The best books about women fighting for bodily and political autonomy

Who am I?

I was born in 1974 and grew up in a time when, at least on paper, women had equal rights. I also grew up not far from Harriet Tubman’s home, not far from Seneca Falls, not far from Susan B. Anthony’s house. I became a historian of women’s rights and, I sometimes joke, a secular evangelical for women’s history. Writing Free Thinker was, professionally, the most fun I have ever had. I can think of no better time than right now to study the histories of women who understood that bodily autonomy and political autonomy are two sides of the same coin and who dedicated their lives to securing both. 


I wrote...

Book cover of Free Thinker: Sex, Suffrage, and the Extraordinary Life of Helen Hamilton Gardener

What is my book about?

Free Thinker tells the remarkable story of the “fallen woman” who, rather than slink away in shame, reinvented herself and died as the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. government. When Ohio newspapers published the story of Alice Chenoweth’s premarital affair, she changed her name to Helen Hamilton Gardener, moved to New York, and devoted her life to championing women’s rights and decrying the sexist double standard. Gardener eventually settled in Washington, D.C., where she became "the most potent factor" in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Free Thinker is the first biography of Gardener. This biography exposes the racism that underpinned the women’s suffrage movement and the contradictions of Gardener’s politics. Free Thinker is the story of a woman whose struggles resound in today’s fight for bodily and political autonomy.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power

Kimberly A. Hamlin Why did I love this book?

Rosa Parks is one of a handful of American women whose names make it into our textbooks and social studies curriculum. However, the textbook version of Parks tends to sanitize her activism and skim the surface of her remarkable life. As one of my students observed, Parks’ powerful story has been reinterpreted “to make white people feel good about themselves,” as if somehow all the problems exposed by the Civil Rights movement were fixed after Parks refused to give up her seat. Danielle McGuire’s At the Dark End of the Street restores the fullness of Parks’ life and work, and places Black women and their fight against sexual violence at the center of the ongoing Civil Rights movement. This book transforms how we understand ourselves as a nation and as people. 

By Danielle L. McGuire,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked At the Dark End of the Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Here is the courageous, groundbreaking story of Rosa Parks and Recy Taylor—a story that reinterprets the history of America's civil rights movement in terms of the sexual violence committed against Black women by white men.

"An important step to finally facing the terrible legacies of race and gender in this country.” —The Washington Post

Rosa Parks was often described as a sweet and reticent elderly woman whose tired feet caused her to defy segregation on Montgomery’s city buses, and whose supposedly solitary, spontaneous act sparked the 1955 bus boycott that gave birth to the civil rights movement. The truth of…


Book cover of Redefining Rape: Sexual Violence in the Era of Suffrage and Segregation

Kimberly A. Hamlin Why did I love this book?

In my classes on women, sex, and gender, students almost always ask, “why have we never learned this before?” This is particularly true when it comes to the role of sexual violence in our nation’s history. Estelle Freedman’s pathbreaking book Redefining Rape documents how central sexual violence has been to U.S. history and law, and how women—particularly women of color—have fought against rape. Not only has sexual violence played a formative role in our history, a defining feature of U.S. jurisprudence is the racialization of rape—meaning the false idea that only Black men rape and only white women can be raped—when, in fact, as Freedman powerfully demonstrates, sexual violence has long been a tool of white supremacy. 

By Estelle B. Freedman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Rape has never had a universally accepted definition, and the uproar over "legitimate rape" during the 2012 U.S. elections confirms that it remains a word in flux. Redefining Rape tells the story of the forces that have shaped the meaning of sexual violence in the United States, through the experiences of accusers, assailants, and advocates for change. In this ambitious new history, Estelle Freedman demonstrates that our definition of rape has depended heavily on dynamics of political power and social privilege.

The long-dominant view of rape in America envisioned a brutal attack on a chaste white woman by a male…


Book cover of Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray

Kimberly A. Hamlin Why did I love this book?

People often ask me who is the most important yet least known woman in U.S. history. Of course I am partial to Helen Hamilton Gardener, the woman whose biography I wrote, but overall I think the woman we all need to know about is Pauli Murray. We love to love RBG, but RBG credited Pauli Murray with some of her most effective legal strategies. In fact, Murry was the legal mastermind behind landmark civil rights and sex discrimination cases, including Brown v. Board of Education. And she bravely lived her life on her own terms (as what today we would likely understand as a trans man). Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, I think we could use a refresher on the 14th Amendment and how Americans, none more so than Pauli Murray, have used it to champion equality for all. 

By Rosalind Rosenberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Throughout her prodigious life, activist and lawyer Pauli Murray systematically fought against all arbitrary distinctions in society, channeling her outrage at the discrimination she faced to make America a more democratic country. In this definitive biography, Rosalind Rosenberg offers a poignant portrait of a figure who played pivotal roles in both the modern civil rights and women's movements.

A mixed-race orphan, Murray grew up in segregated North Carolina before escaping to New York, where she attended Hunter College and became a labor activist in the 1930s. When she applied to graduate school at the University of North Carolina, where her…


Book cover of The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service

Kimberly A. Hamlin Why did I love this book?

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs, I think it is imperative to remember what life was like before Roe v. Wade and what women did to survive and to live their lives on their own terms. Kaplan’s book tells the story of the Jane Collective in the words of the women who made Jane work, which makes for powerful reading. And, I think it is important to ask ourselves what about today’s post-Roe era is “like before” and what is very different. For example, pre-Roe, most state restrictions on abortion contained exceptions for rape and incest. Post-Roe, nearly all state abortion bans contain no exceptions for rape or incest. The Story of Jane also chronicles, in some ways, a freer time in which one’s every query and movement was not tracked by one’s phone. 

By Laura Kaplan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An extraordinary history by one of its members, this is the first account of Jane's evolution, the conflicts within the group, and the impact its work had both on the women it helped and the members themselves. This book stands as a compelling testament to a woman's most essential freedom--control over her own body--and to the power of women helping women.


Book cover of Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger

Kimberly A. Hamlin Why did I love this book?

I have started joking that I want to title my next book In Praise of Old Hags and Battle Axes because I think it is so vital that we challenge stereotypes about older women and about women who get mad. We women have a lot to be mad about right now, and many of us are thinking about how to channel our anger for good. Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad puts our complicated feelings about angry women in historical perspective and reminds us of the political and cultural power of angry women. Plus, Traister is one of my very favorite writers.

By Rebecca Traister,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Good and Mad as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Journalist Rebecca Traister's New York Times bestselling exploration of the transformative power of female anger and its ability to transcend into a political movement is "a hopeful, maddening compendium of righteous feminine anger, and the good it can do when wielded efficiently-and collectively" (Vanity Fair).

Long before Pantsuit Nation, before the Women's March, and before the #MeToo movement, women's anger was not only politically catalytic-but politically problematic. The story of female fury and its cultural significance demonstrates its crucial role in women's slow rise to political power in America, as well as the ways that anger is received when it…


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The Child Riddler

By Angela Greenman,

Book cover of The Child Riddler

Angela Greenman Author Of The Child Riddler

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Communications expert International traveler Human relations champion Focused

Angela's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Zoe Lorel, an elite operative in an international spy agency, is sent to abduct a nine-year-old girl. The girl is the only one who knows the riddle that holds the code to unleash the most lethal weapon on earth—the first ever “invisibility” nano weapon, a cloaking spider bot. But when enemies reveal the invisibility weapon’s existence to underground arms dealers, every government and terrorist organization in the world wants to find that little girl.

Zoe races to save not only the child she has grown to care about but also herself. Her agency-prescribed pills—the ones that transform her into the icy killer she must become to survive—are beginning to threaten her engagement to the one person who brings her happiness.

The Child Riddler

By Angela Greenman,

What is this book about?

Despite the angry scars she carries from her childhood training, Zoe Lorel has reached a good place in her life. She has her dream job as an elite operative in an international spy agency and she’s found her one true love. Her world is mostly perfect—until she is sent to abduct a nine-year-old girl.

The girl is the only one who knows the riddle that holds the code to unleash the most lethal weapon on earth—the first ever “invisibility” nanoweapon, a cloaking spider bot. But Zoe’s agency isn’t the only one after the child. And when enemies reveal the invisibility…


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