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Sam Maggs' new book Wonder Women revisits 25 women who inspire

‘We’re very lucky they existed,’ Maggs says of the ‘inventors, innovators, and trailblazers’ profiled in her new collection

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Did you know that a woman named Margaret Knight was responsible for the invention of the flat-bottomed paper bag we carry all our groceries and takeout in? Or that another woman—Elizabeth Maggie—actually invented Monopoly?

Well, Sam Maggs’ latest book, Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors and Trailblazers Who Changed History seeks to bring these women’s — and many others’ — stories to light. The collection features 25 profiles of women and their contributions to science and humankind. Maggs’ says her decision to focus on women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), as opposed to other realms like literature and art, came out of a real need.

“Overwhelmingly we’re still missing role models in STEM fields. That’s especially true when we look back in history and in textbooks,” Maggs tells EW. “We see that women’s achievements have been overwritten by men who have taken credit for their inventions, or they’re just left out or weren’t able to take credit for their successes at the time for a variety of reasons. So it seemed like this book needed to exist more right now.”

But Wonder Women isn’t just filled with extraordinary tales of female scientists and inventors — though there are plenty of them — she also includes sections on espionage and adventure, fields not traditionally associated with STEM.

“You could be smart in different kinds of ways. To be good at math and science and to be an intelligent woman doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go and get a medical degree,” says Maggs of this decision. “There were so many cool women in history who could use their intelligence and knowledge to become masters of espionage. I thought that fit in pretty well.” 

For Maggs it was important she include a range of not just personality types, but also ethnicities and sexualities. This in turn, helped her decide on which 25 women to profile, as their stories are not as well known. “By making sure every chapter of women had at least one woman of color [and] one queer woman, we could really get a diverse representation of personalities and stories. I tried to be as faithful to their cultures and their stories as I could.”

Maggs also includes brief, one-paragraph profiles of other women in each section, as well as additional resources at the back of the book, for anyone interested in learning more about any of the women mentioned. “[The book is] meant as more of a jumping off point. I kind of want people to read this and be like, ‘Look at all these women, there must be more’ and try to open the door for more discourse around these success stories.”

But Wonder Women doesn’t just focus on educating its readers about various figures in history. Instead, Maggs focuses on women working today through interviews about their professions. “Stories of these historical women are inspiring, but it’s easy to think of them as ‘Oh well, it was difficult then but things are different now,’” explains Maggs. “I thought it would be great to show that we’re still making progress in this area and it’s still possible to be successful at all these things.”

She continues, “I really wanted to be able to make history as accessible and relatable as possible because it’s just boring otherwise.” Maggs accomplishes this task by taking on a light, humorous tone, including personal details that made these women “really human.” She says, “They were women who were just trying to be successful. It’s easy to forget that people are the same across time periods. They accomplished all these things, but with so many more barriers to entry than we have,” says Maggs. “It’s because they just weren’t satisfied with a life that didn’t offer them the availability of being able to do what they were passionate about and to be able to use their brains to their full capacity. The fact that they had to fight so hard for it just made them want to do more and better and blaze a path for the women who came after them. We’re very lucky they existed.”

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