It is nearly impossible to believe. But it’s true. Switzerland gave women the vote a mere fifty years ago. To celebrate this half-century achievement, newspapers are chronicling the history of the Swiss Suffragette Movement. The Swiss Post is releasing a commemorative stamp. And Laurie Theurer, together with five colleagues, created 50 Amazing Swiss Women: True Stories You Should Know About.
Aimed at middle-grade readers, the book tells the remarkable stories of psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, tennis player Martina Hingis, and woman of letters Madame de Staël. (Who even knew these women were Swiss!?) It even includes Tina Turner, who gave up her US citizenship to settle in the land of the Alps. The book also includes stories of notable women who are lesser-known outside of Switzerland, such as contortionist Nina Burri and adventurer Ella Maillart. The full-page illustrations, created by Mireille Lachausse, vividly bring each narrative to life through a panoply of styles chosen to reflect the brilliance of each woman.
50 Amazing Swiss Women
Written by Laurie Theurer, Katie Hayoz, Anita Lehmann, Alnaaze Nathoo & Barbara Nigg, Illustrated by Mireille Lachausse
February 2021 marks the fiftieth anniversary of women’s right to vote in Switzerland. This book celebrates the diverse accomplishments, struggles and strengths of Swiss women. One-page biographies give readers a glimpse into the lives of fifty Swiss women – both historical and contemporary – who inspire and intrigue.
Each biography is paired with a unique, color illustration by Swiss illustrator Mireille Lachausse. Spies, activists, entrepreneurs, entertainers, politicians, athletes, midwives, mothers… Swiss women are daring, ingenious, and brave. Though the country is small, the heroines are vast!
This is Laurie Theurer’s second foray into Swiss history. Her first, Swisstory: The Untold, Bloody, and Absolutely Real History of Switzerland, came out in 2019 and won the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators 2020 Crystal Kite Award for the region that encompasses Europe, Latin America and Africa.
Originally from California, Laurie moved to Switzerland after marrying a Swiss man. She joins us today from a small village near Zurich to talk to us about 50 Amazing Swiss Women and tell us what was on her…
Mind: The first inkling for the book came to me while I was still writing Swisstory: The Untold, Bloody, and Absolutely Real History of Switzerland. While researching the chapter of the book about the Golden Age of Mountaineering, it became clear to me that all available materials were written solely by the men who had “first conquered” the mountaintops in Switzerland. Never mind that they weren’t actually the first. We know that these adventurers had mountain guides—Swiss mountain men who had been up and down the peaks multiple times already. Yet those mountain men couldn’t (or wouldn’t dare) write the books that extolled such achievements. The men financing the adventure did…and they took all the glory for themselves.
Of course, in these books, the authors also usually forgot to mention the women who accompanied them on some of these expeditions. Women who hiked the same routes and scrambled up the same rocky slopes, and did it all in heavy woollen skirts and unwieldy men’s boots (because women’s climbing boots hadn’t yet been invented). But these women also would not have dared to claim such victories or write about them in books of their own. Who would have bothered to publish a book by a woman at that time in history?
This made we wonder: what other women’s stories have never been told?
It’s true that whoever writes history, makes history. It’s time to give women the spotlight and change the narrative.
Original List of Women: I started a list of notable women that I came across while researching Swisstory, and was surprised to see that it had reached about 140 by the time I was finished. This was most definitely unexpected! Switzerland is a tiny country, but apparently the heroines are vast! Once Swisstory was published, I looked to expand my list…and quickly found more and more (and more) women who took my breath away.
Once I selected and assembled the author team for 50 Amazing Swiss Women, and we started working on the first handful of chapters, my co-authors and I found even more women to add to the list. We’re still finding them today. The truth is, there are far too many to count!
Rules of Inclusion: At first, I was only looking for women who were Swiss, born and bred. There are plenty of remarkable women who fall within those lines, that’s for sure! But as we wrote, we started to ask ourselves whether we wanted to keep to such a delineation in a country that is so diverse. Approximately 25% of the Swiss population comes from elsewhere in the world. Shouldn’t our book reflect that fact? So that’s exactly what we did. We looked to represent all possible facets of what it means to be Swiss.
Final List of Women: Narrowing the list was soooooo difficult! Every woman we moved from the “Yes” to the “No” category pierced like a tiny knife. However, since we dedicated ourselves to having as much diversity as possible in every way, we found ourselves having to make some really tough choices. As we mention in the introduction, these are not the “50 best Swiss women” we found. There is no ranking. They are simply 50 remarkable women who inspire us and who reflect the diversity of this wonderful country.
Sequel: Thank you for asking about a sequel. None is currently planned. We’re still trying to catch up on our sleep after creating this first volume in record time!
Interview Schedule: When I first started planning this book, I’d intended to write it on my own. The publisher and I agreed that 70-80 women would be profiled and that it would take a year or two to get it done. That was August 2020. Then I discovered that the 50-year anniversary of Swiss women’s right to vote was coming up in February 2021 and that changed everything! It quickly became clear that it would take a very dedicated team of writers, as well as one super-duper illustrator, to get this book done in time to go to print in December 2020.
There was only one thing to do. I needed to find friends with writing experience who would be prepared to research, interview, write, and revise over an impossibly short period of time. Enter Katie Hayoz, Anita Lehmann, Alnaaze Nathoo, and Barbara Nigg. We reduced the target number of Swiss Women to 50 to reflect the 50-year anniversary of their voting rights at a national level. Each of us assigned ourselves 10 of the Swiss women that motivated us the most and then we got to work. During the course of writing, we met weekly over Zoom to ensure that we were upholding the pledge of diversity we had taken and made our adjustments along the way.
We tried to have an even balance of historical versus current Swiss women in the book, so the way in which we researched or interviewed them was vastly different. For the selected historical women, of course, much of our time was spent researching them, interviewing their descendants if possible, and finding a way to relate their stories to a modern audience. For current women, we faced the complication of trying to interview them during a pandemic. We met with them in person when possible. Otherwise, Zoom and Skype were our only options.
In the end, each of us managed to research, interview, and write about 10 amazing Swiss women within 3 very short, hectic months. During that time period, we also provided each other with critiques, feedback, and support when we needed it. When a particular piece was nearly complete, I would send it to our illustrator, Mireille Lachausse, to start the accompanying artwork. The authors would then have the opportunity to give any feedback to Mireille until the images were considered final. Luckily, there was very little to change! Her artwork is incredible!
Launch Day: Launching a book during a pandemic was truly a challenge! Book shops were closed and gatherings were forbidden, so our options were limited. We made the best of it and decided that an online book launch would be the best option. We bought or made some funny hats, each had a bottle of bubbly next to our computers, and launched with a series of Q&A videos in which we discussed the process of collaborating on this exciting book. They can all be found and enjoyed on Instagram!
There are so many things that make me proud about this book. The fact that we accomplished a nearly impossible feat in a mere handful of months still stuns me. Honestly, I don’t really remember much about September-December 2020. It all went by in a blur of activity! I’m incredibly proud of the fact that it all came together so well, within our highly optimistic timelines, and that the author team bonded so well, even in times of high stress, even though some of them hadn’t actually ever met in person. The greatest amount of pride, though, comes from the wonderful feedback we’ve received about the book so far. Although it’s a book primarily aimed at children, it seems to mean a great deal to adults, as well. Particularly women, who take the time to write to us to express their appreciation. Many have told us that this is exactly the type of inspirational book they would have liked to see when they were growing up in Switzerland. It does my heart good to give them the heroines they have always longed for.
What an incredible story of putting this book together–six months from brainchild to shelf! Wow! I would have thought it was impossible. Congratulations to the entire team for creating such a beautiful homage to Swiss women.
If you would like to purchase 50 Amazing Swiss Women: True Stories You Should Know About, which is available in English, French and German, simply click on the book below. If you are ordering from the United States, it is also available at Bookshop.org.
If you would like to learn more about the other women who created 50 Amazing Swiss Women, please visit them at their websites. Katie Hayoz is at katiehayoz.com. Mireille Lachausse is at milapictures.com. Anita Lehmann is at anita-lehmann.com. Alnaaze Nathoo is at lettersihaventwrittenyet.com. Barbara Nigg is at barbaranigg.com.
Also, plan on stopping by on April 20th, Earth Day, when Patricia Newman will stop by to talk about her book, Planet Ocean, Why We All Need A Healthy Ocean, and tell us What Was on her most exciting scuba dive.
If you would like to know more about me and my writing, please visit sandranickel.com.