Book Bash: AAUW Howard County Branch members celebrate the written word

February 12, 2019 at 8:49 pm (books)

Each year, our branch of AAUW presents a program entitled Book Bash. It’s just what it sounds like: a celebration of books. Naturally I love this kind of event and am always glad to participate. Ever since going to work at the library in 1982, I’ve taken great pleasure in telling people what to read! (And before that too, actually.)

This year Susan, our program director, selected as our  theme “Exceptional Women.” Volunteer speakers could choose any book they wanted that would elucidate that concept. Here’s what we ended up with:

The subtitle of The Hidden Giants is 4,000 Years of Women in Science and Technology. And the presenter was author herself!

Sethanne chose to highlight two of the entries in her book. The first was: The First! Her name is En’Hedu’anna; she lived, approximately, in the year 2300 BCE:

She was the chief astronomer-priestess and as such managed the great temple complex of her city of Ur. She controlled the extensive agricultural enterprise surrounding the temple as well as those activities scheduled around the liturgical year. Although we do not have technical works from her we know that she was a learned, diversely talented woman of power.

She was also an accomplished poet. An example of her work can be found here.

Sethanne passed around a replica clay tablet on which was incised En’Hedu’anna’s name in cuneiform script:

This was certainly the niftiest visual aid I’ve encountered in quite some time.

Votive disc of En’Hedu’anna, found at the Ur excavation, ca.2300-2275


Possible likeness of En’Hedu’anna

Leaping forward several millennia, Sethanne then shared with us the story of Ellen Eglin. An African American woman well acquainted with the rigors of doing laundry in the 19th century, she invented wringers as a feature of the washing machine.

She obtained a patent for her invention, but later sold it for $18, explaining

“You know I am black and if it was known that a Negro woman patented the invention, white ladies would not buy the wringer. I was afraid to be known because of my color in having it introduced into the market, that is the only reason.”

While I had no trouble finding a picture of Ms Eglin’s invention, I had no luck locating a picture of the inventor herself. Kudos, anyway, to Sethanne Howard for bringing these and numerous other “Hidden Giants” out of the shadows and shining a bright light on them and on their achievements,.

Diane gave a fascinating presentation on the life and accomplishments of aviator Beryl Markham as described in her memoir West with the Night.

Most of us are fairly well acquainted with the life story of Jackie Kennedy. Fewer know very much about  Lee Radziwill. So it was interesting to learn about this younger sister who was always – well, the younger sister, perforce dwelling in the shadow of her more famous and glamorous sibling. Jean related the highlights of this dual biography in a way that made us eager to know more:


Deb shared her admiration for actress/singer Jenifer Lewis. Currently featured in the TV show Blackish, Lewis had to fight to overcome bipolar disorder, and she describes her struggle to achieve this and other milestones in her memoir The Mother of Black Hollywood.
Via her smartphone, Deb shared with us the sound of Jenifer Lewis’s exceptionally rich and plummy contralto voice.

  Barbara gave us some of the highlights from Michelle Obama’s blockbuster memoir. Just about everyone in my circle of book loving women has read and enjoyed this book; I’m still waiting for my reserve to come in.

  My choice for this program was In Byron’s Wake by Miranda Seymour, a book which tells the story of Ada Byron Lovelace and her mother Annabella Milbanke Byron. Click here for my blog post on this eminently readable tome.

In the course of reviewing for this brief presentation, I discovered several delightful children’s books about Ada Lovelace:

The topic of “Exceptional Women” has made me think of how many women I’ve encountered in my recent reading that definitely fit that description. To wit:

In After Emily:

The dazzling, mercurial, and mysterious poet, Emily Dickinson

Mabel Loomis Todd, beautiful and determined

Millicent Todd Bingham, Mabel’s equally stalwart daughter

In Beneath a Ruthless Sun:

Mabel Norris Reese – a woman who made me want to stand up and cheer!

In Mrs. Sherlock Holmes:

Grace Quackenbos Humiston, and her resourceful associates

In The Riddle of the Labyrinth:

Alice Kober, a stellar academic who labored in obscurity to solve a fiendishly difficult puzzle

In Schumann: The Faces and the Masks:

Clara Wieck Schumann, luminous concert pianist and loyal mainstay in the life of her equally brilliant , yet troubled and afflicted husband, Robert


1 Comment

  1. kdwisni1 said,

    Thanks for reminding me about Ada Lovelace. I need to add this to my to-read list.

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