A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women’s Rights by Kate Hannigan, illustrated by Alison Jay


A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women’s Rights by Kate Hannigan, illustrated by Alison Jay. Calkins Creek, c2018, 2022. 9781635925555

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Paperback picture book

Genre: Biography

What did you like about the book? Growing up in western New York, Belva Lockwood was a fearless and smart girl who became a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse at just 14 years old (and was dismayed to realize that she was paid half of a male teacher’s salary).  She went to college over her father’s objections, and graduated with honors in 1857.  She taught in several schools and began to see that the nascent women’s rights movement of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton ought to start with the treatment of girls; she made it a point to instruct her female students in public speaking and encourage them to participate in physical activities alongside their male classmates.  After the Civil War, Belva was ready for a change and set out for Washington, DC where she intended to go to law school.  It took some effort to be allowed to attend, and then, despite completing her coursework, the school refused to give her a diploma until Ulysses S. Grant – who was president of the university AND the United States – intervened.  Belva focused her work as an attorney on helping widows, veterans, and formerly enslaved people fight for their rights, but most judges and courts didn’t want to hear from a woman lawyer.  She kept fighting all the way to the Supreme Court, finally being accepted as the first female member of the bar in 1879.  In the 1880s, while continuing to work on cases involving equality and civil rights, Belva turned her attention to the women’s suffrage movement, and decided to run for president in 1884.  Her name did appear on the ballot, and she received over 4,000 votes.  “It wasn’t enough to beat Grover Cleveland…but it was enough to start people thinking.”

Belva Lockwood may be as well-known as some of her contemporaries in the 19th century women’s rights movement, but her contributions are significant and worth learning.  This outstanding picture book biography chronicles the facts of her life (through the 1884 election, though she died in 1917) and delves into the injustices she experienced and observed that spurred her to keep fighting.  The plain-truth storytelling style of the writing and the folk art illustrations combine to portray Belva as a folk hero of sorts, and rightly so.  Many direct quotes from Belva Lockwood are incorporated into the text or written in script over the artwork.  A timeline includes major events both in Belva Lockwood’s life and career and in the history of the women’s rights movement (ending with the 2020 election of Kamala Harris to the Vice-Presidency).  Back matter also includes an author’s note and bibliography.

Anything you did not like about the book?  No

To whom would you recommend this book? It is a welcome addition to classrooms and libraries for grades 2 and up, to enhance and update women’s history biographies.  

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Biography

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: August 5, 2022

This entry was posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, *Starred Review, Alison Jay, Author, Biography, Illustrator, Kate Hannigan, Women's history and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.