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A Feminist's Guide to Books About Women’s History

Posted 03/01/21 by Rebecca S

There is a common misconception that if a book is about a woman, then it must also be feminist. Sadly, this is most definitely not the case. Many books that claim to tell the story of women, often reinforce notions of gender conformity and patriarchy disguised in historical analysis. For a book to claim feminism as its project, it must examine women’s lives or ideas that attempt to change gender norms. It may seem like a daunting task when you consider the number of books published yearly that take the lives of women (both as individuals and collectively) as their topic, to find one that also offers a feminist analysis. But have no fear, what follows is a list of books that will fulfill both your curiosity about the lived experiences of historical women and your desire to smash the patriarchy.

Cover of The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen

The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen
By Susan Bordo

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Anne Boleyn is one of the most controversial women in English history; we argue over her, we pity and admire and revile her, we reinvent her in every generation. She takes on the color of our fantasies and is shaped by our preoccupations: witch, sexual temptress, cold opportunist. The Creation of Anne Boleyn is part biography and part cultural history - a fascinating and feminist reconstruction of Anne's life with an illuminating look at her afterlife in the popular imagination.

Cover of A Black Women's History of the United States

A Black Women's History of the United States
By Daina Ramey Berry and Kali N. Gross

Print

Black women are, and have always been, instrumental in shaping our country. Yet their stories are seldom told in the mainstream whitewashing of American history. A Black Women's History of the United States seeks to change this erasure by reaching far beyond a single narrative to showcase Black women's lives in all their fraught complexities. The result is a starting point for exploring Black women's history and a testament to the beauty, richness, heartbreak, rage, and enduring love that lives in the spirit of Black women in communities throughout the nation.

Cover of The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
By Kate Moore

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The Radium Girls tells the story of a group of women who worked in the first case for a company called the United States Radium Corporation and at Radium Dial. As working-class girls and women during the 1910s and 1920s they joined a new bustling form of work, fashionable and better paid than anything else. They were the Radium Girls, and they were doomed. The Radium Girls is frighteningly easy to set in a wider context. The story of real women at the mercy of businesses who see them only as a potential risk to the bottom line is haunting precisely because of how little has changed; the glowing ghosts of the radium girls haunt us still.

Cover of The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
By Hallie Rubenhold

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The story of Jack the Ripper who terrorized the Whitechapel neighborhood of London is well known. However, for many of us, if we were asked to name his 5 known victims, we would come up short. The Five seeks to correct this by piecing together who these women were, what their lives were like, and restoring to them the dignity that has been denied since their deaths. In The Five, Rubenhold pushes back against historical assumptions that the women were prostitutes and dives deep into the harsh and brutal reality of women living in poverty during the Victorian Era, while calling time on the misogyny that has fed the Ripper myth.

Cover of They Didn't See Us Coming: The Hidden History of Feminism in the Nineties

They Didn't See Us Coming: The Hidden History of Feminism in the Nineties
By Lisa Levenstein

Print

This book is for anyone who, like me, came to feminism in the 90s. Sandwiched between the 2nd wave and what some are calling a 4th wave staring in the early 2000s, the feminism of the 1990s is often left out of feminist historical analysis. However, historian Lisa Levenstein sees the 90s as a time of intense and international coalition building, one that centered on the growing influence of lesbians, women of color, and activists from the global South. Levenstein highlights how their often-hidden work has laid the foundation for the feminist energy seen in today's movements

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