Saskatoon StarPhoenix Review - Inspiring Women

Reviewed by: Verne Clemence

The Saskatoon Women's Calendar Collective has been celebrating the lives of women in its perennial best seller, Herstory, for over 30 years, and now a new book is celebrating that achievement.

Inspiring Women: A Celebration of Herstory ws envisioned by the Collective in 1995 as a project to mark the 25 anniversary of the calendar and the year 2000, but circumstances intervened. 

Gail Youngberg, one of the two editors who undertook to bring the book to life, became too ill to carry on. When she died in December of 2000, co-editor and long-time friend Mona Holmlund vowed to see it through, with some help from other members of the group. But by then Holmlund was committed to completing her PhD in cultural history in Cambridge, England.

She is back in Canada now and living in Toronto, though she and her husband hope to return to western Canada. She was born in Saskatoon and lived her most of her life. He is from Prince Albert.

Holmlund dedicated Inspiring Women to Youngberg. She writes that "Her spirit infuses this book and it is my hope that through its pages you will discover women who fascinate, inspire and encourage -- women like Gail."

In Saskatoon recently to launch the book, Holmlund reflected on what the Collective hoped to accomplish. "The main motivation was that the calendars were in some way preaching to the converted. They were reaching older professional women, and it was hoped that a book form might get into the schools and to younger adolescent girls. At the time we had been hearing a lot about that age group being susceptible to all the various symptoms of low self esteem. We wanted to show them some role models in an accessible way."

The vehicle they designed to do that is in coffee table format with 89 black and white photos and short textual presentations, most taken from past issues of the calendar. The book can be read from front to back, or it is suitable for browsing. Often the original stories are updated. Margaret Atwood wrote the introduction. 

As Holmlund and Youngberg got into the work they found that the most effective way to present the 319 stories they selected was to group them in six chapters: Pioneers, Politics, Reform, Access, Achievement, and Culture. The editors contributed brief introductions to each chapter.

At one point in the book Holmlund writes that, "Women's history is fundamentally a chronicle of absence." She says that absence is one of the things that motivated her and others to produce such a book.

"These great stories are just not celebrated (in mainstream history). Part of that is simply the bias of traditional history that values the great heroic tales of war and politics. The point we're trying to make is that the day-to-day heroism of many of our grandmothers is also something to be profoundly celebrated. If we don't do it we will lose these stories. The names of so many of these women are forgotten, and look at how little we know about the lives of First Nations women. So much has been lost to us."

She says the Collective hopes the book will also remind people of the importance of preserving oral histories, and recording their own family stories.

She says that one of the greatest accomplishments of the Saskatoon Women's Calendar Collective, which was started in 1972, is that it has kept going for all those years. Twenty-nine Herstorys have been published. The only time an issue was missed was when on e of their early publishers went out of business. 

Volunteers have always carried out the operation. "It's a co-operative in true Saskatchewan tradition," Holmlund notes.

Over the years about 50 women have been involved. Herstory is a best seller across Canada and beyond. The royalties are returned to the Collective each year to pay for future issues. The Collective does not have an office. 

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