The best books on mysterious and intriguing women in history

Why am I passionate about this?

I've been writing for decades, as one genre evolved into another. Local Colorado history led to the identification of "Boulder Jane Doe," a murder victim. During that journey I learned a lot about criminal investigations and forensics. I devoured old movies (especially film noir), and I focused on social history including mysterious and intriguing women. Midwest Book Review (see author book links) credits In Search of the Blonde Tigress as "rescuing" Eleanor Jarman "from obscurity." So true! Despite Eleanor's notoriety as "the most dangerous woman alive," she actually was a very ordinary woman. I've now found my niche pulling mysterious and intriguing women out of the shadows.


I wrote...

In Search of the Blonde Tigress: The Untold Story of Eleanor Jarman

By Silvia Pettem,

Book cover of In Search of the Blonde Tigress: The Untold Story of Eleanor Jarman

What is my book about?

Beginning in 1933, Eleanor Jarman was sensationalized by the press as the “blonde tigress” and “the most dangerous woman alive.” But a closer look at her life shows that she was an otherwise-ordinary woman who got caught up in a Chicago crime spree, then was convicted as an accomplice to murder and sent to prison. In 1940, Eleanor escaped and managed to live out her life as, perhaps, America’s longest-running female fugitive.

In Search of the Blonde Tigress sets the mystery and intrigue of this wanted woman into historic context. With Eleanor’s alias provided by her family (and given the fact that Eleanor, born in 1901, is obviously deceased), I document my search for Eleanor’s remains—right up to a visit to her likely grave.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains

Silvia Pettem Why did I love this book?

Many years ago, when I first moved to a small cabin in the Rocky Mountains, a friend gave me a copy of A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains and inscribed it to "one of the bravest mountain ladies I know."

I relished the book and learned a lot about the history of my new home through the eyes of an English woman who, in 1873, traveled alone and on horseback, to places I now know and love. Instead of fading into the past, Isabella Bird pulled herself out of the shadows. I even named my cat after her. 

By Isabella L. Bird,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A cosmopolitan, middle-aged Englishwoman touring the Rocky Mountains in 1873, Isabella Bird had embarked upon a trip that called for as much stamina as would have been expected of an explorer or anthropologist — and she was neither! Possessing a prodigious amount of curiosity and a huge appetite for traveling, she journeyed later in life to India, Tibet, China, Japan, Korea, and Canada and wrote eight successful books about her adventures. In this volume, she paints an intimate picture of the "Wild West," writing eloquently of flora and fauna, isolated settlers and assorted refugees from civilization, vigilance committees and lynchings,…


Book cover of Sunk Without a Sound: The Tragic Colorado River Honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde

Silvia Pettem Why did I love this book?

In 1928, Bessie Hyde, a newlywed with her husband Glen, hoped to become the first woman to follow the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. But they never made it.

Searchers found the couple's homemade boat near the river's dangerous rapids. Did Bessie and Glen drown, or did they climb the steep canyon walls? Sunk Without a Sound has kept the Hydes' story alive in the hopes that one day their remains will be found and identified. Finding the missing and identifying the unknown have become passions of mine. 

Book cover of Brilliant Bylines: a Biographical Anthology of Notable Newspaperwomen in America

Silvia Pettem Why did I love this book?

Brilliant Bylines is more than a historical narrative of women in journalism, as it also includes samples of the women's writings.

My favorite is Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, better known as "Nellie Bly." She was not unknown, but she was mysterious in her own way and certainly was intriguing. Not only did she travel around the world in 1890, but she also feigned mental illness in order to get the inside scoop on an insane asylum. I named another cat after her, as well.

By Barbara Belford,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Examines the lives and careers of 24 American female journalists from the 1840's to the 1980's and provides examples of their work


Book cover of He Had It Coming: Four Murderous Women and the Reporter Who Immortalized Their Stories

Silvia Pettem Why did I love this book?

Using photo and newspaper archives from the Chicago Tribune, the authors of He Had It Coming tell the stories of four Chicago female murderers from the 1920s.

The documentation (both primary and secondary sources) and, especially, the newspaper's original high-quality historical photographs inspired me to dig deeply into similar archives when researching and writing my book.

By Kori Rumore, Marianne Mather,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked He Had It Coming as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beulah Annan. Belva Gaertner. Kitty Malm. Sabella Nitti. These are the real women of Chicago.

You probably know Roxie and Velma, the good-time gals of the 1926 satirical play Chicago and its wildly successful musical and movie adaptations. You might not know that Roxie, Velma, and the rest of the colorful characters of the play were inspired by real prisoners held in "Murderess Row" in 1920s Chicago-or that the reporter who covered their trials for the Chicago Tribune went on to write the play Chicago.

Now, more than 90 years later, the Chicago Tribune has uncovered photographs and newspaper clippings…


Book cover of Mollie: The Journal of Mollie Dorsey Sanford in Nebraska and Colorado Territories, 1857-1866

Silvia Pettem Why did I love this book?

Mollie was 18 years old and a new bride in 1860 when she and her husband left eastern Nebraska for the gold diggings of Colorado.

The 7-week journey across the plains tested her strength and endurance, but Mollie battled the hardships and isolation of pioneer life with humor, intelligence, and honesty. She never intended her journal to be published, but it was, and I found it inspirational.

By Mollie Dorsey Sanford,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Mollie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mollie is a vivid, high-spirited, and intensely feminine account of city people homesteading in the raw, new land west of the Missouri. More particularly, it is the story of Mollie herself - just turned eighteen when the Dorseys left Indianapolis for Nebraska Territory - of her reaction to the transplantation and to her new life which included rattlesnakes, blizzards, Indians, and the hardships of pioneer life. Mollie describes her nearly three-year engagement to Byron Sanford, during which time she worked as a seamstress, teacher, and cook. Following her wedding Mollie's life took a new turn. Catching "Pike's Peak Fever," the…


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American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason

By Brett Dakin,

Book cover of American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

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Brett Dakin, Gleason's great-nephew, opens up the family archives—and the files of the FBI—to take you on a journey through the publisher's life and career. In American Daredevil, you'll learn the truth about Gleason's rapid rise…

American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason

By Brett Dakin,

What is this book about?

MEET LEV GLEASON, A REAL-LIFE COMICS SUPERHERO!

Gleason was a titan among Golden Age comics publishers who fought back against the censorship campaigns and paranoia of the Red Scare. After dropping out of Harvard to fight in France, Gleason moved to New York City and eventually made it big with groundbreaking titles like Daredevil and Crime Does Not Pay.

Brett Dakin, Gleason's great-nephew, opens up the family archives-and the files of the FBI-to take you on a journey through the publisher's life and career. In American Daredevil, you'll learn the truth about Gleason's rapid rise to the top of comics,…


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