The best books on U.S. grassroots feminism

Melissa Estes Blair Author Of Revolutionizing Expectations: Women's Organizations, Feminism, and American Politics, 1965-1980
By Melissa Estes Blair

Who am I?

I have loved history since I was a girl, visiting my grandparents in Virginia and reading American Girl books. I began to focus on women’s history when I learned in college just how much the women’s movement of the generation before mine had made my life possible. So much changed for American women in the ten years before I was born, and I wanted to know how that happened and how it fit into the broader political changes. That connection, between women making change and the bigger political scene, remains the core of my research. I have a B.A. in history and English from the University of Kentucky, and a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Virginia.


I wrote...

Revolutionizing Expectations: Women's Organizations, Feminism, and American Politics, 1965-1980

By Melissa Estes Blair,

Book cover of Revolutionizing Expectations: Women's Organizations, Feminism, and American Politics, 1965-1980

What is my book about?

In the 1970s the women’s movement created tremendous changes in the lives of women throughout the United States. Millions of women participated in a movement that fundamentally altered the country’s ideas about how women could and should contribute to American society.

Revolutionizing Expectations tells the story of some of those women, many of whom took part in the movement in unexpected ways. By looking at feminist activism in Durham, Denver, and Indianapolis, Melissa Estes Blair uncovers not only the work of local NOW chapters but also the feminist activism of Leagues of Women Voters and of women’s religious groups in those pivotal cities.

The books I picked & why

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Groundswell: Grassroots Feminist Activism in Postwar America

By Stephanie Gilmore,

Book cover of Groundswell: Grassroots Feminist Activism in Postwar America

Why this book?

By looking at three local NOW chapters around the country, Gilmore shows that the leading organization of 1960s feminism wasn’t nearly as centralized as people think. Memphis NOW, for example, was a radical feminist group simply by being a feminist group in the South. San Francisco NOW, by contrast, made coalitions with many more radical groups as they worked together to make change. A great read and an important insight into how NOW actually worked as an organization.


Living for the Revolution: Black Feminist Organizations, 1968-1980

By Kimberly Springer,

Book cover of Living for the Revolution: Black Feminist Organizations, 1968-1980

Why this book?

Springer’s book was one of the first to outline the multiple Black women’s feminist organizations that developed in the late 1960s and 1970s. Situating now fairly well-known groups like the Combahee River Collective alongside lesser-known organizations like the Third World Women’s Alliance, Springer’s brief book is a fabulous primer to Black women’s feminism in an era when many people still think such a thing didn’t exist.


Chicana Power!: Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement

By Maylei Blackwell,

Book cover of Chicana Power!: Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement

Why this book?

Blackwell’s book is very different from Springer’s, and that difference is my favorite part. Instead of giving an overview of several Chicana feminist groups, as Springer does with Black feminists, Blackwell dives deep into one major ones, Las Hijas, in Los Angeles. Oral history is a major source for Blackwell, and the way she includes some of her major characters not only talking about their historical actions but reflecting on them several decades later makes this a great read.


To Live Here, You Have to Fight: How Women Led Appalachian Movements for Social Justice

By Jessica Wilkerson,

Book cover of To Live Here, You Have to Fight: How Women Led Appalachian Movements for Social Justice

Why this book?

Wilkerson finds feminists everywhere in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, which makes this the most geographically unexpected book on this list. By showing how women were central to many social justice movements – not only feminism but environmental justice, health care, and welfare rights – Wilkerson shows us how women truly did lead in the 1970s, in parts of the country where stereotypes suggest they shouldn’t be active at all.


They Didn't See Us Coming: The Hidden History of Feminism in the Nineties

By Lisa Levenstein,

Book cover of They Didn't See Us Coming: The Hidden History of Feminism in the Nineties

Why this book?

Levenstein’s subtitle says it all: we generally don’t think there was a ‘90s feminism. Her book pairs especially well with the others on this list, because it demonstrates how women of color took the lead in an intersectional feminism that focused on a huge range of issues at the end of the 20th century. It’s also a great read about the role of the early internet in 1990s feminist organizing. If you think social media was the first time computer technology shaped grassroots activism, her chapter on technology alone will blow your mind.


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