Erika Janik Resurrects Female Pioneers

By Rachel Werner | Photographed By Kaia Calhoun

Writing proved to be a means to an end author Erika Janik had never envisioned. Her postgraduate study of colonial history at UW-Madison had her on course to a lifelong career in academia, but a major detour took place when she started volunteering at Wisconsin Public Radio.

“I really thought I would spend years in a basement or an office somewhere writing papers that almost no one would ever read,” Janik says. “But after a year, they hired me because I knew how to find people and tell a story. All they had to do was teach me how to push the buttons.”

As the producer and biweekly host of Wisconsin Life, Janik’s passion for obscure facts and local trailblazers—past and present—shines through. And listeners will find a similar narrative in her nonfiction books like “Pistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction,” which debunk the narrow historical niche to which females have been relegated.

“My primary inspiration has been sharing my love of and enthusiasm for history, and telling stories of women in what I sometimes call ‘unexpected places,’ she says. “These places are really only unexpected because the history most of us learned is so male, political, military—and white. I hope that by finding and telling these stories, it helps us all remember the stories we think we know about our past are often missing a lot of voices and faces.”


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