The best books illuminating innovative women whose stories overcame silencing

Who am I?

While a history student at the University of Washington I became aware that courses never included more than a paragraph on the important contributions of women, such as Eleanor Roosevelt or Jane Addams. I longed to know more. What gave some women motivation to defy conventions and use their talents?  When I first learned that Helga Estby’s audacious achievement was silenced for over 100 years, it launched me into over 15 years of research trying to recover this forgotten woman’s story.  As a writing professor for twenty years, I saw how assigning papers that led to exploring and understanding the women in one’s family background deeply enriched college students' lives.


I wrote...

Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America

By Linda Lawrence Hunt,

Book cover of Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America

What is my book about?

Defying all assumptions about women in 1896, a determined and desperate eight living children, Helga Estby and her daughter Clara dared to walk over 3500 miles on a $10,000 wager trying to save her family farm. Using their wits and a Smith and Wesson, they battled snowstorms, hunger, mountain lions, and the occasional thief walking from Spokane, Washington to New York City.

Accomplishing what was once deemed impossible, they arrived in New York heralded by the city’s newspapers for their astonishing achievement. But their triumph was quickly complicated by deep disappointment, betrayal, and heartbreaking news from home, all of which combined to silence their remarkable story among their family and friends for generations. A favorite with book clubs and winner of several literary awards.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Silences

Linda Lawrence Hunt Why did I love this book?

Olsen’s landmark book (1994) sheds light on how the writings and creativity of marginalized women and working-class people are often disenfranchised and the circumstances and forces that seek to silence them. I discovered her seminal ideas while in the midst of writing my Ph.D. dissertation at Gonzaga University on Helga Estby that emerged later as Bold Spirit. I was trying to figure out why her family burned hundreds of the pages Helga secretly wrote of her audacious journey across America. This evolved into my closing chapter in Bold Spirit on “the silencing of family stories,” which prompts readers to consider their own family silences. She raises important questions, especially for writers, on what nurtures creativity. 

By Tillie Olsen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A study of the crucial relationship between circumstances - of sex, economic class, colour, the times and climate into which one is born - and creativity. The book draws on the lives, letters, diaries and testimonies of writers such as Melville, Hardy, Blake and Rimbaud. Tillie Olsen focuses on the financial and cultural pressures which obstructed, or silenced, their work. She then turns to those who have lost most: women writers, their energies deflected into domesticity and motherhood; black American writers, only 11 of whom published more than two novels from 1850-1950.


Book cover of Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen

Linda Lawrence Hunt Why did I love this book?

This introduces readings to the life, teachings, and art of one of the world’s greatest female artists and intellectuals of the western mystical traditions. A 12th-century abbess of a large and influential Benedictine abbey, she defied convention for women in the Middle Ages and became a prominent preacher, healer, scientist, artist, composer, and theologian. Virtually unknown for almost 800 years, it is a credit to the women’s movement in restoring her lost legacy. 

Publications of her writings, performances of her musical compositions, her ecological insights, and sense of earth “as a region of delight” are no longer silenced and contribute to vibrant understanding and discussions in the contemporary world. The art in Illuminations emerges from her mystical visions.

By Matthew Fox,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An introduction to the life and work of Hildegard.

• Reveals the life and teachings of one of the greatest female artists and intellectuals of the Western Mystical Tradition.

• Contains 24 full-color illustrations by Hildegard of Bingen.

• Includes commentary by Matthew Fox, author of Original Blessing (250,000 sold).

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was an extraordinary woman living in the Rhineland valley during most of the twelfth century. Besides being the abbess of a large and influential Benedictine abbey, she was a prominent preacher, healer, scientist, and artist. She also was a composer and theologian, writing nine books on…


Book cover of The Signature of All Things

Linda Lawrence Hunt Why did I love this book?

Although not a huge fan of Gilbert’s bestselling book Eat, Pray and Love, I found myself mesmerized by her stunning historical novel, The Signature of All Things. Although fiction, Gilbert immerses the reader into the 18th and 19th century transformational time around scientific discoveries, through the Whittakers, a prominent Philadelphia family of botanists. Her portrayal of Alma, the brilliant daughter who inherits both her father’s money and brains, and becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself illustrates the challenges facing women scientists in the era. Old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class and how this impacts women are all addressed in this sweeping novel.   

By Elizabeth Gilbert,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Signature of All Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

_______________ SHORTLISTED FOR THE WELLCOME BOOK PRIZE LONGLISTED FOR THE BAILEYS WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION _______________ 'Quite simply one of the best novels I have read in years' - Elizabeth Day, Observer 'Charming ... extensively researched, compellingly readable' - Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph 'Sumptuous ... Gilbert's prose is by turns flinty, funny, and incandescent' - New Yorker _______________ A captivating story of botany, exploration and desire, by the multimillion copy bestselling author of Eat Pray Love Everything about life intrigues Alma Whittaker. Her passion for botany leads her far from home, from London to Peru to Tahiti, in pursuit of…


Book cover of Dust Tracks on a Road: A Memoir

Linda Lawrence Hunt Why did I love this book?

Hurston, a prominent novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist during the Harlem Renaissance time, she finds her greatest recognition in her fictional book Their Eyes Were Watching God. She grew up in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated black town in America.  A graduate of Barnard College, she attended graduate classes at Columbia University and receives several honors for her ethnographic research as a pioneer writer of “folk fiction’ about the black South.

Although she gained considerable fame for a brief time, she dies in near obscurity and poverty although a resurgence of her writings influenced a new group of black women writers. I especially valued reading Dust Tracks on the Road, her poignant autobiographical memoir first published in 1942 after reading Alice Walker’s essay of her search to find Hurston’s unmarked grave. 

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dust Tracks on a Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With a new introduction by JESMYN WARD

'Zora Neale Hurston was a knockout in her life, a wonderful writer and a fabulous person. Devilishly funny and academically solid: delicious mixture' MAYA ANGELOU

First published in 1942 at the height of her popularity, Dust Tracks on a Road is Zora Neale Hurston's candid, exuberant account of her rise from childhood poverty in the rural South to a prominent place among the leading artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. As compelling as her acclaimed fiction, Hurston's literary self-portrait offers a revealing, often audacious glimpse into the life - public and private…


Book cover of Something Worth Doing: A Novel of an Early Suffragist

Linda Lawrence Hunt Why did I love this book?

Jane Kirkpatrick, a New York Times bestselling writer of over 35 books, specializes in fictionalizing true stories of prominent women in history who are often unknown to today’s readers. Something Worth Doing, a historical novel, brings to life the story of Abigail Scott Duniway, an early suffragist and pioneer in the 19th century Pacific Northwest. As a married woman and mother of eight living children, Kirkpatrick weaves together Dunn's challenges as a newspaper publisher, primary breadwinner, and national speaker fighting for the rights of women and the vote. 

Kirkpatrick, a psychologist, illustrates the universal pulls between career and family in a male-dominated sphere. One of my favorite genres is historical fiction and Kirkpatrick backs her novels with significant historical research.  

By Jane Kirkpatrick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Something Worth Doing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1853, Abigail Scott was a 19-year-old school teacher in Oregon Territory when she married Ben Duniway. Marriage meant giving up on teaching, but Abigail always believed she was meant to be more than a good wife and mother. When financial mistakes and an injury force Ben to stop working, Abigail becomes the primary breadwinner for her growing family. What she sees as a working woman appalls her, and she devotes her life to fighting for the rights of women, including their right to vote.

Following Abigail as she bears six children, runs a millinery and a private school, helps…


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The Emerald Necklace

By Linda Rosen,

Book cover of The Emerald Necklace

Linda Rosen Author Of The Emerald Necklace

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Novelist Swimmer Public Speaker Reader Lover of gardens

Linda's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

It’s 1969. Women are fighting for equality. Rosalee, an insecure sculptor, and Fran, a best-selling novelist, have their issues. Will their bitter envy of each other and long-held secrets destroy their tenuous friendship? Or will Jill, Rosalee’s granddaughter, and the story behind her emerald necklace bind them together?

A multi-generational novel of friendship and frenemies, envy, and long-held secrets that explores current issues through a historical lens. The Emerald Necklace sheds light on that inevitable time when lovers, family, friends, and circumstances change and force you to reinvent yourself whether you want to or not.

The Emerald Necklace

By Linda Rosen,

What is this book about?

"Engaging and mysterious, The Emerald Necklace sheds light on that inevitable time when lovers, family, friends and circumstances change and force you to reinvent yourself whether you want to or not." –Rebecca Rosenberg, award-winning Champagne Widows series

Three months after her husband's death in 1969, Rosalee Linoff is determined to jump back into life.

For her, that means returning to her art. She desperately wants to be accepted as a talented sculptor, but that requires she dig up the courage to submit her work again - and be judged. Her paralyzing insecurity mounts when she meets her new neighbor, best-selling…


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