My favorite books on 19th-century women’s rights activists who weren’t Susan B. Anthony

Why am I passionate about this?

My expertise: I specialize in writing about scrappy women in American history. I started with a trilogy of nonfiction history books about American women in the Philippine Islands who lived through the Japanese occupation during World War II. Then I found a biographical subject that combined the fascinating topics of war and suffrage, so I wrote Dr. Mary Walker’s Civil War: One Woman’s Journey to the Medal of Honor and the Fight for Women’s Rights. The next woman who grabbed my attention was a big name in Hollywood in the 20th century. Queen of the West: The Life and Times of Dale Evans is due out in 2022. 


I wrote...

Dr. Mary Walker's Civil War: One Woman's Journey to the Medal of Honor and the Fight for Women's Rights

By Theresa Kaminski,

Book cover of Dr. Mary Walker's Civil War: One Woman's Journey to the Medal of Honor and the Fight for Women's Rights

What is my book about?

In late 1865, President Andrew Johnson awarded Dr. Mary Walker the Medal of Honor in recognition of the incomparable medical service she rendered to the United States Army during the Civil War. To date, she remains the only woman so honored. After the war, Walker joined the more well-known Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in their efforts to secure support for women’s suffrage. But due to conflicts over ideology and tactics, the doctor soon found herself unwelcome in the movement. Walker quickly became a divisive figure, and her contributions almost disappeared to history.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol

Theresa Kaminski Why did I love this book?

Most people who’ve heard of Sojourner Truth known her only as the Black woman who famously asked a group of white women’s rights supporters, “Ar’n’t I a woman?” Historian Painter brilliantly examines the speech Truth delivered in Akron, Ohio, in 1851 and unravels the real story behind it. Painter reveals the life of a remarkable woman who threw off the shackles of her enslavement to become one of the 19th century’s most powerful speakers on gender and racial rights.

By Nell Irvin Painter,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Sojourner Truth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sojourner Truth first gained prominence at an 1851 Akron, Ohio, women's rights conference, saying, "Dat man over dar say dat woman needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches. . . . Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles . . . and ar'n't I a woman?"

Sojourner Truth: ex-slave and fiery abolitionist, figure of imposing physique, riveting preacher and spellbinding singer who dazzled listeners with her wit and originality. Straight-talking and unsentimental, Truth became a national symbol for strong black women--indeed, for all strong women. Like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, she is regarded as…


Book cover of The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe: A Biography

Theresa Kaminski Why did I love this book?

Howe is best known for writing the song that inspired countless Northerners during the Civil War, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Showalter pulls back the curtain on Howe’s life to reveal a woman stuck in a bad marriage with a stifling husband, overwhelmed by childbearing and rearing. Howe took up writing, first completing a novel before turning to poetry. She embraced the abolitionist movement and after the Civil War--after writing her most famous work--focused her energy on women’s rights, serving as president of the American Woman Suffrage Association.

By Elaine Showalter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A “lively biography” (The New Yorker) of Julia Ward Howe, the powerful feminist pioneer and author of the Civil War anthem, “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Julia Ward (1819–1910) was an heiress who married a handsome accomplished doctor who worked with the blind and deaf. But Samuel Howe wasted her inheritance, mistreated and belittled her, and tried to stifle her intellect and freedom. Nevertheless Julia persisted and wrote poetry and a mildly shocking sexual novel that was published to good reviews. She also wrote the words to probably the most famous anthem in the country’s history—the Civil War anthem, “Battle…


Book cover of Lucy Stone: An Unapologetic Life

Theresa Kaminski Why did I love this book?

With all the research skills of a historian, McMillen pulled together fascinating information to show that Lucy Stone deserves recognition as a founder of the women’s rights movement right along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Stone risked her reputation to become a public speaker on the topics of slavery and abolition and women’s rights (it wasn’t considered appropriate for a woman to talk in front of audiences). Her dedication to securing rights for the newly freed enslaved people after the Civil War caused a break with Anthony and Stanton, which resulted in her near-erasure from the history of the postwar women’s suffrage movement.

By Sally G. McMillen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lucy Stone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the rotunda of the nation's Capital a statue pays homage to three famous nineteenth-century American women suffragists: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott. "Historically," the inscription beneath the marble statue notes, "these three stand unique and peerless." In fact, the statue has a glaring omission: Lucy Stone. A pivotal leader in the fight for both abolition and gender equality, her achievements marked the beginning of the women's
rights movement and helped to lay the groundwork for the eventual winning of women's suffrage. Yet, today most Americans have never heard of Lucy Stone.
Sally McMillen sets out…


Book cover of Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and The Scandalous Victoria Woodhull

Theresa Kaminski Why did I love this book?

Goldsmith vividly recreates the life and times of Woodhull, a shrewd manipulator who traded on her physical beauty and her intellect to run a successful brokerage firm after the Civil War. Woodhull, along with her sister Tennessee Claflin, used some of her profits to publish a women’s rights newspaper that supported suffrage and other women’s rights causes. Stanton and Anthony, initially intrigued by her keen business sense and her suffrage commitment, soon shunned her for her radical views on sexuality. Woodhull pushed all sorts of boundaries designed to contain women, even political ones--she ran for president in 1872.

By Barbara Goldsmith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Other Powers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Barbara Goldsmith's portrait of suffragette Victoria Woodhull and her times was hailed by George Plimpton as "a beautifully written biography of a remarkable woman" and by Gloria Steinem as "more memorable than a dozen histories."

A highly readable combination of history and biography, Other Powers interviews the stories of some of the most colorful social, political, and religious figures of America's Victorian era with the courageous and notorious life of Victoria Woodhull--psychic, suffragette, publisher, presidential candidate, and self-confessed practitioner of free love. It is set amid the battle for women's suffrage, the Spiritualist movement that swept across the nation in…


Book cover of The Agitators: Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women's Rights

Theresa Kaminski Why did I love this book?

Wickenden’s three agitating friends were Harriet Tubman, Frances Seward, and Martha Coffin Wright, women who likely first connected through their work on the underground railroad. Of this estimable trio, Tubman remains the most well-known to history as the formerly enslaved woman who regularly risked her life to guide enslaved people out of bondage before and during the Civil War. Seward, the wife of Lincoln’s secretary of state, used her wealth and power to fight for the rights of Blacks and women. Wright, a Quaker, was the sister of Lucretia Mott, and the two of them helped plan the first women’s rights conference, held at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Wickenden skillfully excavates existing source material to craft this compelling group biography.

By Dorothy Wickenden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Agitators as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the intimate perspective of three friends and neighbors in mid-nineteenth century Auburn, New York-the "agitators" of the title-acclaimed author Dorothy Wickenden tells the fascinating and crucially American stories of abolition, the Underground Railroad, the early women's rights movement, and the Civil War.

Harriet Tubman-no-nonsense, funny, uncannily prescient, and strategically brilliant-was one of the most important conductors on the underground railroad and hid the enslaved men, women and children she rescued in the basement kitchens of Martha Wright, Quaker mother of seven, and Frances Seward, wife of Governor, then Senator, then Secretary of State William H. Seward.

Harriet worked for…


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Ferry to Cooperation Island

By Carol Newman Cronin,

Book cover of Ferry to Cooperation Island

Carol Newman Cronin Author Of Ferry to Cooperation Island

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Sailor Olympian Editor New Englander Rum drinker

Carol's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

James Malloy is a ferry captain--or used to be, until he was unceremoniously fired and replaced by a "girl" named Courtney Farris. Now, instead of piloting Brenton Island’s daily lifeline to the glitzy docks of Newport, Rhode Island, James spends his days beached, bitter, and bored.

When he discovers a plan for a private golf course on wilderness sacred to his dying best friend, James is determined to stop such "improvements." But despite Brenton's nickname as "Cooperation Island," he's used to working solo. To keep historic trees and ocean shoreline open to all, he'll have to learn to cooperate with other islanders--including Captain Courtney, who might just morph from irritant to irresistible once James learns a secret that's been kept from him for years.

Ferry to Cooperation Island

By Carol Newman Cronin,

What is this book about?

Loner James Malloy is a ferry captain-or used to be, until he was unceremoniously fired and replaced by a girl named Courtney Farris. Now, instead of piloting Brenton Island's daily lifeline to the glitzy docks of Newport, Rhode Island, James spends his days beached, bitter, and bored.

When he discovers a private golf course staked out across wilderness sacred to his dying best friend, a Narragansett Indian, James is determined to stop such "improvements." But despite Brenton's nickname as "Cooperation Island," he's used to working solo. To keep rocky bluffs, historic trees, and ocean shoreline open to all, he'll have…


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