Melissa Rich was collecting baseball cards with her older brother, Jason, about two years ago when she got curious about something. "Why aren't there any pictures of girls on the cards?" she asked her mother, Lois Rich. Mrs. Rich of Irvington, N.Y., and her sister, Barbara Egerman, in Ridgefield, Conn., decided to do something about it.
The result: "Supersister" trading cards that feature 72 women in such diverse fields as sports, arts, science, and government. The cards, which are the same size as baseball cards, include women such as Janet Guthrie, race car driver; actress Helen Hayes; and Cindy Nelson, skier.
The supersister cards have a picture of the women on front and a short biographical sketch on the back. If a supersister is also a mother, it includes names of her children, and some cards include a short quote. ("Don't give up easily. Keep trying to do what you want to do," admonishes supersister Sonia Manzano of TV's Sesame Street.)
Mrs. Rich and Mrs. Egerman wrote to between 400 to 500 women asking permission to use them on cards and received responses from about 100.
"It was amazingly easy to come up with the names," says Mrs. Egerman. "We took the first 72 responses." The Supersister originators thought the cards would be good to use in schools to give young girls role models and introduce them to career possibilities. It would also teach young boys that women are excelling in many nontraditional jobs. So they won a mini-grant of $2,540 from the New York State Department of Education to help cover costs of the research and printing of 1,000 sets of the cards.
"When we applied for the grant, we pointed out that children's textbooks don't really reflect the positions women are in," says Mrs. Rich. "They are getting better, but they aren't what they should be."
The cards were given to boys and girls from kindergarten to eighth grade in a pilot project in Irvington schools, where nine-year-old Melissa Rich is a student.
Melissa says that she approves of the project her mother and aunt took up. "I think the cards are really good," she says. "The kids at school really like them." Who is the favorite?
"Jane Pauley," reports Melissa. Her brother Jason also voted for the NBC-TV "Today" show host.
"Everyone liked them and piled them right in with their baseball cards," he reports. Teachers in the Irvington school used the cards to spark class discussions or had children do reports on them.
The sisters are trying to get their cards into school districts nationwide.
"We've had people interested from nursery schools to high schools to women's studies programs in college," Mrs. Egerman reports. Some feminist bookstores carry the cards, and the sisters fill individual orders. A set of 72 cards costs $6, which includes postage and handling.
The women hope that young girls will get some new career ideas from the cards and that perhaps a future airline pilot will have been inspired by supersister Bonnie Tiburzi Krantz, who pilots Boeing 727s for American Airlines.
"Kids didn't know that there were women pilots or bankers," says Mrs. Rich. "They had no idea there were women judges.They even thought [all] skiers were men. But even the young ones who cannot read can see from the picture that maybe they could do that kind of job."