Elaine F. Weiss' What to Read this Women's History Month

Posted by Cybil on March 01, 2018

Elaine F. Weiss' upcoming The Woman's Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote recounts the history of one of the greatest political victories in American history: the down and dirty campaign to get the last state to ratify the 19th amendment, granting women the right to vote. In honor of Women's History Month, Weiss is recommending more great women's histories. Check out her picks below!


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I've never liked fairy tales or shape-shifting fantasy stories, I admit with some trepidation…no spectacular sci-fi for me. Even as a child, eager as I was to lose myself in books—the library allowed me to check out ten at a time—I wanted to burrow into stories grounded in the real world, populated by fascinating people having adventures that actually happened, set in a whole other time. Narrative history, I eventually learned, was the term for the kind of book I liked. And, many years later, that's the kind of book I write. In celebration of Women's History Month, then, as the March winds begin to blow, narrative history is the type of book I'm going to suggest you read.

I loved biographies, and powered through the Landmark Books, those iconic blue-covered books that held the tales of amazing lives. Those lives were almost exclusively lived by men; the only Landmark biographies of women I recall were of Abigail Adams, Clara Barton, Helen Keller, and Eleanor Roosevelt. But that was OK, I could read them multiple times. Each time, I cried when they died—a predictable hazard when reading bios. While I found the lives of the men equally captivating, they didn't transport me in quite the same way.

Since I've always found true stories to be even more powerful than imagined ones, it makes sense that I became a journalist: Getting paid to write about real people enmeshed in complicated situations was a perfect extension of my reading foundations. When background research in dusty repositories was required, all the better. I was in the business of discovering stories, recording idiosyncratic voices, explaining how the world worked.

Like any journalist, I was always on the lookout for a "scoop"—the facts no one else had yet uncovered, the story no one had yet told. So when I turned to writing narrative history—pivoting from writing the first drafts of history to writing the second iteration—I found myself again drawn to exploring more neglected sectors of the historical map. That led me to women's history…and the thrill of discovery.

Women's lives, and their work in the world, are often hidden, harder to find in the archives; placing them into the context of their times requires extra effort, but the rewards are great. The ah-ha moments are deeply satisfying, certainly for the writer, and hopefully for the reader. And if "well-behaved women seldom make history"—as Laurel Thatcher Ulrich famously described our subjects—we have marvelously colorful characters to write about.

There's no best time of the year for reading great stories about fascinating women, but Women's History Month gives us the impetus to bring these books some well-deserved attention, and carry them onto your TBR lists.

Here are a few of my favorites, some new, some older, all terrific.

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What women's history would you recommend to your fellow readers? Let us know in the comments!

Elaine F. Weiss' The Woman's Hour: The Last Furious Fight to Win the Vote will be published on March 6th. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf.

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Comments Showing 1-42 of 42 (42 new)

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message 1: by Serene (new)

Serene The Radium Girls. I’m reading this right now.

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


message 2: by Jasmine (last edited Mar 01, 2018 06:41AM) (new)

Jasmine Serene wrote: "The Radium Girls. I’m reading this right now."

I was going to reply with this exact comment! I'm nearly done, just about 50 pages to go (tried to finish it last night, but I was so tired). It's an excellent book!


message 3: by Lynn (new)

Lynn When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins


message 4: by Serene (new)

Serene Jasmine wrote: "Serene wrote: "The Radium Girls. I’m reading this right now."

I was going to reply with this exact comment! I'm nearly done, just about 50 pages to go (tried to finish it last night, but I was so..."


Same here! I’m almost done with the book too

Kate Moore has done an impressive job! I felt so emotional while reading about the women and their fight for justice...


message 5: by Lynn (new)

Lynn We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese by Elizabeth Norman.


message 6: by NicAlba (new)

NicAlba Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win by Rachel Ignotofsky.

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky

She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England before Elizabeth by Helen Castor

Not Just Jane: Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature by Shelley DeWees


message 7: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Not to say this isn't a nice collection, but there are an awful lot of white women represented and not enough diversity.


message 8: by Megan (new)

Megan Sanks Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs


message 9: by Katsuro (last edited Mar 01, 2018 10:01AM) (new)

Katsuro Ricksand Cindy wrote: "Not to say this isn't a nice collection, but there are an awful lot of white women represented and not enough diversity."

I checked, and 3 of the 8 writers of the eight books were women of color. Also, at least 1 of the white writers was lesbian, so that increases the diversity to 50% minority writers, which I'd say is pretty decent. Of course, even more PoC writers or LGBT+ writers on the list wouldn't exactly be a problem.
(Could be that you meant the women written about in the books; in that case I can't say what the numbers are since I haven't read them.)

With that said, it bugs me that none of the books are translations. No offense, but not all good books are written in English.


message 10: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Katsuro wrote: "Cindy wrote: "Not to say this isn't a nice collection, but there are an awful lot of white women represented and not enough diversity."

I checked, and 3 of the 8 writers of the eight books were wo..."


Yeah, I was mainly commenting about who is represented in the books, but it's good to know that there is at least some diversity in authorship. I just wish they would try a little harder. It's not too hard to find great books about women of color/ LGBTQ.


message 11: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Giles One Woman Against War: The Jeannette Rankin Story, by Kevin S. Giles. This is my new biography about the first woman elected to Congress and her lifetime pursuit of world peace. She also led an anti-war march to the U.S. Capitol in 1968. She's a curious footnote in history for a couple of other reasons, the discovery of which I'll leave to the reader.


message 13: by Richp (new)

Richp I noticed this list was entirely about US women, and all were narrative histories, which Weiss points out is her preference. That is not in wrong in itself, but the title of the list is misleading and overreaching. I suggest making the title more specific, perhaps by using a subtitle as is common for nonfiction books. I do enjoy narrative history; it beats novels in most cases and the reader learns a lot more.

I have noticed this before on lists on GR. I recall a list by Rick Riordan that was a blatant shill for his sub-genre. Narrative history for the YA market is far more traditional, still current, and far more educational.


message 14: by Aubrey (new)

Aubrey Richp wrote: "I noticed this list was entirely about US women, and all were narrative histories, which Weiss points out is her preference. That is not in wrong in itself, but the title of the list is misleading ..."

Agreed.


message 15: by Iset (new)

Iset Wish there were, well, ANY books about non-American women in that list.


message 16: by Prophet (new)

Prophet Godsgift Bee Willie I earnestly like this Books not just that am a Philosopher but as a theologian


message 17: by Richp (new)

Richp Iset wrote: "Wish there were, well, ANY books about non-American women in that list."
Look at Aubrey's list. She has at least 5 that are not primarily about US women. As is common when one person submits a short list of favorites, other readers often provide many suggestions as good as or better than the books on the original list.


message 18: by Susan (new)

Susan Cindy wrote: "Not to say this isn't a nice collection, but there are an awful lot of white women represented and not enough diversity." So what are your suggestions to improve the diversity, Cindy?


message 19: by Klaudia (new)

Klaudia Books Lilac Girls is a book if you want to be depressed, but is relaxing all the same.
Lilac Girls


message 20: by Derek (new)

Derek Walker For the forgotten builders of modern Australia, Abandoned Women by Lucy Frost is a must read. The books First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung and I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzia show that in many parts of the world, women are still treated worst than second class citizens. And if you want to know the hidden part of American suburbia try Hush by Sandra Raine.


message 22: by Kiki (new)

Kiki I knew this women! I watched the movie!


message 23: by awesomatik.de (new)

awesomatik.de West with night - By Beryl Markham.

Great Book. Badass woman.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...


message 24: by Juliet (new)

Juliet Smith The Warmth of Other Suns is about the Great Migration, but the author is a black woman and one of the main stories is about a black woman who moves from the Deep South to Chicago.


message 25: by Susan (new)

Susan Where I live (Canada) Women's History Month is in October...

I imagine any books about the Famous Five would be appropriate for that.


message 26: by Kelley (last edited Mar 02, 2018 05:58AM) (new)

Kelley One of my all-time favorite books is Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It's about women's spirituality, considered non-fiction because it's research, and it's fascinating. I've actually read it a few times over the years.


message 27: by Geevee (new)

Geevee I'd recommend these three different & varied titles that covers privilege and philanthropy, women's rights and courageous service in war (all have a English/British focus).

Also the link to English Heritage's site has some interesting information on women linked to their properties that may have further reading for people: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/le...

The Pankhursts by Martin Pugh The Pankhursts by Martin Pugh

Elizabeth Cadbury 1858-1951 by Richenda Scott

Sisters in Arms British Army Nurses Tell Their Story by Nicola Tyrer Sisters in Arms: British Army Nurses Tell Their Story by Nicola Tyrer


message 28: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine Klaudia wrote: "Lilac Girls is a book if you want to be depressed, but is relaxing all the same."

I have that book on my (very long) list of books to read.


message 29: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine Every month should be women's month on Goodreads.

The future is female x


message 30: by Nyla (new)

Nyla The Mercury 13 by Martha AckmannThe Mercury 13

I read this one over a decade ago, and I'm still talking about it.


message 31: by Virginia Creese (new)

Virginia Creese Lynn wrote: "We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese by Elizabeth Norman."
I also read this quite a while ago and still am amazed by what those women endured. Should be required reading in any class about WWII.


message 33: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine So many great suggestions in these comments--my to read list is going to get much longer!

I recommend:
Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox
Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva by Rosemary Sullivan


message 34: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Desert Queen by Janet Wallach


message 35: by Aaliya (new)

Aaliya I would like to suggest the 'Other Side of Silence' by Urvashi Butalia. A book about the struggles women underwent during the partition of India and how selectively history is recorded.


message 36: by Colleen (new)

Colleen Knowles I definitely want to read The Radium Girls... By all accounts and comments, Kate Moore has written this well.


message 37: by Claire (new)

Claire McAlpine UnbowedUnbowed: A Memoir

Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize and was an incredible and remarkable woman, who achieved many great things, using the privilege of the education she was given, (she was a recipient of the 'Kennedy Airlift' scholarship) to improve things in her country, Kenya, and in particular for women.

I can think of no more profound and inspiring read for #WomensHistoryMonth than The First African Woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and first and only environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize.


message 38: by Katsuro (new)

Katsuro Ricksand Claire wrote: "first and only environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
"


First, yeah, but not only, since Al Gore got it too.


message 39: by Colleen (new)

Colleen Iset wrote: "Wish there were, well, ANY books about non-American women in that list."

https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/1... <-- I actually made this list for a US expat community overseas. Would love more suggestions on it!


message 40: by Claire (new)

Claire McAlpine Katsuro wrote: "Claire wrote: "first and only environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
"

First, yeah, but not only, since Al Gore got it too."

Perhaps, but she spent her working lifetime as an environmentalist first and foremost.


message 41: by Sue (new)

Sue Aaliya wrote: "I would like to suggest the 'Other Side of Silence' by Urvashi Butalia. A book about the struggles women underwent during the partition of the India and how selectively history is recorded."

Thanks Aaliya, I'm very interested to read this one, I didn't know of it before.


message 42: by Katsuro (new)

Katsuro Ricksand E. wrote: "I'd like to suggest, "More Than Petticoats, Remarkable Florida Women" by E. Lynne Wright."
Methinks the reason you'd like to suggest it is because you wrote it. It's okay to be honest about that; in fact, some religions even demand honesty. :)


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