The best books about feminist

6 authors have picked their favorite books about feminists and why they recommend each book.

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My Life on the Road

By Gloria Steinem,

Book cover of My Life on the Road

I am recommending this as the most personal of Steinem’s books. No list of books on the history of women’s rights would be complete without something about and by the most courageous, most consistent spokeswoman for feminism over the last half-century. Here Steinem tells the tale of her family, focused – surprisingly – on her eclectic and wandering father. The reader will be left with even great appreciation for Steinem and for the many and various routes women take to find their way to feminism and their full, true selves.

Who am I?

I have been writing about the history of women's rights and women's suffrage for over fifty years. Suffrage: Women's Long Battle for the Vote offers a comprehensive history of the full three-quarters of a century of women's persistent suffrage activism. I began my work inspired by the emergence of the women's liberation movement in the 1970s and this most recent history appeared in conjunction with the 2020 Centennial of the Ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. My understanding of the campaign for full citizenship for women repeatedly intersects with the struggles for racial equality, from abolition to Jim Crow. Today, when American political democracy is under assault, the long history of woman suffrage activism is more relevant than ever.


I wrote...

Suffrage: Women's Long Battle for the Vote

By Ellen Carol DuBois,

Book cover of Suffrage: Women's Long Battle for the Vote

What is my book about?

Suffrage explores the full scope of the movement to win the vote for women through portraits of its bold leaders and devoted activists. DuBois explains how suffragists built a determined coalition of moderate lobbyists and radical demonstrators in forging a strategy of winning voting rights in crucial states to set the stage for securing suffrage for all American women in the Constitution. 

This is a “comprehensive history that deftly tackles intricate political complexities and conflicts and still somehow read with nail-biting suspense,” (The Guardian) and is sure to become the authoritative account of one of the great episodes in the history of American democracy.

Groundswell

By Stephanie Gilmore,

Book cover of Groundswell: Grassroots Feminist Activism in Postwar America

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.


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 Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe

By Elaine Showalter,

Book cover of The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe: A Biography

Howe is best known for writing the song that inspired countless Northerners during the Civil War, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Showalter pulls back the curtain on Howe’s life to reveal a woman stuck in a bad marriage with a stifling husband, overwhelmed by childbearing and rearing. Howe took up writing, first completing a novel before turning to poetry. She embraced the abolitionist movement and after the Civil War--after writing her most famous work--focused her energy on women’s rights, serving as president of the American Woman Suffrage Association.


Who am I?

My expertise: I specialize in writing about scrappy women in American history. I started with a trilogy of nonfiction history books about American women in the Philippine Islands who lived through the Japanese occupation during World War II. Then I found a biographical subject that combined the fascinating topics of war and suffrage, so I wrote Dr. Mary Walker’s Civil War: One Woman’s Journey to the Medal of Honor and the Fight for Women’s Rights. The next woman who grabbed my attention was a big name in Hollywood in the 20th century. Queen of the West: The Life and Times of Dale Evans is due out in 2022. 


I wrote...

Dr. Mary Walker's Civil War: One Woman's Journey to the Medal of Honor and the Fight for Women's Rights

By Theresa Kaminski,

Book cover of Dr. Mary Walker's Civil War: One Woman's Journey to the Medal of Honor and the Fight for Women's Rights

What is my book about?

In late 1865, President Andrew Johnson awarded Dr. Mary Walker the Medal of Honor in recognition of the incomparable medical service she rendered to the United States Army during the Civil War. To date, she remains the only woman so honored. After the war, Walker joined the more well-known Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in their efforts to secure support for women’s suffrage. But due to conflicts over ideology and tactics, the doctor soon found herself unwelcome in the movement. Walker quickly became a divisive figure, and her contributions almost disappeared to history.

Wounds of Passion

By bell hooks,

Book cover of Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life

What bell hooks has shown me about the possibility of personal narrative and memoir writing is endless because she consistently shows that your story is never-ending. But mostly bell hooks likes to hurt me on purpose. This is my favorite memoir by her because it centers on two of my favorite topics: words and whirlwind romance that refuses to interfere with the words at stake, and I knew this book would be one I would return to in order to figure out my own priorities once I read, “I’m willing to give up everything I love if it means I won’t be crazy.”


Who am I?

As a person who reads solely for pleasure regardless of research, I make it a mission while writing to read books I actually enjoy on topics I wanna learn more about. I chose the books on this list because I’m also a person who reads multiple books at once in various genres, it keeps me honest; aware of holes and discrepancies in my own work and pushes me towards some semblance of completion. All the writers on this list do multiple things at once and I admire their skill and risk in coupling creativity with clarity.


I wrote...

The Collection Plate: Poems

By Kendra Allen,

Book cover of The Collection Plate: Poems

What is my book about?

Looping exultantly through the overlapping experiences of girlhood, Blackness, sex, and personhood in America, award-winning essayist and poet Kendra Allen braids together personal narrative and cultural commentary, wrestling with the beauty and brutality to be found between mothers and daughters, young women and the world, Black bodies and white space, virginity and intrusion, prison and freedom, birth and death. Most of all, The Collection Plate explores both how we collect and erase the voices, lives, and innocence of underrepresented bodies--and behold their pleasure, pain, and possibility

Both formally exciting and a delight to read, The Collection Plate is a testament to Allen's place as the voice of a generation--and a witness to how we come into being in the twenty-first century.

A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark and Memoirs of the Author of the Rights of Women

By Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin,

Book cover of A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark and Memoirs of the Author of the Rights of Women

I’m often asked by Americans who aren’t familiar with Wollstonecraft (or confuse mother and daughter), which of her books to read first. Vindication of the Rights of Woman is her most famous, but I always answer that if you only read one, this book is it. It’s her most modern and personal work, and the last thing she wrote before dying of puerperal fever at age 38, after giving birth to the future Mary Shelley. It’s part travelogue, love letter, philosophical treatise, cultural history, and (I would argue) suicide note, bookended by her two attempts after a shattering affair with American speculator Gilbert Imlay. It’s short and accessible, beautifully written, and a glimpse into a magnificent mind.


Who am I?

After 15 years as a screenwriter (and some heartbreaking near misses with the big screen), I turned my pen to novel writing, with an adaptation of a script I’d sold four times. My new book, Love and Fury: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft, is hot off the press this year and tells the story of one of the great writers and thinkers of the late 18th century, mother of Mary Shelley, and widely regarded as the mother of feminism. I’m drawn to larger-than-life, brilliant, charismatic, complicated figures whose own trajectories have altered our own. I’m now at work on a collection of short stories and an adaptation of Mr. Dickens and His Carol for the stage.


I wrote...

Love and Fury: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft

By Samantha Silva,

Book cover of Love and Fury: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft

What is my book about?

Midwife Parthenia Blenkinsop has delivered countless babies, but nothing prepares her for the experience that unfolds when she arrives at Mary Wollstonecraft’s door. Over the eleven harrowing days that follow, as Mrs. Blenkinsop fights for the survival of both mother and daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft recounts the life she dared to live amid the impossible constraints and prejudices of the late eighteenth century, rejecting the tyranny of kings, men, and marriage, risking everything to demand equality for herself and all women. She weaves her riveting tale to give her fragile daughter a reason to live, even as her own strength wanes. Wollstonecraft’s urgent story of loss and triumph forms the heartbreakingly brief intersection between the lives of a mother and daughter who will change the arc of history and thought.

In radiant prose, Silva delivers an ode to the dazzling life of Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the world’s most influential thinkers.

Fire and Fog

By Dianne Day,

Book cover of Fire and Fog: A Fremont Jones Mystery

Diane Day’s Fremont Jones is a heroine after my own heart. She remains plucky throughout the entire series, even though the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. Of course, a plucky woman in the first decade of the 20th century was bound to run afoul of society and propriety. Fremont found herself in scrape after silly scrape. This is a mystery with lots of fun. But more than that, it offers a charming sense of life in the olden days during the times that tried women’s souls.


Who am I?

I love history and I love to laugh. That’s why I brand myself as a writer of Victorian Whodunits with a touch of humor. I’ve spent decades learning about 1800s America. I began sharing that knowledge by performing in costume as real women of history. But I couldn’t be on stage all the time so I began writing the books I want to read, books that entertain while sticking to the basic facts of history and giving the flavor of an earlier time. I seek that great marriage of words that brings readers to a new understanding. As Albert Einstein said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” 


I wrote...

Have Your Ticket Punched by Frank James

By Fedora Amis,

Book cover of Have Your Ticket Punched by Frank James

What is my book about?

Investigating the death of a pugilist sends Jemmy  McBustle to illegal boxing bouts in 1898 St. Louis. She chases clues from the department store to Coroner’s office to the grand Jewish Fair. She visits City Jail to interview Jesse James’ smarter brother, legendary outlaw Frank James. She even explores the seedy world of patent medicine makers who flourished before the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.

Jemmy has troubles. Every person at the Illuminator newspaper hates her. Mother keeps trying to marry her off to a rich old geezer. Add into the mix a swarm of boarders at the McBustle boarding house, an uncooperative Thanksgiving turkey, and an entire family down with the flu. Oh, and there’s an ugly calico cat with a broken leg.

Last Days at Hot Slit

By Andrea Dworkin,

Book cover of Last Days at Hot Slit: The Radical Feminism of Andrea Dworkin

I didn’t read Last Days of Hot Slit in time to include it in my own book about sexual violence. In truth, I could have (barely; it was published just before I finished). But I felt comfortable with my aversion to Dworkin, a crusader against assault who had found common cause with conservative activists. And Dworkin was a self-defeating font of vituperation, wasn’t she? Well, no. She was in fact altogether brilliant. Fateman’s wonderfully lucid, deeply researched introduction and the careful selection she and Scholder made of Dworkin’s surprisingly wide-ranging work, demonstrate the force and courage not just of this radical feminist’s writing, but also of her character. She was dauntless.


Who am I?

I write about contemporary art, and much of the work I’ve been drawn to was made by women and by artists in other sidelined communities. Early on, I also focused on marginalized disciplines: artists’ books, performance, and art that responded directly to the vacant sites that abounded in New York City when I started out in the late 1970s. It was an enormously exciting time, but also a tough one. Violence was very hard to avoid. I didn’t focus on that at the time, but ultimately, I realized I needed to look more directly at trouble, and how artists respond to it.  


I wrote...

Unspeakable Acts: Women, Art, and Sexual Violence in the 1970s

By Nancy Princenthal,

Book cover of Unspeakable Acts: Women, Art, and Sexual Violence in the 1970s

What is my book about?

During the famously violent 1970s, the incidence of sexual assault spun out of control, with surprisingly little attention. The women’s movement of the time was great at challenging injustice in the workplace and at home, but initially tiptoed around rape. It was artists who first spoke out, quietly at first, soon with bullhorns. Yoko Ono was the moment’s magnetic if ambivalent herald; Nancy Spero its lacerating poet; Suzanne Lacy its fearless activist. Today sexual assault is routinely in the headlines, but confusion still abounds over whom it most affects, how best to confront it—and even how to define it. Along with illuminating these issues, Unspeakable Acts heeds younger artists who have looked at how rape is inseparably entwined with issues of race and class.  

Sophonisba Breckinridge

By Anya Jabour,

Book cover of Sophonisba Breckinridge: Championing Women's Activism in Modern America

You might be surprised to learn that some prominent suffrage leaders had intimate relationships with women, including Susan B. Anthony and Jane Addams. However, some of these women destroyed their papers to make it difficult for historians to learn about their personal lives (ahem, Anthony and Addams). Scholars are in the process of recovering these stories as much as possible, and Anya Jabour’s Sophonsiba Breckenridge gives us an amazing glimpse into one woman’s experiences. Born in 1868, Breckinridge became one of the first American women to earn a PhD in Political Science. She was a prominent social worker, peace activist, and women’s rights activist until she died in 1948. Breckinridge navigated the spotlight and same-sex relationships, and Jabour tells us how she did it.


Who am I?

I’m Allison Lange, and I’m a historian who writes, gives talks, teaches, and curates exhibitions. For the 19th Amendment centennial, I served as Historian for the United States Congress’s Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission. I am also creating the first filmed series on American women’s history for Wondrium (formerly The Great Courses). My first book, Picturing Political Power: Images in the Women’s Suffrage Movement focuses on the ways that women’s voting rights activists and their opponents used images to define gender and power. My next book situates current iconic pictures within the context of historical ones to demonstrate that today’s visual debates about gender and politics are shaped by those of the past.


I wrote...

Picturing Political Power: Images in the Women's Suffrage Movement

By Allison Lange,

Book cover of Picturing Political Power: Images in the Women's Suffrage Movement

What is my book about?

For as long as women have battled for equitable political representation in America, those battles have been defined by images—whether illustrations, engravings, photographs, or colorful chromolithograph posters. Some of these pictures have been flattering, many have been condescending, and others downright incendiary. They have drawn upon prevailing cultural ideas of women’s perceived roles and abilities and often have been circulated with pointedly political objectives.

Picturing Political Power offers perhaps the most comprehensive analysis yet of the connection between images, gender, and power. This book demonstrates the centrality of visual politics to American women’s campaigns throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, revealing the power of images to change history.

The Agitators

By Dorothy Wickenden,

Book cover of The Agitators: Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women's Rights

Wickenden’s three agitating friends were Harriet Tubman, Frances Seward, and Martha Coffin Wright, women who likely first connected through their work on the underground railroad. Of this estimable trio, Tubman remains the most well-known to history as the formerly enslaved woman who regularly risked her life to guide enslaved people out of bondage before and during the Civil War. Seward, the wife of Lincoln’s secretary of state, used her wealth and power to fight for the rights of Blacks and women. Wright, a Quaker, was the sister of Lucretia Mott, and the two of them helped plan the first women’s rights conference, held at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Wickenden skillfully excavates existing source material to craft this compelling group biography.

Who am I?

My expertise: I specialize in writing about scrappy women in American history. I started with a trilogy of nonfiction history books about American women in the Philippine Islands who lived through the Japanese occupation during World War II. Then I found a biographical subject that combined the fascinating topics of war and suffrage, so I wrote Dr. Mary Walker’s Civil War: One Woman’s Journey to the Medal of Honor and the Fight for Women’s Rights. The next woman who grabbed my attention was a big name in Hollywood in the 20th century. Queen of the West: The Life and Times of Dale Evans is due out in 2022. 


I wrote...

Dr. Mary Walker's Civil War: One Woman's Journey to the Medal of Honor and the Fight for Women's Rights

By Theresa Kaminski,

Book cover of Dr. Mary Walker's Civil War: One Woman's Journey to the Medal of Honor and the Fight for Women's Rights

What is my book about?

In late 1865, President Andrew Johnson awarded Dr. Mary Walker the Medal of Honor in recognition of the incomparable medical service she rendered to the United States Army during the Civil War. To date, she remains the only woman so honored. After the war, Walker joined the more well-known Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in their efforts to secure support for women’s suffrage. But due to conflicts over ideology and tactics, the doctor soon found herself unwelcome in the movement. Walker quickly became a divisive figure, and her contributions almost disappeared to history.

The Women's Room

By Marilyn French,

Book cover of The Women's Room

I read this book over thirty years ago and despite not returning to it, count it as having a significant impact on my work. It is an emotionally charged and powerful book, and I remember being incredibly angry, and sad, and passionate for change. It introduced me to feminism and feminist literature. It shone the light on the need to hear women’s voices in the public realm.


Who am I?

In 1995 I performed with the Women’s Circus (Australia) at the 4th International Conference and Forum on the Status of Women in Beijing. Our show was called Leaping the Wire and presented thirteen women’s stories from Amnesty International through physical narrative. My story was about a Brazilian woman who had been shot and killed for identifying the police who had rounded up her son and a group of his friends. The Brazilian women expressed their gratitude that I had told their story when they could not. I believe women’s stories are important to be told, to be shared, and I made a commitment to make our stories accessible, first through theatre, and now through my novels.


I wrote...

Dancing the Labyrinth

By Karen Martin,

Book cover of Dancing the Labyrinth

What is my book about?

When Cressida falls pregnant, her overwhelming fear is that she will pass on her father’s violent DNA. It takes an ancient matriarchal culture to teach her otherwise.

Dancing the Labyrinth moves between contemporary and ancient Crete in this tale of a young woman from an abusive background who discovers the veiled history of Europe’s most advanced civilization of the Bronze Age – the Minoans. It is a powerful and profound celebration of women’s resilience, courage, and indomitability.

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