A woman 20th-century Minnesotans knew as Mrs. Walter Judd, the Minneapolis congressman's wife, emerges in a revealing new book as Miriam Barber Judd, a person of talent, faith, passion and the unfulfilled potential that was once the customary consignment of wives of famous men. 

The book is "Miriam's Words: The Personal Price of a Public Life," and the author is Miriam herself, in letters compiled by her eldest daughter, Mary Lou Judd Carpenter of Minneapolis.

Carpenter deserves credit for an honest compilation that includes the lows as well as the highs in her parents' lives. The book will nicely contribute to history's understanding of Walter Judd's public career, including his service in the U.S. House from 1942 to 1962. But I believe the book's greater value lies in the vivid, at times painful picture it paints of restrictive mid-20th century gender roles and expectations of political wives.

Miriam Judd dutifully but not always joyfully followed her husband as his career as a medical missionary-cum-politician took her first to China, then Minneapolis and finally Washington D.C. She struggled to cope with his long absenses and inattention. She found an outlet for her own abilities in church and volunteer work, including a number of leadership posts in the YWCA.

One cannot read her letters without admiring her resilience and goodness -- and without wondering what heights Miriam Barber Judd might have climbed if she had been born 50 years later.