Book tour included a tea party for girls in Buffalo, Mo.

Bi-partisan collaboration among the women serving in the Missouri Senate led to publication of the book, You Can, Too!, and it also reaped dividends during the legislative session in Jefferson City that adjourned in May. The session, especially for the senate, repeatedly garnered headlines for being contentious.

On Tuesday at a tea party in Buffalo to promote the book and literacy among young women, Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, carefully described the session as “challenging.” She was responding to a question about the ways the collaborative book-writing and production paid off during the legislative process.

“The women of the senate kind of rose to the challenge a couple of times and got things back on track,” Sen. Riddle said. “I think part of that is a direct result of this collaboration. When you have that relationship, you can sit down and maybe work through some problems that before you were just butting heads on. We managed to break a log jam several times.”

Sen. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo, added, “It definitely helped. We all know more about each other.”

Second Lady Claudia Kehoe provided a fitting bookend before the tea party ended, telling 10 young women ages 6 to 15, “You can disagree with someone and still be their friend.”

You Can Too! book Sen. Crawford hosted the tea party and book tour event at the Dallas County Historical Society, seated at the head table with Sen. Riddle and Second Lady Kehoe. Their tea party guests, seated at adjoining tables adorned with pretty pink decor, were girls from local schools.

You Can, Too! tells the unique stories of all 36 women senators throughout history and their journeys to the Missouri Senate. Collectively, the stories speak to the diversity of all these women, and the different paths they took to get there. There are currently 11 Missouri Senators—more than ever before at one time in Missouri’s history. 

The book’s cost was underwritten by the Missouri Humanities Council and edited and published by Missouri Life Media.

You Can,Too! is designed to engage young readers, promote literacy, instill confidence and encourage young girls to follow their passions. The book’s theme is one of empowering young girls and women to overcome obstacles and become their best selves.

Greg Wood, publisher of Missouri Life magazine, said You Can, Too! “easily fit Missouri Life’s mission” of showcasing the stories about Missouri’s past, present, and future, while also enhancing literacy education and cultivating young readers. Missouri Life magazine is published eight times a year with roughly 130,000 Missourians reading each issue. 

Missouri Humanities Council paid for the book’s production costs in line with its mission of helping Missourians explore the people, places, and ideas that shape our society. The book was an opportunity for the nonprofit to brighten Missouri’s future by highlighting a bipartisan initiative promoting literacy development throughout the state.  

Sen. Crawford also introduced or thanked Missouri Humanities, Missouri Life magazine, Dallas County Economic Development Director Hollie Elliott, the Missouri Library Association, the Dallas County Historical Society staff and volunteers, the Missouri Retired Teachers Association, Missouri teachers, and Dr. Tim Ryan, Dallas County R-1 superintendent of schools. She also recognized event sponsors O’Bannon Bank and Old Missouri Bank.

Sen. Crawford also shared several “fun facts” and history bullet points:

  • Currently, 11 women serve in the 34-member Missouri Senate, more than ever before in the chamber’s history.
  • Women first began serving in the Missouri legislature in 1923, after ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. 
  • That year, two women were seated in the Missouri House of Representatives.
  • It would be another 50 years—1972—before Missouri elected the first woman to serve as state senator.

Sen. Crawford asked her guests to guess how many male senators have served in the Missouri Senate’s 200-year history. The correct answer: 1,118. The number of women senators during that time (and all coming since 1972)? Just 36.

“That history and our newfound coalition led us to look for ways to encourage women and girls like you to step up and do things like run for office,” Sen. Crawford said. “That’s why we wrote our book, You Can, Too!”

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Hear the You Can, Too! tea party guests introduce themselves. Be sure to turn up your volume.

Additional book tour stops have already taken place at the Bedell Theater at SEMO’s River Campus; at Emerson Performance Theater, Harris-Stowe State University; at Jennings Senior High School Auditorium in St. Louis; and the West Plains Public Library.

Future book tour stops include August 12 at the Bruce R. Watkins Museum and Cultural Center in Kansas City and August 26, with details to be announced.

Tuesday’s book tour stop in Buffalo—Sen. Crawford’s hometown—was part of a larger-scale book launch tour happening across the state. Calling themselves “The Eleven,” Missouri’s female senators are traveling the state to meet with community leaders and members who want to join their campaign to promote literacy and the history of Missouri’s women senators. 

“It was such an honor to be a part of You Can, Too. I enjoy encouraging youth, and this is just another way I can do that,” Sen. Crawford said at the event. “I am honored to host our book tour event in Buffalo at the Dallas County Historical Society. The book truly is part of our history.”

Copies of the book You Can,Too! will be provided to fourth grade classrooms throughout Missouri, and sent to libraries, pediatricians’ offices and other places where youth are likely to read. The book is available for purchase by contacting local senators or visiting the Missouri Life online shop. 

Senators Crawford and Riddle told their tea party guests and others gathered on Tuesday that the book was the result of a dinner that each of the women senators attended. 

As they talked about the historic number of eleven women serving in Missouri’s Senate, they shared stories about their own journeys into public office. Along with a desire to focus on a project that would encourage kids to read, the concept for a book quickly became a reality.

“It has given us a greater understanding of each other as human beings,” Sen. Riddle said, remembering the dinner with her women colleagues.

“I was blown away by some of the history and background of the women I serve with,” she said, “I had no idea.”

In a press release, the women senators said, “We chose to title the book You Can,Too! because we wanted to encourage all children to live their best lives and reach for their dreams. We especially wanted to send this message to young girls, like you. This was an important evening for us. We all agreed to work together on something that would encourage young women and girls.”

“Our hope is that the girls and women reading this book will see pieces of themselves represented in the stories, and are inspired to pursue their dreams, and maybe even run for office.”

With a foreword from First Lady Teresa Parson and Second Lady Claudia Kehoe, the book also discusses how women earned the right to vote, and includes activities like a treasure hunt buried in the book’s pages. 

The book includes stories from all 36 former and current senators, as well as a treasure hunt and fun facts to allow young readers to have more fun with the book. The book ends on a page that represents a mirror — and like the title imparts — let kids reading know that: you can, too. 

From left, Second Lady Claudia Kehoe, Sen. Sandy Crawford, and Sen. Jeanie Riddle.

Read additional coverage about the release of You Can, Too! by the Missouri Independent, The Missouri Times, KJLU radio, and a video produced by This Week in Missouri Politics.

The literacy effort to which Sen. Crawford referred is Senate Bill 681, which was passed with the core legislation intact and signed by the governor on July 1. The legislation takes a comprehensive approach to addressing literacy. The 11 senators wanted to do more together that would benefit the people of Missouri. Taking the lead on the bill were Senators Cindy O’Laughlin, Lauren Arthur, Jill Schupp, and Karla Eslinger. 

“The Eleven” were instrumental in presenting a united front “to successfully protect the bill from controversial amendments, which was key to getting it passed,” the senators said in a news release.

Senate Bill 681 takes a comprehensive approach to addressing literacy. It ensures that:

  • Schools use vetted, evidence-based curriculum to instruct reading
  • Students take ongoing reading assessments, developed/approved by the Department        of Elementary and Secondary Education, to track progress. If students demonstrate reading deficiencies, appropriate school personnel teams along with parents or caregivers, will convene and map out a reading success plan.
  • Students with reading deficiencies – including students with dyslexia – receive interventions and needed support.
  • Teachers receive training on evidence-based literacy instruction, whether they’re an undergrad or a veteran teacher.
  • Funding will be available through a Literacy Fund, which, thanks to the advocacy of Sens. Arthur, Eslinger, and O’Laughlin, will receive $25 million this year.