Wild Women of Michigan: A History of Spunk and Tenacity Book Review

Today is International Women’s Day. What a better way to celebrate it than reviewing a book that celebrates the women who defied expectations and changed the world. Coincidentally, I have one that just happens to fall into that category, and these women lived in Michigan at some point. It’s called Wild Women of Michigan: A History of Spunk and Tenacity by Norma Lewis. Even though it could have been written better, this book is a highly informative text that honors women who performed extraordinary acts that challenged the world.

Wild Women of Michigan: A History of Spunk and Tenacity ranges from known people like Gilda Radner and Gillian Anderson to the obscure like Anna Howard Shaw and Pearl Kendrick. The book even includes women of color like Sojourner Truth (she lived in Battle Creek until her death), Loney Gordon – an African-American woman who assisted Kendrick with developing the vaccines against diseases like the Whooping Cough, and Madeleine LaFramboise – a mixed Ottawa and French woman who was one of the most successful fur traders in the Northwest Territory in the early 19th century.

Lewis often injects a lot of older woman humor (which is not a bad thing) while telling the stories of these women. For example, when she discusses Lauren Wolfe – the first girl on the winning high school wrestling team because she was eligible for the boys’ team, she mentions, “it’s a safe bet that when in high school, any boys she dated took her word for it when she said no, and she didn’t have to ward off any attempts to engage her in the back-seat Chevy Cha-Cha-Cha” (p. 120). For younger audiences, it’s best to shake your heads and move on.

The one complaint that I have is the structure. In each chapter, there’s always a section that’s devoted to one person, but it will end up talking about others at the end. It could have worked better if Lewis had added other sections to emphasize women, in which not much is known about them outside of what they did, even if it means grouping them into one part. In addition, the book is structured based on topics like crime, sports, and reform. I think it’s fine, but it could be improved if it was structured by era.

I also noticed that the book was rushed editing wise. I noticed some factual errors while reading it. For instance, the author notes that blues singer Sippie Wallace was born in 1888 and died in 1986 at age 88 (p. 113-114). As someone who excelled in math in school, I sensed that something was wrong. A simple Google search confirmed that Wallace was actually born in 1898. A more egregious error occurs when the book talks about Alice Lawrence, who murdered her husband and married her brother Raymond Coates. It mentions that Raymond was from Detroit “but had to come to the eastern part of the state hoping to find work” (p. 129). Alice lived in Holland, which as far as I know, is in the western part of the state. Even if one doesn’t know where Holland is, most readers would know where Detroit is. For a book that has a whole lot of extensive research, I wish that someone had looked over the information just to make sure it was accurate on the most basic level. 

Overall, Wild Women of Michigan: A History of Spunk and Tenacity by Norma Lewis is an essential book for Michigan history. Although it could have been written and edited better, the positive aspect of learning about these wild women in an accessible way outweighs the negatives. I would recommend it to those who want to read more about women who defied expectations and a double must if they live in Michigan (like me). So have a happy International Women’s Day, everybody!

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Published by emilyblakowski

I work at two public libraries in southeast Michigan, and I facilitate a book club for one of them. I also hold a Bachelor's degree in History and Theatre from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI; a Master's degree in Library and Information Science from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI; and a Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration also from Wayne. In my downtime, I love hanging out with friends, listening to music (like classic rock and K-pop), and watching shows like "Monty Python's Flying Circus"!

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