The best suffragette books

4 authors have picked their favorite books about suffragettes and why they recommend each book.

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Suffragette Sally

By Gertrude Colmore,

Book cover of Suffragette Sally

This amazing account of the Edwardian struggle for women's suffrage was published in 1911, in the thick of it. While doing research for Sally Heathcote Suffragette, I discovered a review of it in Votes for Women, the official paper of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). It weaves the stories of three fictional women into what were then very recent events in suffrage history, bringing them to life. The Sally in the title, like my Sally, is a maid-of-all-work A coincidence? Yes, but not really surprising. Domestic service was the most likely form of employment for a woman of no means before the First World War; Sally (from Sarah) was a common name then and it alliterates well with ‘suffragette’.

Who am I?

I've written and taught about language and gender for many years and I've always been interested in gender politics more broadly. But I wanted to tell a story about suffragettes, something fun to read that would hold the attention and make people think. Because people forget, or just take for granted, what women went through. In the process of writing Sally Heathcote Suffragette, and since, I've accumulated masses of books dealing with women's suffrage. This is a small selection of some I enjoyed. I hope you do too!


I wrote...

Sally Heathcote: Suffragette

By Mary M. Talbot, Kate Charlesworth (illustrator), Bryan Talbot (illustrator)

Book cover of Sally Heathcote: Suffragette

What is my book about?

Sally Heathcote: Suffragette is a gripping inside story of the campaign for the vote. A tale of loyalty, love, and courage, set against a vividly realized backdrop of Edwardian Britain, it follows the fortunes of a common housemaid swept up in the feminist militancy of the era. As the hunger for change grows within a culture of rigid social mores and class barriers, Sally and thousands like her rise up to break the bonds of oppression at the risk of ostracisation and violence. 

Costa-award winners Mary and Bryan Talbot and acclaimed illustrator Kate Charlesworth have crafted a graphic novel of stunning depth, gripping drama, and lavish visual detail that brings history to life.

Suffragettes in the Purple, White and Green

By Diane Atkinson,

Book cover of Suffragettes in the Purple, White and Green: London 1906-1914

Purple, white, and green are the colours of the WSPU regalia. Suffragette ephemera fascinates me, especially their merchandising (soap, chocolate, board games, chinaware - all sorts of things). I first heard of it at a presentation by Diane Atkinson. This book is the catalogue of an exhibition she put together when she was a curator at the Museum of London. An excellent resource, it's full of images with pointers for where to find more. Ephemera is great for giving a sense of period, so I asked the artists on the graphic novel to cram in all they could.

Who am I?

I've written and taught about language and gender for many years and I've always been interested in gender politics more broadly. But I wanted to tell a story about suffragettes, something fun to read that would hold the attention and make people think. Because people forget, or just take for granted, what women went through. In the process of writing Sally Heathcote Suffragette, and since, I've accumulated masses of books dealing with women's suffrage. This is a small selection of some I enjoyed. I hope you do too!


I wrote...

Sally Heathcote: Suffragette

By Mary M. Talbot, Kate Charlesworth (illustrator), Bryan Talbot (illustrator)

Book cover of Sally Heathcote: Suffragette

What is my book about?

Sally Heathcote: Suffragette is a gripping inside story of the campaign for the vote. A tale of loyalty, love, and courage, set against a vividly realized backdrop of Edwardian Britain, it follows the fortunes of a common housemaid swept up in the feminist militancy of the era. As the hunger for change grows within a culture of rigid social mores and class barriers, Sally and thousands like her rise up to break the bonds of oppression at the risk of ostracisation and violence. 

Costa-award winners Mary and Bryan Talbot and acclaimed illustrator Kate Charlesworth have crafted a graphic novel of stunning depth, gripping drama, and lavish visual detail that brings history to life.

A Suffragette My Own Story

By Emmeline Pankhurst,

Book cover of A Suffragette  My Own Story

This book is very important to me. It gave me more understanding of the Suffragette movement in the UK and how women sacrificed their lives for equal rights and fairness. I really appreciate those women activists. Because of them, women now have better treatment and opportunities in society, although we still have a long way to go to have more women in politics and at the decision-making level. 


Who am I?

I'm a human rights activist from Burma. When I was 14, I was forced to flee to Thailand because of an attack by the Burmese military and ended up in a refugee camp. As one of Burma's leading democracy activists in Europe, I campaign for the promotion of human rights, democracy, and development back home in Burma. Together with my family, I set up Phan Foundation which aims to preserve Karen culture, promote human rights, fight poverty and provide education for Karen people. This is in memory of my mother Nant Kyin Shwe and my father Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan, who was assassinated by agents of the Burmese military.


I wrote...

Little Daughter: A Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West

By Zoya Phan,

Book cover of Little Daughter: A Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West

What is my book about?

Zoya Phan was born in the remote jungles of Burma to the Karen tribe, which for decades has been resisting Burma’s brutal military junta. At age 14, her peaceful childhood was shattered when the Burmese army attacked. So began two terrible years of running, as Zoya was forced to join thousands of refugees hiding in the jungle. Her family scattered, her brothers went deeper into the war, and Zoya, close to death, found shelter at a Thai refugee camp, where she stayed until 2004 when she fled to the U.K. and claimed asylum. There, in a twist of fate, she became the public face of the Burmese people’s fight for freedom. This is her inspirational story.

The Suffragette Movement

By E. Sylvia Pankhurst,

Book cover of The Suffragette Movement: An Intimate Account of Persons and Ideals - With an Introduction by Dr Richard Pankhurst

The three main Pankhurst players in the Suffragette movement – Emmeline and two of her children, Christabel and Sylvia – all wrote accounts of the era. But Sylvia’s is arguably the most comprehensive and objective. The book starts out as a memoir of the Pankhurst family’s early lifetheir humble beginnings, their journey to political activismand Pankhurst does not shy away from the gory details of militant suffragette activity. But she is also not afraid to chronicle divisions in the movement, both among the different factions of the WSPU, and between the WSPU and the Labour party, who eventually chose to support working men’s rights above those of women. Sylvia Pankhurst has emerged from the period as the most egalitarian of its heroines, after leaving the main WSPU branch to focus on the cause of working-class women. It’s a tome, but a worthy read.  


Who am I?

This eclectic soiree of books is pretty symbolic of my reading taste – as long as it’s extraordinary, or larger than real life, I’m there for it. I moved to London when I was 22, to undertake my Masters at Shakespeare’s Globe, and after living in a small village, followed by a small university town, it really did feel like arriving at the centre of the universe. I love books that capture the way the spirit of London – its strange, anarchic, punkish, dangerous, and historic forms – can shape a woman into the person she is meant to be. That was what I wanted to capture with The Hourglass Factory’s heroine Frankie George. 


I wrote...

The Hourglass Factory

By Lucy Ribchester,

Book cover of The Hourglass Factory

What is my book about?

The suffragette movement is reaching fever pitch but for broke Fleet Street tomboy Frankie George, just getting by in the cut-throat world of newspapers is hard enough. Sent to interview trapeze artist Ebony Diamond, Frankie finds herself fascinated by the tightly laced acrobat and follows her across London to a Mayfair corset shop that hides more than one dark secret.

When Ebony Diamond mysteriously disappears in the middle of a performance, Frankie is drawn into a world of tricks, society columnists, corset fetishists, suffragettes and circus freaks. How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory?

The Women's Suffrage Movement

By Elizabeth Crawford,

Book cover of The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928

This is the handbook that is literally by my hand as I sit at my desk. It’s not only authoritative but every page is bursting with fascinating passages of biography and quirky histories. It’s one of those reference books to be read, that I return to again and again.


Who am I?

I have specialised in writing about radicals and non-conformists who seem to me to be the most interesting people in the world. I like books about people doing challenging things and making a difference. I love travelling to obscure archives in other countries and finding the riches of personal papers in dusty old rooms curated by eccentric archivists who greet me like an old friend.


I wrote...

Women and the Vote: A World History

By Jad Adams,

Book cover of Women and the Vote: A World History

What is my book about?

In 1893 women had the vote in only one nation, New Zealand. By the 1960s women had the vote in almost all countries and it was an indication of backwardness in the ones where they didn’t. In this book I trace the history of this revolution in world politics in relation to woman, not just in continents where the story is well known but in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In every place there were radical pioneers whose stories are told here, often for the first time in the West.

Suffrage

By Ellen Carol DuBois,

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

Written to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, this lively, exciting book provides a fresh and comprehensive history of the fight for women’s suffrage. DuBois is a leading scholar who presents her expertise in prose that appeals to scholars and general readers alike. There are lots of books on the long history of women’s suffrage—this is the best.


Who am I?

History is my passion as well as my profession. I love a good story! Because understanding the past can be a powerful tool to improving the future, I have written dozens of op-eds and give public talks (some of which can be found in the C-SPAN online library as well as on YouTube). Most of my work focuses on the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (1877-1920) and includes two award-winning biographies, Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer, and Belle La Follette Progressive Era Reformer. I’m also the co-editor of A Companion to the Gilded Age and Progressive Era and author of Beyond Nature’s Housekeepers: American Women in Environmental History.


I wrote...

Belle La Follette: Progressive Era Reformer

By Nancy C. Unger,

Book cover of Belle La Follette: Progressive Era Reformer

What is my book about?

As a speaker and a journalist, Belle La Follette (1859-1931) was a remarkable feminist, campaigner for world peace, and a leader in the fight for women’s suffrage.  She was outraged that many of the best-known white leaders in the suffrage movement were willing to throw their African American sisters under the bus in their efforts to gain the vote for themselves. She asserted that “This business of being a woman is, in many ways, like being a member of a despised race,” and that women should therefore fight against all second-class citizenship. She used her clout as the wife of a U.S. Senator to fight for racial justice and women’s equality, including the right to vote for every American.

Lucy Stone

By Sally G. McMillen,

Book cover of Lucy Stone: An Unapologetic Life

With all the research skills of a historian, McMillen pulled together fascinating information to show that Lucy Stone deserves recognition as a founder of the women’s rights movement right along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Stone risked her reputation to become a public speaker on the topics of slavery and abolition and women’s rights (it wasn’t considered appropriate for a woman to talk in front of audiences). Her dedication to securing rights for the newly freed enslaved people after the Civil War caused a break with Anthony and Stanton, which resulted in her near-erasure from the history of the postwar women’s suffrage movement.

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.

Other Powers

By Barbara Goldsmith,

Book cover of Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and The Scandalous Victoria Woodhull

Goldsmith vividly recreates the life and times of Woodhull, a shrewd manipulator who traded on her physical beauty and her intellect to run a successful brokerage firm after the Civil War. Woodhull, along with her sister Tennessee Claflin, used some of her profits to publish a women’s rights newspaper that supported suffrage and other women’s rights causes. Stanton and Anthony, initially intrigued by her keen business sense and her suffrage commitment, soon shunned her for her radical views on sexuality. Woodhull pushed all sorts of boundaries designed to contain women, even political ones--she ran for president in 1872.

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 Once and Future Witches

By Alix E. Harrow,

Book cover of The Once and Future Witches

Did I mention that I am a sucker for alternative histories? This one takes place in a nineteenth-century America where both witchcraft and women’s rights are ruthlessly suppressed, but three sisters, all witches, are working to revive magic by tracking down forgotten spells. I found this novel much scarier than many fantasy novels because, well, the authorities’ efforts to keep women in line felt all too true to life. The relationships among the sisters are thorny, warm, and satisfyingly complex, and Alix Harrow’s rich, evocative language makes their magic powerfully real.


Who am I?

When I was ten, I found a book on witchcraft on the shelves of my local bookstore and eagerly set out to learn how to practice magic. I had very little success—one rain spell maybe worked, but to be honest, rain was in the forecast anyway. So instead I became a novelist who likes to write about people who can do magic. I love books that not only sweep you into other worlds but show you how it really feels to live there. I hope these five novels give you a truly magical escape. 


I wrote...

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic

By Emily Croy Barker,

Book cover of The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic

What is my book about?

Emily Croy Barker’s enchanting debut novel offers an intelligent escape into a richly imagined world. With an appealing female protagonist, cinematic storytelling, wry humor, and clever literary references, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic has captured the imaginations of readers everywhere.

During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, eager to forget about her disastrous breakup and stalled dissertation, Nora Fischer wanders off and somehow finds herself in another realm. There, she meets glamorous Ilissa—who introduces Nora to a decadent new world—and her devastatingly handsome son, Raclin. But when the elegant veneer of this dreamland shatters, Nora finds herself in a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. And the only way she can survive is by learning magic herself.

The Life and Death of Emily Wilding Davison

By Ann Morley, Liz Stanley,

Book cover of The Life and Death of Emily Wilding Davison

That suffragette who 'threw herself' under the King's horse. Supposedly. Emily Wilding Davison was trampled on the Derby Day racecourse at Epsom on June 4th, 1913. Two WSPU flags were found pinned inside her coat. She died on July 8th, without having regained consciousness. When she was carried off the racecourse, she also had her pockets full. She had the return part of a rail ticket, notepaper, envelopes, and stamps, a race card marked with her fancies up to the fateful 3 pm race, and her helper’s pass card for the WSPU Summer Festival in Kensington, valid for 2.30 to 10.30 pm that day.

It isn’t clear that she was planning suicide. Indeed, she’d placed bets on horses and arranged to be an official at the festival later on. If this kind of detail fascinates you too, this book is a must-read.


Who am I?

I've written and taught about language and gender for many years and I've always been interested in gender politics more broadly. But I wanted to tell a story about suffragettes, something fun to read that would hold the attention and make people think. Because people forget, or just take for granted, what women went through. In the process of writing Sally Heathcote Suffragette, and since, I've accumulated masses of books dealing with women's suffrage. This is a small selection of some I enjoyed. I hope you do too!


I wrote...

Sally Heathcote: Suffragette

By Mary M. Talbot, Kate Charlesworth (illustrator), Bryan Talbot (illustrator)

Book cover of Sally Heathcote: Suffragette

What is my book about?

Sally Heathcote: Suffragette is a gripping inside story of the campaign for the vote. A tale of loyalty, love, and courage, set against a vividly realized backdrop of Edwardian Britain, it follows the fortunes of a common housemaid swept up in the feminist militancy of the era. As the hunger for change grows within a culture of rigid social mores and class barriers, Sally and thousands like her rise up to break the bonds of oppression at the risk of ostracisation and violence. 

Costa-award winners Mary and Bryan Talbot and acclaimed illustrator Kate Charlesworth have crafted a graphic novel of stunning depth, gripping drama, and lavish visual detail that brings history to life.

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