Women's History Month Book Recommendations
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu
A graphic history book with mini biographies on "rebel ladies" from Nzinga, Queen of Ndongo and Matamba to investigative journalist Nelly Bly and Naziq al-Abid, "activist aristocrat."
Types of roles: Medical Professionals, Visual and Performing Artists, Activism, Leaders, Celebrities, Philanthropists, Scientists, Hometown Heroes, and Warriors.
Representation: International, Asian, Middle Eastern, Caribbean/Latinx, African, Black American, Greek, European, LGBTQ+/Queer, Transgender.
Note: This does not have to be read in order as each biography is its own story!
Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women's Fight for Their Rights by Mikki Kendall
A graphic history in which young women learn about women's history. Through time travel, they observe and discuss historical figures and their impact on their countries and the world.
Themes: Women's rights, suffrage, racism, eugenics, feminism, white feminism vs. black feminism, disability, civil rights, the future of feminism and women's rights.
Representation: LGBTQ+/Queer, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), Disability.
Note: This is a great book for the discussion of women's rights over time and the separations that activists created when intersectionality was not understood. It is also focused mostly on the United States once it approaches modern day.
She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger
This book is about the perseverance of women around the world. Similar to the book before it, girls learn about women who have made strides despite sexism and other types of discrimination.
Themes: Women's rights, suffrage, segregation, feminism, breaking barriers, environmentalism, medicine, education, sports, dance
Representation: Latinx (Mexico & Brazil), Disability, New Zealand, Canada, India, Egypt, Kenya, Liberia, China, Pakistan, Fatness.
Note: J.K. Rowling is included in this book but I do not support her due to her trans exclusionary views.
The Gilded Years by Karen Tanabe
This is a book about the life of Anita Hemmings, the unofficial first Black graduate of Vassar College. Anita left Roxybury, MA for Vassar College and passed as white to pursue her education. This novel reimagines her life at home and at school using primary source materials from Boston and Vassar.
Themes: Segregation, whiteness, passing, education.
Representation: Black American
Note: There are wonderful resources and notes at the back of the book!
Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me by Janet Mock
Janet Mock's second book is a sort of redo of her first memoir. She explains that she left much of her full life out of the first one as she felt she needed to seem perfect in order for cisgender folks to take in the story and accept trans people. It is an honest and raw story but much needed!
Themes: Mixed race/cultures, transgender experience, sex work, education, marriage, relationships (familial, friendships, and romantic), fashion, journalism.
Representation: Transgender, BIPOC, Hawaiian, Sex Work.
A Black Women’s History of the United States by Daina Ramey Berry And Kali Nicole Gross
This is a History book that places Black women at its center. Berry and Gross describe thats that Black women built America while pushing back against their oppression and oppressors. They highlight the complexities of Blackness and Black womanhood and emphasize that there is no one narrative.
Themes: Race, racism, sexism, antiracism, activism, feminism, suffrage, and much more.
Note: I will add my review of this book in the coming months!
Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang
Through historical research, Chang brings Empress Dowager Cixi's (1835–1908) amazing story to light. After the Emperor died and her five-year-old son became the country's leader, she led a coup that made her the ruler of China from "medieval empire into the modern age."
Themes: Sex work, war, invasions, rebellions, women's rights, monarchy.
The Women's Suffrage Movement by Sally Roesch Wagner
"An intersectional anthology of works by the known and unknown women that shaped and established the suffrage movement, in time for the 2020 centennial of women's right to vote, with a foreword by Gloria Steinem" - Goodreads
Themes: Activism tactics, citizenship, race, racism, factions.
Representation: Native/Indigenous, Black, and White American women.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee Historical Fiction
A generational tale beginning in the early 1900s in Korea. This novel brings the reader through Japan's occupation of Korea and the complexities of relationships between Korean, Japanese, and "mixed" folks within Japan.
"From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan's finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee's complex and passionate characters--strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis--survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history." - Goodreads
Themes: WWII, Japanese occupation, gambling, family, identity, success and failure, sexuality, marriage, and duty.
Note: This is one of my all time favorite books!
How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
This short book begins with an introduction by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and packs in four interviews with three members of the Combahee River Collective and Black Lives Matter's Alicia Garza. Each woman describes their experiences from childhood to their first introduction to Black feminism, to their views today.
Themes: White feminism, black feminism, sexism, organizing, communism, socialism, civil rights, Black Power movement, Black Panthers, activism.
Note: This is a great book for folks already familiar with the basics of intersectional feminism.
Girl in Black and White: The Story of Mary Mildred Williams and the Abolitionist Movement by Jessie Morgan-Owens
Jessie Morgan-Owens uses extensive research to uncover the life of Mary Mildred Williams, a young enslaved girl who gained her freedom due to her pale skin and was paraded about by abolitionists to drive their points home across the North. Morgan-Owens ties in the historical context of the time and includes bits about similar narratives.
Themes: Race, racism, enslavement, gender, whiteness, abolitionism, white savior, New England.
Note: Highly recommended!!!
Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson
Rosemary Kennedy is often not mentioned when folks discuss the Kennedy family and there is a reason for that. Kate Clifford Larson helps the audience get a glimpse of the Kennedy family behind closed doors in this historical biography. The author tackles the effects of World War II, the eugenics movement, and experimental surgery on Rosemary and many other Americans. Readers are left with a view of how detrimental ableism is.
Themes: Ableism, disability, WWII, eugenics, lobotomies, experimental surgery, sterilization, women's rights, mental institutions.
Content warning: This book contains some descriptions of surgeries and medical procedures that may disturb the reader.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
This book inspired the extremely popular film of the same name (pictured on its cover) but packs a whole lot more information. While the film captures a reimagined version of the lives of three "human computers," Shetterly spends much of the book diving into the history and experiences of many more of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians.
Themes: Racism, sexism, civil rights, space exploration, mathematics, science.
Note: Although the film depicts a white savior and decent moments with white folks, they did not actually happen, as you'll notice in this book.