Riding Freedom

by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Brian Selznick

Charlotte Parkhurst is the first woman known to have voted in the United States.... read more

Charlotte Parkhurst is the first woman known to have voted in the United States. She did so in California on November 3, 1868, 52 years before women's constitutional suffrage was affirmed. And she did so posing as a man. Charlotte's masquerade wasn't just for the purpose of voting, however; it was the way she lived her life. Indeed, it wasn't until after her death in 1879 that "Charley," as she was known, was discovered to be a woman. Pam Muñoz Ryan's fictional story, based loosely on the life of Charlotte Parkhurst, will initially attract many young readers as a story about a girl and horses. As a child, Charlotte worked as a stableboy in the east for several years before moving to California, where she continued to drive stage and work on a ranch--always passing for a boy or young man. But Ryan always keeps Charlotte's female identity at the forefront of her storytelling, and in the context of an appealing adventure she demonstrates female ability and the injustice of laws that prevented women from voting, even slipping in a comment or two from Charlotte about the bravery of women who fought those laws without benefit of masquerade. An author's note at the end of the novel provides a brief summary of the real Charlotte Parkhurst's life. While the note does not provide full enough explanation as to why Ryan chose to set her fictional story in a slightly different time frame than that in which the real Charlotte lived (Charlotte's childhood has been moved from the early to the mid-19th century), it is nonetheless a welcome addition to the text of this engaging story. (Ages 8-11)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 1998

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