Historical Heroines to Boost Your Courage: Expanded

Posted on September 9, 2020

by Stefani H

I was inspired by the previous blog post to think deeply about diversity in historical fiction. As someone with a background in history, I know that some historians work very hard to be inclusive of diverse, underrepresented voices. I hope to bring a little bit of that work to historical fiction — as I also have a passion for diversity in literature. What better way to bring together two things I love?

Throughout history a diverse selection of women have accomplished some truly remarkable things to not only survive but achieve in difficult circumstances and unanticipated situations. Below are some of my favorite historical fiction books featuring a diverse group of women who have shown courage to do and discover some truly remarkable things. I hope you enjoy their stories as much as I have!

Cover of Someone Knows My Name

Someone Knows My Name

By Lawrence Hill

Aminata is taken from her home by slave traders. She goes on to lead an enslaved, and finally free life, that takes her all over the eastern United States. She is secretly taught to write while enslaved and uses this skill to not only protect her own existence but assist others in fighting for their own freedom. If there is a greater story of perseverance, hope, and courage, that I have not read it. Aminata’s story is a sprawling epic sure to stick with readers.

Cover of The Guilded Years 

The Guilded Years 

By Karin Tanabe

This novel is a fictionalized version of the life of Anita Hemmings the first black woman to attain a degree from Vassar College — but to do so she had to pass as white. This novel is set at the turn of the 20th century and explores Anita’s life as she pursues her dreams while dealing with the complexities of race and gender. She shows great fortitude in her struggle and many people will be inspired by this enthralling telling of her story.

Cover of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness 

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness 

By Arundhati Roy



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This book this explores the story of Anjum – a Muslim trans woman who is trying to figure out her place in the world while worrying about the future of her community. Through exploring her present, as well as her past, as the only son in her family readers witness the courage it takes for Anjum to live her life authentically. This book explores the complexities of identity and self in India that will grip readers from beginning to end.

Cover of Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen 

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen 

By Sarah Bird

This is the fictionalized story of Cathy Williams, a woman who was born a slave and went on to serve as the only woman among the Buffalo Soldiers of the American Civil War. Disguising herself as a man, she joins the Union Army, which is just one of her many daring, brave acts. She is a reminder that we all have agency and are never at a loss if we can summon the courage to make bold moves.

Cover of The Night Watchman

The Night Watchman

By Louise Erdrich



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This is primarily the story of Patrice “Pixie” Paranteau and the Chippewa of the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota in 1953. The tribe is facing federal termination, economic uncertainty, and young people leaving the reservation. Will she find what she wants in this world while she helps defend her community against this newest face of colonialism? Pixie approaches her life with a trademark mix of dry humor and grim determination that immediately captures a readers attention.

Cover of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

By Lise See

This is the story of two women in 19th Century China in the Hunan region who begin a strong friendship at a young age. These two women support each other through the many joys and trials of their lives until one day a misunderstanding tears them apart. This story is a beautiful exploration of female friendship and the strength it can bring and the devastation of those bonds being severed.

Cover of The Gods of Tango 

The Gods of Tango 

By Caroline DeRobertis

In 20th Century Argentina Leda arrives from Italy to discover that the man she was supposed to marry was murdered. She masters the violin and disguise herself as a man. She discovers that in dawning one disguise, she sheds another. Leda shows a great deal of fortitude as she approaches these new depths of her own identity. This is a truly beautifully rendered portrait of a woman dealing with a confusing mix of unforeseen circumstances.

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