - 978-0-8419-1385-1
Ebook - 264 pages - 978-0-86492-611-1
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Cleverly using all the materials at her disposal--particularly the memoir, photos, quirky drawings, memorabilia and letters in Harding's scrapbook--Canadian writer Wilson crafts a charming, though sketchy, portrait of her great aunt, ""an ordinary woman... who, through coincidence, was able to seize a chance to help change the foundation of society."" Harding (1889-1977), a sheltered but adventuresome young woman, had traveled from rural Canada ending up in London, where she studied art. At 23, her sense of justice sparked by a march, she quit school to volunteer for the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), London's militant suffragettes who risked their lives to help women get the vote. Isolated from her family and uninterested in marriage, she devoted herself to the cause, graduating from organizer to courageous activist; she carried messages to secret hideouts, destroyed rare orchids in the Royal Botanic Gardens, trained armed female bodyguards and assisted WSPU's leaders, Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter, Christabel. Harding's life after the suffragettes--she was a social worker for 16 years before retiring--was uneventful, and readers may be frustrated with this shadowy figure's near-silence about her personal life (""Whether Gert fell in love with men, women or both is a matter of speculation. She was private about romance""). Most intriguing is the juxtaposition of Harding's personal perspective with Wilson's concise, clearly written history of women's increasingly desperate, unprecedented push for the vote in Great Britain. Photos. (Dec.)
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