Every day at lunchtime, 9-year-old Holden Elderkin gets a fun lesson about inspiring women in history via lovingly drawn napkins from her mom. Celebrating the strong, bold, and influential women of our past and present is an idea that came to Meaghan Elderkin after her daughter’s reaction to the recent presidential election.
Elderkin, who has been leaving lunchbox notes for her daughter since preschool, had designed a celebratory napkin on November 8 in anticipation of a Clinton victory. “It was of a dancing squirrel in a leotard (a la Beyoncé in the ‘Single Ladies’ video) that said ‘Who Run The World? Squirrels,’ ” Elderkin shares. Both mother and daughter took Clinton’s loss hard, sparking a new, creative idea—something to give both mother and daughter comfort.
“I decided to draw her some pictures of strong, brave women with some of their more notable quotes,” she says. “The first round of napkins I drew, the women were somber looking, and I couldn’t even bring myself to draw them with their eyes open. I felt as if we, as a country, had let them down, and I think subconsciously I was trying to protect them from seeing what we had done. But after a few days of moping and wallowing, I decided to take my own advice, and I redrew them. Bigger and more confident, and with their eyes open.”
Authors, aviators, actresses, activists, and politicians—the range of women drawn show that strong females are involved in every facet of life. Their inspirational quotes act as a call to action and reminder that empowered women, though they may face obstacles, can conquer anything. Napkin drawings are a tradition started by Elderkin’s mother, who used to draw on her lunch napkins—making it natural that she would continue the ritual with her own daughter. Elderkin, who is a freelance illustrator and fine artist, shared her work in the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group, where she was overwhelmed by the supportive responses.
“I had only been invited to join the Pantsuit Nation group a few days before and I’m not sure that I realized how many people these napkin drawings would reach, or how enthusiastically they would be received,” Elderkin says. “I hadn’t realized that I as a mother, had a loud enough voice to make any sort [of] difference and it made me see that even the smallest acts of encouragement are worth doing.”
Look below for more of Elderkin’s empowered female heroes.
Above image: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” Amelia Earhart (1897 – 1937). First female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, member of the National Woman’s Party, and early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.
“I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.” Lucille Ball (1911 – 1989). Legendary comedienne and first woman in television to be head of a production company.
“When they go low, we go high.” Michelle Obama (1964 – ). 44th First Lady of the United States, and first African-American First Lady.
“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” Louisa May Alcott (1832 – 1888). American novelist best known for her novel Little Women.
“…if you’ve listened to them carefully and you still think you’re right, then you must have the courage of your convictions.” Jane Goodall (1934 – ). British primatologist and world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees.
“…if we want scientists and engineers in the future, we should be cultivating the girls as much as the boys…” Sally Ride (1951 – 2012). American physicist and astronaut who, in 1983, became the first American woman in space.
“Beware, I am fearless and therefore powerful.” Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851). English novelist best know for the novel Frankenstein.
“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” Malala Yousafzi (1997 – ). Pakistani women’s rights activist and youngest-ever Nobel Prize winner.
“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” Madeleine Albright (1937 – ). First female United States Secretary of State.
All images via Meaghan Elderkin.