Connected Women by Kate Hodges

The Blurb On The Back:

Behind every great woman …

Is another great woman.

Connected Women is a collection of 84 illustrated portraits that celebrate female collaboration and the extraordinary achievements, relationships and secret histories of pioneering women.

From ground-breaking scientist Marie Curie to political activist Malala Yousafzai; from feminist author Virgina Woolf to the game-changing Billie Jean King; Connected Women creates a gigantic web of womanhood, threading tales from across the globe and throughout history.

Featuring Michelle Obama, Gala Dalí, Emma Watson, Nina Simone, Frida Kayla, Coco Chanel, Greta Garbo, Eleanor Roosevelt, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and many more inspired and inspirational women who have shaped the world we live in today.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

You can order CONNECTED WOMEN by Kate Hodges from Amazon UK, and Waterstone’s.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Kate Hodges is a journalist with over 25 years of experience.  First published in 2018 and re-republished in 2023, this book of 84 portraits (illustrated by Sarah Papworth) shows the connections between women from the 19th century to the present day.  While it mixes lesser known women with the great and the good, it’s very western focused, some of the connections are tenuous and Papworth’s illustrations somewhat anaemic and lacking in personality.

The 84 women highlighted in this book are: Manuela Sáenz; Anita Garibaldi; Anna Magnani; Édith Piaf; Patti Smith; Meryl Streep; Emmeline Pankhurst; Sylvia Pankhurst; Louise Michel; Anna Jaclard; Sofia Kovalevskaya; George Eliot; Elizabeth Garrett Anderson; Mary Somerville; Ada Lovelace; Florence Nightingale; Elizabeth Blackwell; Susan B. Anthony; Harriet Tubman; Sojourner Truth; Harriet Beecher Stowe; Queen Victoria; Fanny Mendelssohn; Clara Wieck Schumann; Katharine Hepburn; Gypsy Rose Lee; Hedy Lamar; Joan Clarke; Amy Johnson; Héléne Dutrieu; Marie Marvingt; Maryse Hillsz; Amelia Earhart; Eleanor Roosevelt’s; Marie Mattingly Meloney; Marie Curie; Chien-Shiung Wu; Lise Meitner; Greta Garbo; Mercedes de Acosta; Isadora Duncan; Gertrude Stein; Sylvia Beach; Claude Cajun; Gala Dalí; Elsa Schiaparelli; Miuccia Pravda; Jil Sander; Coco Channel; Colette; Simone De Beauvoir; Iris Murdoch; Indira Gandhi; Maria Montessori; Anne Frank; Malala Yousafzai; Michelle Obama; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Beyoncé; Josephine Baker; Audrey Hepburn; Maeve Brennan; Dorothy Parker; Nichelle Nichols; Mae Jamison; Bessie Coleman; Mahalia Jackson; Nina Simone; Angela Davis; Gloria Steinem; Billie Jean King; Oprah Winfrey; Emma Watson; Misty Copeland; Alexandra Ferri; Virgina Woolf; Georgia O’Keeffe; Frida Kayla; Tamara Rojo; Pina Bausch; Angela Carter; Leonora Carrington; Remedios Varo; and Kati Horna.

On the plus side there are women from all kinds of political and social backgrounds here and from the arts, charities, campaigning and STEM backgrounds.  There were a number of woman here who I did not know anything about, e.g. pilot Bessie Coleman (the first African American and Native woman to hold a US pilot’s licence) and Chien-Shiung Wu (a Chinese born nuclear scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project).  The biographies, although brief, have a lot of information and definitely give enough information to make you want to find out more.

On the negative side, the focus in this book is very much on white western women.  Only 18 of the women in the book are WOC and while there is a high proportion of women from central and South America, there is only one from China, one from Pakistan and one from India.  Given that some of the connections here are where women have cited other women as an influence or inspiration, it’s really disappointing that there aren’t more WOC profiled here.

Also worth mentioning is that the nature of the book means that it’s essentially a personal choice by Hodges on who to include and who not to, but there are a number of woman in this book that made me raise my eyebrows as to why they were included but others not, e.g. if you’re going to include Florence Nightingale then why not Mary Seacole and also I had to question why Emma Watson was included other than to be a connection for Malala Yousafzai.  I was also surprised that the book included Coco Channel and described her behaviour during World War II as “dubious”, mentioning her Nazi officer lover but completely neglecting to disclose how she is a proven collaborator and Nazi sympathiser.  Frankly, given the number of other fashion designers included in the book, Channel was one who could have easily been dropped.

Each mini-biography has an illustration of the woman concerned by Papworth and to be honest, I found them too cutesy and anaemic.  None of the illustrations gave any sense of the personality or passion of the woman concerned and they are stylised to apparently focus on each woman’s attractiveness. 

I had some other issues with the book, which are not of the author’s making – namely the font size, which is very small.  I get that there was a lot of information within each biography but using a small font and putting the text in 2 columns makes it a bit tricky to read.

This isn’t a bad book, but I did wonder who it is aimed at and what it is for.  It seems too mature for the children’s market but is equally fairly basic and unchallenging when it comes to the adult non-fiction market.  If the idea is to show how women draw inspiration from each other, then why focus on friendships and relationships between them?  I came away from it feeling that it was all a bit muddled and unfocused and although I learned about some interesting women who I did not previously know about, I can’t say that I found this to be any kind of celebration of womanhood or got much of a sense for how the women focused on actually shaped each other. 

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