An Interview With Elizabeth Lorayne: The Historical Heroines Coloring Book

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Did you know that a woman – Jeanne Villepreux-Power (1794-1871) – invented the aquarium? Or that Nettie Stevens (1861-1912) discovered how sex was determined – by the size difference of a single pair of chromosomes? 


Just in time for National Women’s History Month is an inspiring, illustrated coloring book featuring 31 women in science who broke boundaries and achieved their dreams. THE HISTORICAL HEROINES COLORING BOOK: Pioneering Women in Science from the 18th and 19th Centuries, written by Elizabeth Lorayne, shares powerful portraits of women Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as less-known figures who made an impact. Short profiles provide facts about their lives and discoveries, including how each overcame the social expectations of her time to pursue her passion. The accompanying line-drawings illustrated by Kendra Shedenhelm are beautiful and fun to color. 


With global activism for women’s equality fueled by movements like Press for Progress and the energy of the Nevertheless She Persisted rallying cry, it’s important to recognize the pioneering women who shaped history and contributed to science through their tireless commitment to pursue their dreams. 


We’ve invited Elizabeth Lorayne to discuss her book and the heroines whose courage and discoveries opened the door to a larger universe. 



Q: What inspired you to write The Historical Heroines Coloring Book? 


As the mother of a young girl in today’s society, I felt driven to offer an alternative narrative to the one I learned in school. For example, I don’t think young women should only be taught that eighteenth and nineteenth-century women were deemed “hysterical” and therefore incapable of being treated as equal to men. Instead, I wanted to create a playful, educational way to highlight and celebrate the women scientists who persevered despite the gender discrimination they faced. 


The pioneering women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in The Historical Heroines Coloring Book are incredible role models for girls today – girls who may struggle to feel included or be accepted in their own pursuit of STEM education and careers. My hope is that, through reading and coloring the portraits of these fiercely persistent, capable women, young people, will feel inspired to work harder toward reaching their own dreams.


Q: Why do girls need to know about women in science in history? 


Learning about women scientists who broke with tradition to pursue their dreams and make discoveries is inspiring! I believe that it is particularly important to demonstrate to girls today that there always have been women and girls throughout the centuries who were curious about the natural world and wanted to contribute to society through science; that just because you are a girl does not mean you are incapable of becoming a scientist or engineer or mathematician. However, it may mean you have to work even harder. Unfortunately, even though we’re making strides, women still face discrimination in the workplace, including in STEM careers. So I really want to encourage young women and girls to pursue their interest in STEM. 


A hope of mine is that in reading about these women, girls will feel empowered to continue their math and science exploration and hard work, because representation matters. When we see other women in history and our culture conducting research and making a difference, we believe it’s possible – and maybe, just maybe, my daughter’s generation will be the one to finally end gender discrimination. 


Q: Although The Historical Heroines Coloring Book covers extraordinary heroines from diverse backgrounds, nations and fields of study, could you tell us about one or two of the American scientists in your book and what barriers they had to overcome? 


American scientists Alice Ball and Nettie Stevens shared one thing in common – credit for their hard work and discoveries was taken by men. Fortunately, one of Alice Ball's male colleagues called foul and made sure proper credit was given to her. Alice was not only the first African American woman, but also the first American woman ever to receive a master’s degree in chemistry. She isolated the active chemical compound in chaulmoogra oil so that it could be given to leprosy patients through injection, and her method was used until the 1940s. Only recently, in 2000, her work was commemorated with a bronze plaque placed at the very chaulmoogra tree she used to extract the oil from in Hawaii. 


Nettie Stevens still has not been properly credited for her discovery despite proof that her work was done independently from her male colleague, biologist Edmund Beecher Wilson. Instead, Edmund is known for the discovery that sex is determined by the size difference of a single pair of chromosomes. Nettie had shared her breakthrough in a 1905 paper, but Edmund’s name continues to be attached to the discovery rather than Nettie’s. It’s truly a shame! And these are just two examples of the discrimination that women have faced throughout history. 


Other barriers include not being paid for intellectual contributions, not being officially awarded a doctoral title and degree, or not being allowed to attend college without approval by the male board of directors or professors. The challenges have shifted and morphed over the years, but women still face discrimination. I hope that with every new book, movie, class, or conversation that enlightens the general public of the past and present struggles women face in science and other fields, such barriers will soon be left to the pages of history.






Elizabeth Lorayne is an award-winning author and publisher of children’s books. Since the success of her first book The Adventures of Piratess Tilly, featuring an aspiring naturalist heroine who is the captain of her own ship, Elizabeth has continued to write and publish books with themes of girl-empowerment, eco-consciousness, exploration, and science. Elizabeth spent her childhood sailing and cultivating her passion for science along the shorelines of the Pacific Northwest. She is a graduate of The New School in Manhattan and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. An artist and mother, she lives in Newburyport, Massachusetts, with her family.




Kendra Shedenhelm grew up in Nebraska, illustrating short stories, entering poster contests, and creating "sellable" wares out of paper placemats. Upon graduating with a BFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1995, she moved to NYC and has worked as a graphic designer, printmaker, illustrator, and artist ever since. Kendra was a semi-finalist for the Tomie dePaola Award in illustration and recently won an A. Eric Arctander grant for her watercolors. She lives north of Manhattan in a village on the Hudson with her husband, nine-year-old son, and two cats. 




The Historical Heroines Coloring Book: Pioneering Women in Science from the 18th and 19th Centuries , White Wave Press, October 2, 2017, ISBN # 978-0-9979098-9-0 (and a POD version # 978-0-9979098), Paperback, 8.5 X 11, 78 pages, $14.95, http://www.whitewavepress.com


*This interview was sent to FemSTEM by Elizabeth Lorayne's publicist Skye Wentworth. Mariah Loeber (editor) was not involved with this interview.  Mariah has a copy of this book, not by way of sponsorship, but via giveaway. This post is not sponsored in anyway.


#STEMSaturdays - The Informational Interview


Unless you’ve been an interviewer, informational interviews can seem pretty awkward. But when done right, they are powerful interactions that can leave you with a better sense of the industry/career path you are interested in and possibly lead to new networking connections!


Send the person a friendly cold email (September 23)- remember to keep it concise! Let the person know why you are interested in talking to them specifically, and ask if they would be willing to communicate via email, phone, or meet up for a coffee.  


Protip: Make the effort to do your research on the person you want to interview- being unprepared is not the best first impression!


If your email goes over two weeks unnoticed, send a follow up along the lines of, “Hi [x], Just following up to see if you had seen my previous email about…” I usually forward the original email to jog their memory. Many have flooded inboxes and may have not even seen your email, or seen it and forgotten to reply!


If the person declines, be courteous. Many have hectic schedules they just can’t step away from at the time. Thank them for the consideration and move on to someone else. Insulting them or continuing to pester them after getting a “no,” is not a great impression, especially if you end up working together down the road!


If the person replies and agrees, great! Set up a time to chat or meet up. From there, you will want to do research on what your candidate has been involved in. What have they written? What interviews have they done? What research have they been a part of? Find similarities to discuss.


Although called an “informational interview,” you don’t want to bombard your person with a ton of questions. Let the conversation flow naturally, including basic questions within the discussion. Some of my favorite questions include:


  • “What is the most challenging aspect of your job?”
  • “What skills have you picked up in your job?”
  • “What does a typical day look like for you?”
  • “What has been the most fascinating thing you’ve learned?”


If you guys end up meshing really well together, that’s fantastic! But don’t forget to glance at the clock every now and then and be respectful of their time! I keep my informational interviews at no more than an hour long. At the hour I reminder myself to do a body language check- are they fidgeting? Constantly looking at their watch? That means it’s time to wrap it up! If I don’t see that body language, I still say the following:


“Well, I want to be respectful of your schedule, and I can’t thank you enough for carving out some time to talk to me about [x]. I would love to keep in touch and possibly do this again in the future, if that’s okay with you!”


Once home, send a follow up email after the informational interview! This is usually in the form of a thank you note, telling them how much I appreciate their time. Again, always be respectful. The conversation can then continue from there and lead to possible meet ups or collaborations. Informational interviews are a base platform from where you can start a working relationship. My most recent informational interview led to me and a scientist I look up to working together every week and discussing the fishes of New Zealand! 


So how do you find the ways to reach out to your interviewees? Try LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and your network of friends and family. Don’t be shy about reaching out to anyone who looks interesting – reaching out to a stranger can be nerve-wracking but can end up being so rewarding. I believe in you… now go get some interviews lined up! Good luck!



About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here