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Women's roles, now writ (too?) large

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Today, there is increased attention toward integrating women into textbooks because there's been a backslide, says Ms. Lindenauer. "There are scholars who would say that the 1990s and early 21st century have seen a backlash against diversity with regards to gender. In learning environments, we're reenergized."

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Peter Wood is leading the pack. A professor of early American history at Duke, he is the lead author of a recent US history survey text, "Created Equal: A Social and Political History of the United States" (Longman). Mr. Wood says the efforts to integrate women into history textbooks is partly being pushed forward by publishers like Longman, but it's also simple logic.

"For a while, there was a whole generation of 'either-or,' " says Wood. "You might take a women's studies course or you might take a traditional American political history course, and the two were kind of separated. There's an effort now to try to bring these back together."

While Wood was working on this book with four other authors (three of whom were women), he discovered a flood of women's history that is only now starting to be absorbed.

For example, Belva Lockwood ran for president in 1884. She was also the first woman to practice law in front of the US Supreme Court in 1879 and was a women's suffrage proponent. Gertrude Ederle was a 19-year-old Olympic gold medalist when she became the first woman to swim the English Channel in 1926. Though six men had preceded her, she beat their best time by two full hours.

"So it's rediscovering people who were quite well known at the time," says Wood, "but who slipped through the cracks for too many years."

So, are the cracks completely filled? High school teacher Jana Eaton thinks so, maybe a little too much.

"If anything, some of the texts have gone too far the other way," says the teacher of AP government and politics at Unionville High School in Kennett Square, Pa.

"I think we've come a long way from the white European male-dominated history texts that were so prevalent before the 1980s. In fact, I wonder if we haven't gone overboard in the other direction with political correctness, resulting in history that's distorted or mythologized."

But according to Karen Zittleman and David Sadker, authors of the report "Teacher Education Textbooks: The Unfinished Gender Revolution," that's not the case. The pair studied 23 teacher-education textbooks. Of these, only 7 percent of their text was devoted to women's contributions.

And when they do appear, says Ms. Zittleman, they're still fragmented, put in a special box, or treated as a special feature. "It sends a subtle message that those women aren't really part of history."

To further integrate women, Wood says, there are many things a teacher can do. For instance, the topic of Asian immigration in the Progressive era leads to a discussion of Asian-American family life and women as workers. "It comes up in any time period you pick," says Wood.

Judith Cowell, who teaches seventh and eighth grades at McGee Middle School in Berlin, Conn., uses Shmurak's books in her language arts class because "it's realistic fiction and it helps generate a discussion about the history of the war and why the war started."

That's one of the reasons Lyn Reese, director of the Women in the World History Curriculum in Berkeley, Calif., started writing "Spindle Stories" in the 1990s, a series of historical tales for middle school students that helps get them interested in history. It shows the importance of the spindle as a tool for women's economic contributions.

"It's a way," Ms.Reese says, "to bring women in the classroom without simply saying, 'and the women were there, too....' "