When I was starting university, I had doubt what I wanted to study. For years I had been telling people I wanted to pursue a PhD in history and eventually become a university professor. That career ambition lasted all of three semesters as I quickly realized that academic life wasn’t for me, but my love for the actual study of history never wavered.
History for me has never been about dates and facts—the often dry approach that can so easily turn people off from the subject in school. It’s about story, and since my main focus was on social history it’s always been about the story of people.
In my freshman year, my eventual advisor nudged me toward studying gender and sexual during the Victorian era. I fell in love with this rich area of history, mostly because it was filled with stories. Women’s stories. History had slowly been waking up to the value of telling the often ignored stories of women throughout history, but what I was studying still felt new, exciting and—sometimes—dangerously subversive.
Now, well into my writing career, it’s no surprise that women’s stories thread through all of my historical fiction. I’ve written about Victorian governesses, artists, and shop owners. I’ve written about Gunner Girls in World War II who manned anti-aircraft guns and threw themselves into danger to help Britain win the war. Each of these characters were based on real people who left behind fascinating records of their lives, if only we cared to look.
The extraordinary thing about all of this isn’t necessarily the way these women lived their lives—often they were just doing what it took to survive or make their way in the world. It’s how many people don’t know their stories. The Gunner Girls are truly heroes of World War II, but when I begin to tell people about the plot of The Light Over London, I’m usually met with “Oh, I think I’ve heard something about them” at best and “I had no idea” at worst.
It feels a bit absurd that it is 2019 and we feel a need to designate a month to women’s history in 2019 when—to paraphrase a woman famous for making her own history—women’s history is history. Still the lack of general knowledge of women’s contribution to every aspect of world history is undeniably widespread. This is only compounded when looking to women from different racial or cultural backgrounds.
And so the need for a Women’s History Month each March persists. This year, I’m celebrating with 31 days of stories, photographs, videos, and songs on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest that highlight a woman who made a significant contribution to or is notable for her place in history. My hope is that men and women alike will stumble upon these and their interest will be sparked to learn more about these extraordinary women.