Real Life Heroines

When I finish a book, I usually feverishly try to catch up on much neglected chores.  One of those (usually futile) exercises is an attempt once again to cull my books.I blogged once before on an effort to find books to sell at a community-wide garage sale. After two days of searching through several thousand books, I ended up with less than ten discards. Those ten have since been replaced fifty fold. So another attempt was in order.
The problem with such an effort is I find books I’ve forgotten I had, or books I haven’t read in many a month, or even years. I go through one bookcase and read two books. Multiply that by twenty bookcases, and you see my problem.
This time, my eyes settled on “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains” by Isabella L. Bird, firstt published in 1878.

Isabella was a spinster who traveled around the world. She made an extended tour of the Rocky Mountain area of Colorado when she was on her way back to England from the Sandwich Islands (now the Hawaiian Islands), During her lifetime she also traveled to Canada, India, Tibet, Japan, the Malay Peninsula among many others.   She established hospitals in Kashmir, Punjab, China and Korea. She was the first woman ever elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in England.

And she did all this traveling alone. Amazing to me. I’m always filled with awe when I read of her travels. But my favorite of her travels was her months long journey through the Rocky Mountains, most of the time alone. According to the forward of “A Lady’s Life,” she didn’t go to see the curiosities or the sights. She was more interested in discovering what it felt like to live in other places. “She had an amazing capacity quickly to become a resident.” And so she did in the Rocky Mountains.

My copy of the book has numerous passages underlined. I love her descriptions of the shape and color of place. You feel like you’re there with her, riding along as she meets ordinary (are there any?)and extraordinary people.

One of her adventures was ascending Long’s Peak.   Remember there were no roads then, and it was a harrowing effort.   This is her initial impression of the peak: “It is one of the noblest of mountains, but in one’s imagination it grows to be much more than a mountain. It becomes invested with a personality. In its caverns and abysses one comes to fancy that it generates and chains the strong winds, to let them loose in its fury. The thunder becomes its voice, and the lightnings do it homage. Other summits blush under the morning kiss of the sun , and turn pale the next moment; but it detains the first sunlight and holds it round its head for an hour at least, till it pleases to change from rosy red to deep blue; and the sunset, as if spell-bound, lingers on its crest.


“The soft winds which hardly rustle the pine needles down here are raging rudely up there round its motionless summit. The mark of fire is upon it; and though it has passed into a grim repose, it tells of fire and upheaval as truly, through not as eloquently, as the living volcanos of Hawaii.”

She was guided up the mountain by “Mountain Jim,” a notorious desperado and “as awful-looking a ruffian as one could see.” But she had been told, “Treat Jim as a gentleman, and you’ll find him one.” So he did, and she described meeting the man’s dog, “Ring, said to be the best hunting dog in Colorado, with the body and legs of a collie, but a head approaching that of a mastiff, a noble face with a wistful human expression, and the most truthful eyes I ever saw in an animal.” Later, “‘Jim’ or Mr. Nugent, as I always scrupulously called him, told stories of his early youth, and of a great sorrow which had led him to embark on a lawless and desperate life. His voice trembled, and tears ran down his cheek.   Was it semi-conscious acting, I wondered, or was his dark soul really stirred to its depths by the silence, the beauty, and the memories of youth?”

She mentions courtesies extended by men she meets along the way, then adds, “These men might have been excused for speaking in a somewhat free-and easy tone to a lady riding alone, and in an unwonted fashion. Womanly dignity and manly respect for women are the salt of society in this wild West.”

And so she continues with tales of people she meets and places she’d been with such eloquence that you want to read some passages over and over.

About one homesteader, she wrote:”Mrs. H lays aside her work for a few minutes and reads some favorite passage of prose or poetry as I have seldom heard either read before, with a voice of large compass and exquisite tone, quick to interpret every shade of the author’s meaning, and soft speaking eyes, moist with feeling and sympathy.   These are our halcyon hours, when we forget the needs of the morrow, and that men still buy, sell, cheat, and strive for good, and that we are in the Rocky Mountains, and that it is near midnight.”

I love her eloquence and empathy for people and the land.   I greatly admire her grit,  curiosity and unquenchable good nature that made friends of everyone she met, even “ruffians” and desperadoes.

What a great heroine!

I’m holding a small contest.   Do you have a favorite real life heroine?   Past or present?   Tell us why.

I’ll send a copy of “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains” to the one of those who reply.




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24 thoughts on “Real Life Heroines”

  1. Hi Pat,
    Well, I can relate to your book culling dilemna, I had a similiar experience. My husband is redoing our garage, adding storage space and I HAVE to get rid of books to make room for other things. But I might go thru 200 books and only find one or two, at best, I’m willing to give up. He doesn’t undertand it. I can’t throw away a picture of someone either, say on a Christmas Card. I feel like I’m throwing away the person. A photo and a book are sooo personal.
    Great blog and wonderful words in “A Lady’s Life..

  2. I have the same problem with books. I recently went through my books and got rid of about twenty just to go out and replace them all with new books. I buy about four books a month and had to take over one of the linen closets to use as a bookself since I ran out of space on the real bookselves. My children always tell me I could open up my own library. I love to go back and reread my favorite books which is almost every book that I read, so I just can’t part with them. I think it would be really interesting to her about Isabella’s description of the Rocky’s during a time when there were no roads. I live in Colorado and love to look out my bedroom window and see them everyday. It is one of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen. I love the history you can find up there. I still need to stay in the old Stanley Hotel, which is the hotel Stephen King locked himself in to write The Shining. They say it is haunted but it is a very beautiful building with lots of history. I love going to places that have a story to tell and the Rocky Mountains definitely do have stories.
    Thanks for the great blog.

  3. Hi Pat,
    I loved reading about this woman!

    My favorite real-life heroines are Rosa Parks and Mother Theresa. They were so…unafraid. I admire that, as I am by nature a great big weenie. Rosa Parks got an honorary degree at my son’s college graduation, and it was tremendous seeing her in person. She was quite frail; it was one of her last public appearances.

    Thanks for the wonderful, informative blog.

  4. Pat, I love how Isabella described the Colorado Rockies. It’s so beautiful it takes my breath. Sure wish I could describe things that well. She definitely had a way with words and a special gift.

    A real life heroine lived here in Wichita Falls back in the late 1800’s. Her name was Minnie Mae Adickes. She found herself widowed with five children to raise (the youngest being just a few months old.) Instead of asking for help from her family, she decided to build houses and sell them. She built over 300 homes here and helped the town flourish. I’m completely in awe of her. We have some wonderful history.

    Very intriguing blog, Pat! 🙂

  5. Linda. . . My grandmother was a Minnie Mae, and she had six children and wrote great poetry about Arizona. It’s great to hear of another.

  6. I can so relate to the book dilemma. I have a whole closet full, as well as three bookcases. I can’t seem to weed out any of them.

    I think my present day heroine is Kristy Dykes. She’s a fellow author whom I had the privilege in working with on a fiction anthology. She has a brain tumor that is sucking her life away. She has a blog site –
    Kristy can no longer post messages, but her husband, Milton, has been faithful to chronicle their journey. Though bedridden, Kristy remains cheerful, inspiring her family and friends, and she and her husband continue to encourage others going through difficult times on their blog. Please remember Kristy in your prayers.

  7. I loved reading about Isabella. The Rocky Mountains are a facinating place and her descriptions really took me there.

    I do have a real life heroine. She is my “sister of the heart”. We call each other that because our friendship is over 30 years old and it was like we were old friends the day that we met. Rosemary has rhumatoid arthritis which has crippled her hands and feet. with the help of special shoes and some surgery she gets around just fine and we spend many hours shopping. In spite of her hands, she plays the organ for church, plays for many weddings and any other event asked to play for. She is also a school secretary and spends many hours on the computer. We have traveled to many interesting places together and sightseeing is big on her list of things to do. I do so admire her.

  8. HI Patricia,

    My favorite real life heroine would be Devvy Kidd and Katherine Albrecht, who are out there fighting for liberty and justice in a world that seems to have gone slightly mad. Great post.

  9. Great post and I love the excerpts from Isabella. She has a wonderful way with words!

    I’m bad about collecting books and have a hard time letting any go, unless I have copies, but even then…LOL. I have 3 shelf bookcase here in the living room with my TBR books on it as well as some other novels in bookends on the entertainment center, but that doesn’t count the huge bookcase in my bedroom that my dad built (originally for himself to keep his woodworking magazines and books in- he wasn’t using it anymore when I got ready to move, so he let me bring it with me.) It’s jammed full of novels of all genres, some I’ve read, most I haven’t though I have every intention of doing so, “one of these days.” The shelves have a lot of “double” rows where I’ve squeezed books in the back and put others in front of them to conserve space.

    As for the real life heroine I admire- My aunt. My mother’s sister was diagnosed almost 4 years ago with brain cancer. They did surgery to remove a huge mass of it because it was causing problems with her memory and making her sick and her eye had swollen and was pushing out. Afterward, they agreed to put her through chemo and radiation, but they weren’t able to get all of the cancer out of her head so they gave her little, if no, time to live.

    The doctors had no real hope of her living longer than, maybe 6 weeks, if that. But time marched on and she went through chemo and radiation up until last year I believe. The remaining cancer hasn’t shrunken, but it hasn’t grown either and sometime this month or next she will celebrate 4 years of surviving it.

    My aunt has always had a hopeful, optimistic heart and faith and it’s seen her through these past years that could’ve taken their toll on her, but she’s still going strong and doing very well. She’s a real miracle to her docs, and an inspiration to all of us that she’s been fighting it rather than letting it get her down.

  10. Isabella’s book sounds wonderful. Isn’t it amazing how many truly inspiring people and books are out there? I would be hard pressed to select just one woman I admire.

    I’m amazed by the pioneer women who stood by their men and even shared their dreams for leaving everything they’d ever known behind and coming west.

    Collectively, I admire the women who fought for equal rights by developing trade unions and demanding an end to child labor.

    Suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susuan B Anthony were amazing for the trials they endured and the lengths they went to to earn women the right to vote in our country.

  11. That book sounds very interesting indeed,My real life heroine is my 16 yr old foster daughter we just adopted!It was final this past month,This kid has been thru so much,at the ripe old age of 7 she took care of her 2 younger sisters age 2 an 5,was put in foster care,I cant say why,but it was necessary,was in that state for over a year,then taken by again by another family member,removed an then returned,all this time doing for her sisters,while she was being mistreated,she was the only one for some reason,then they split the kids up,an we got her,an they returned the other kids an she stayed here with us that was 4 yrs ago,an what a difference a child can make with love an support,an no fear of being harmed,we dont have much money ,an are having to move due to finaces,but during in all she stood firm by our sides that we were her forever family an where we go she wanted to be,so this little spunky,been thru hell kid is my hero,that its never too late to make a difference in someones life,people say to us all the time,are you guys nuts to adopt a Teenager? Well we would be nuts not too!We are in our early 50s an thought we were done with our 5 grown kids an grandkids,but she needed us an we needed her too

  12. I think I’ve given away one book in my entire life (that’s how bad it was lol). I’m sure I’ve hit the 1 or 2 thousand mark. As to a real life heroine, I’ll pick my mom. She’s 86 and is a much stronger person than me – mentally and physically lol. She keeps our family together, in good times and many bad and maintains a house pretty much all by herself.

  13. What wonderful heroines here: the teenage adopted daughter, the Mom, the aunt, the friend, and so many others. Along with the more famous names, these are the everyday heroes, and Vickie, you’re one, too.

  14. Hi Patricia, I just love your books.
    My heronines our my 2 daughters! They bring me so much love and fun filled days!
    All the best,

  15. There are so many women who would qualify as
    heroines. I especially have in mind the spouses
    who are keeping their families together while their
    husbands are overseas serving in the military. I
    also count as heroines those women, and as heroes
    the men, who are currently overseas. God bless
    them all!!

    Pat Cochran

  16. My Mom, who has since passed away from breast cancer, is my heroine. She kept her faith till the end and never gave up hope of a healing. No matter the circumstances she had a smile on her face till the end. She kept our family of 5 kids and her and Dad together. She gave to everyone and then took what was left. When dividing her parents belongings after they passed away she wanted and needed a deep freeze; her one sister wanted it also so Mom said ‘you take it’ and that was that. She had a remarkable quietness about her through all this and it showed.

  17. Pat, Isabella sounds remarkable. I’m always amazed how many people back in those days actually had the means to travel the world. Your book reminded me of many I have on my own shelves, and I started to browse through them. You’re right–the numbers sneak up on you. I collect a lot from library discards–$2 for Gunsmithing Simplified, stuff like that, lol.

  18. Well, to give you an idea about my books, let’s just say I have about 275 in my tbr pile alone.

    Then I have enough history and hobby (craft, wood, etc) books to start my own library. In fact, I was in the library one day when a friend couldn’t get the book she wanted in the system, but I had one so the librarian asked if I’d lend it to her. 🙂

    That’s not including my fiction books. Yikes

  19. I’ve spent the day thinking about my favourite real-life heroine.

    I respect many women for their accomplishments.

    I put some female authors on a pedestal b/c of the depth of emotion they convey in their stories.

    There are women I give my heart to b/c of their personal battles over adversity.

    But if I were to pick just one women who epitomizes a real-life heroine, I would have to pick my sister. She’s just an orinary woman, but as a teenager, she decided to be a missionary. After graduation, she went to Bible School but she didn’t receive ‘the call’. So, she moved to BC and took a regular job.

    And she met the man of her dreams. He was a Pastor and a polio survivor. My sister ignored the fact his left arm had atrophied and the hand on that side can only hold something if it’s tucked in close to his body. But she loved him anyway.

    The call came shortly after they were married when they were sent to minister to the First Nations people in Northern Manitoba. This was in the early 80’s and yet, the young couple had a premature infant, no running water, and no electricty. Yes, I know it’s not a unique situation, but you have to remember that her hubby couldn’t/wouldn’t even cook for himself. I remember visiting over the years and b/c of his hand, she even had to cut his food for him.

    And yet, she was always smiling. Always giving. She said God gives gifts to everyone and her gift was to be a server. And that’s what she was. She still is.

    They celebrated their 25th anniv last summer. They’re still ministering to the First Nations people in Northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Plus, he teaches at a Bible School. And she’s the chief cook at the Bible School.

    And on top of it all, he’s suffered from Post Polio Syndrome for the past 20 yrs which includes memory loss among other brain problems.

    But you know, when he stands behind that pulpit, you don’t see his hand or arm. You forget his memory doesn’t work like it should. B/c when he’s up there speaking, he draws you in to the Word. That is his gift.

    So, what part does my sister play in all this? She is the loyal hand servant. Standing there in the wings doing what God has called her to do.

    I couldn’t do it. I’m not a server. I don’t like cleaning. I make fun of my hubby (she says I shouldn’t). I yell at my my hubby (I shouldn’t). And I’ve been known to hold grudges.

    She’s by no way perfect, she has a temper, and she doesn’t respond well to stress.

    But, she tries to be the best wife, mother and sister that she possibly can be under extenuating circumstances

  20. I think deep inside the heart of all women is a hero. They are the backbone of there family. My Mother is great at holding the family together, she is the center post which we all clung to in a storm.

    On a lighter note I understand the book thing. I am surrounded by them. I can’t seem to let them go. Week before last I cleaned out 20 books, this past week I brought in 25 more.(lol) I have gotten to where I have to slip them in the house so my husband won’t know.

  21. I cleaned out my bookshelf this weekend too. I have about 250 books. I just bought 6 more this weekend.
    My heroine is my step mom. When my mom and dad got a divorce she took care of us like her own. There were 5 of us and she had 1. It was hard on her but she has always been there for all of us.

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