The best historical novels with female protagonists in unusual jobs

Linda Shenton Matchett Author Of Spies & Sweethearts: A WWII Romance
By Linda Shenton Matchett

Who am I?

As a former Human Resources executive I’m fascinated by the history of women in the workforce, especially in jobs that have traditionally been held by men. I was first drawn into the topic as a writer of WWII novels. Through memoirs, autobiographies, and oral history interviews I learned firsthand about women who entered the workforce to take the place of men who were serving in combat or the defense industry. In an effort to spotlight the women of this era as well as those who have gone before, many of my protagonists hold unusual jobs such as spy, war correspondent, pilot, doctor, restaurant owner, and gold miner. 

I wrote...

Spies & Sweethearts: A WWII Romance

By Linda Shenton Matchett,

Book cover of Spies & Sweethearts: A WWII Romance

What is my book about?

She wants to do her part. He’s just trying to stay out of the stockade. Will two agents deep behind enemy lines find capture… or love?

Running for her life, OSS agent Emily Strealer clings to her mentor’s military experience during the harrowing three-hundred-mile trek to neutral Switzerland. And while Gerard can’t bear the thought of his partner falling into German hands, their forged papers might not be enough to get them over the border. Can the fugitive pair receive God’s grace to elude the SS and discover the future He intended?

The books I picked & why

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The Stage Driver's Daughter: A Sweet Historical Romance

By Krystal M. Anderson,

Book cover of The Stage Driver's Daughter: A Sweet Historical Romance

Why this book?

What I love most about The Stage Driver’s Daughter is that it’s inspired by the true story of Charley Parkhurst, a woman who disguised herself as a man to make a living as a rancher and stagecoach driver. The book digresses from real events, but the author effectively evokes the experience through vivid description and dialogue. I could smell, see, and hear what it was like to navigate the rutted and treacherous roads of the Old West. I was later than most learning to drive, and I have a poor sense of direction so driving to new places can be challenging and somewhat frightening for me. I admired Winnie’s fearlessness and try to remember her bravery when I am on my own in the car headed into unfamiliar territory.

A Bride's Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas

By Erica Vetsch,

Book cover of A Bride's Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas

Why this book?

I love a book that teaches me something, and A Brides Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas taught me a lot, from photography (complete with technical descriptions that somehow weren’t too dry!) during the late 1800s/early 1900s to laws about women (they differed by territory). I appreciated that although Adeline was a strong protagonist, she wasn’t “modern” or behaved in ways that didn’t fit with her time period. There was an element of mystery to the story when her shop is vandalized, and I enjoyed trying to solve the whodunit. I have read this book multiple times.

The Librarian's Journey: 4 Historical Romances

By Patty Smith Hall, Cynthia Hickey, Marilyn Turk

Book cover of The Librarian's Journey: 4 Historical Romances

Why this book?

This is a collection of four novellas that feature pack horse librarians, a project of the Works Progress Administration that delivered books to remote regions in the Appalachian Mountains between 1935 and 1943. I knew nothing about the program and was captivated by these brave women who traveled deep into the mountains by themselves to bring reading and education to the poor (As someone who loses her car in a mall parking lot I can’t imagine doing this). What I loved most about the stories is the impetus it created for me to dig deeper into the program and the women themselves. Being a book lover and former library trustee, what these women did moved me on a deeply emotional level.

Mary Bridgette

By Dannie Roan,

Book cover of Mary Bridgette

Why this book?

Mary Bridgette is a story of World War I, and the main character joins the Salvation Army to go overseas to serve. What drew me to the heroine and the book was the premise that someone who has never left the tiny town in which she lives would travel thousands of miles into a war zone to help strangers. Before reading the story, I didn’t know much about The Great War, and the author weaves information throughout the story to educate and inform the reader. I finished the book admiring the women who volunteered to serve despite personal danger.

The Gem Thief

By Sian Ann Bessey,

Book cover of The Gem Thief

Why this book?

Having worked for a jewelry designer in the Washington, DC area, The Gem Thief caught my eye. The story took me back to my days in the shop (good memories!), and the author has obviously done her research, because her accuracy is impeccable. I liked all of the characters, but I bonded with one of the secondary characters so much that I felt we could be friends in “real life.” I’ve been to New York City often, so I also enjoyed revisiting the city. The book was both comfortable because of all the associations to “past lives,” and exciting as I turned pages wondering what would happen next.

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