Fearless Mary: Mary Fields, American Stagecoach Driver, by Tami Charles
First Black woman—and second woman, period—to work for the U.S. Postal Service!
Got the job at AGE SIXTY because she could hitch a team of six horses faster than any of the other applicants!
According to some sources, had a PET EAGLE!
Was so beloved in Cascade, Montana, that public schools closed on her birthday!
Was also so beloved in Cascade, Montana, that the mayor exempted her from the ban on women in saloons!
Here’s the deal: Fearless Mary focuses on a fantastically fascinating figure.
Unfortunately, this particular picture book biography falls into the frustrating No Sources Listed category. Charles is very upfront about the difficulties involved in researching Mary Fields in her Author’s Note, but this is the closest she comes to telling us which sources she used:
Finding information about Mary Fields wasn’t easy, though the Smithsonian offers great resources about the history of women in the postal service. Many accounts of Mary’s life are spotty and conflicting, but all agree that she fearlessly stood up to prejudice and applied for one of the most dangerous jobs in the Wild West.
All of the conflicting information—some sources say she drove a stagecoach, while others say she drove a wagon, for instance—makes the lack of sources especially frustrating. What accounts did Charles find particularly compelling and/or reliable? Why did she pick the ones she picked over the others? What accounts would she recommend to her readers? Etc. SHARING SOURCES IS COOL!! Sigh.
That said, I love how straightforward the text is about the racism and sexism that Mary faced:
With the job comes respect and high wages—nearly seventy-five dollars a month. With that kind of pay, a person can live a good life. But most people think a job like this is meant for men, not women, and especially not an ex-slave. Getting this job will be hard for Mary. Even though the Wild West is supposed to be a land of opportunity, everything is segregated. “Whites Only” restaurants. “Whites Only” jobs. “Whites Only” pay.
And I love that in the last couple of spreads, Charles talks explicitly about how Mary Fields paved the way for women in that profession—that’s something that, after three years of being on the Amelia Bloomer committee, I always look for in stories about “firsts.”
Illustration-wise, well. I know that I have a lot of kids at the library who’ll be way into them—Almon’s background in animation makes for bright and pop-y and exciting.
But if you compare the illustrations of Mary in the book to the actual photos of her in real life—none of which are in the backmatter, why why why, that’s the first thing my Library Kids look for in picture book biographies, sighhhhhhhhh—they’re strikingly… well, not similar.
Ultimately, after reading this book I had more questions than answers. Which, in some cases, is what you want! But not so much with biographies.
I realize that I sound crabby and nitpicky as all get-out, but I was so excited to read this, and I find missed opportunities so frustrating.