The best women's rights books

7 authors have picked their favorite books about women's rights and why they recommend each book.

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The Feminist Promise

By Christine Stansell,

Book cover of The Feminist Promise: 1792 to the Present

I am recommending this book because it is a beautifully written, originally argued overview of women’s rights long history. Stansell organizes her compelling history of women’s rights around the shift from mothers’ perspectives (nineteenth-century feminism) to daughters’ perspectives (twentieth century). She writes beautifully and sweeps over this long tradition without minimizing the disagreements, shifts, and changes, all the while emphasizing the consistent theme of women’s individual freedom and collective struggle.

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.

Eighty Years and More

By Elizabeth Cady Stanton,

Book cover of Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences 1815-1897

I am recommending this autobiography of the great nineteenth-century feminist intellectual and activist. Eighty Years and More is one of the great autobiographies in American history, up there with that of Frederick Douglass and Henry Adams. Stanton told the account of her early years, her path to becoming a reformer, and the epic battles in which she fought for women’s rights in an engaging writing style that still speaks to women today. Readers who only know of Stanton through the controversies over her racism and elitism will be well served by learning about the many, path-breaking facets of her life and career. Postscript: go online to read Stanton’s great late-life speech, The Solitude of Self.

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.

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.

Leading the Way

By Janet Howell, Theresa Howell, Kylie Akia (illustrator)

Book cover of Leading the Way: Women in Power

This is a collection of women who stood up and spoke out. It includes several first ladies including Abigail Adams, Betty Ford, and Hillary Rodham Clinton. What I love about this book is that it assigns power symbols to each woman that represent such things as persistence, resourcefulness, and courage. In the back, there’s a Take-Action Guide to encourage young women to be leaders in their own ways. Girls from all backgrounds will be able to see a role model in this book.


Who am I?

When I learned that Jackie Kennedy Onassis had helped save Grand Central I had to know more about her! This lead to being curious about other First Ladies and how they served America during and after they were in the White House. Often their contributions were overshadowed by their husbands, so with this list, I’m shining a light on little-known facts about these well-known women.


I wrote...

When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy's Fight for an American Icon

By Natasha Wing, Alexandra Boiger,

Book cover of When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy's Fight for an American Icon

What is my book about?

When the owners of Grand Central wanted to build a skyscraper atop the famous train terminal, Jackie knew she had to stop them. She inspired people to come together and fight to protect the historic landmark – a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. This little-known story about an iconic First Lady celebrates winning in the face of great odds and how one person can make a big difference.

Sisters in Spirit

By Sally Roesch Wagner, John Fadden (illustrator),

Book cover of Sisters in Spirit

This provocative book examines the role and status of women in the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy and how 19th-century white feminists used them as role models in beginning their own fight for rights, including suffrage. It’s a quick read and kind of a life-changing one, really, especially if (like me) you’re completely ignorant of Native history and its relation to US history.  

Among other things, Haudenosaunee women had the right to choose and advise tribal leaders, and had far more control over their persons and their children than Euro-American women did. Wagner argues that close relationships with the Haudenosaunee influenced people like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage leading up to the famous Seneca Falls Convention in 1848.


Who am I?

My great-grandmother was a suffrage leader in Maine from roughly 1914-1920, and is the subject of my first book, Voting Down the Rose: Florence Brooks Whitehouse and Maine’s Fight for Woman Suffrage. Florence helped found and led the Maine branch of the Congressional Union, working closely with the indomitable Alice Paul. In 2015 I retraced the original route of an epic cross-country trip for suffrage; this led to my novel, We Demand: The Suffrage Road Trip. I did extensive research for both books and have become passionate about women’s rights history. I speak frequently on suffrage to students, historical societies, libraries, book clubs, and other groups.


I wrote...

We Demand: The Suffrage Road Trip

By Anne B. Gass,

Book cover of We Demand: The Suffrage Road Trip

What is my book about?

We Demand: The Suffrage Road Trip is based on the true story of an epic cross-country trip that took place in 1915. It was America's first trans-continental car trip for a cause- to demand that Congress pass an amendment to the US Constitution enfranchising women.

The story unfolds through the eyes of Ingeborg Kindstedt and Maria Kindberg, middle-aged, lesbian Swedish immigrants who own the car, do all the driving, and fix what goes wrong. The roads are often bad, and the weather is worse. They lose their way in a trackless Nevada desert and get stuck in the mud in Kansas, amid many other adventures. Will they arrive in DC at the appointed day and time?

In Pursuit of Equity

By Alice Kessler-Harris,

Book cover of In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th-Century America

Alice Kessler-Harris’s In Pursuit of Equity is an essential book for anyone who is interested in studying how gendered ideas have shaped the history of rights and citizenship in the United States. As Harris reveals, for much of the U.S.’s history, men were defined as the primary rights-bearing citizens in U.S. society while women were defined as family members who were in need of extra-legal supervision and protection. This contrast has not only created stark differences in how the government and laws have treated men and women citizens, but it has also created striking limitations on women’s range of choices for how to participate in public life. Harris’s book first opened my eyes to the various ways our assumptions about gender have influenced men and women’s social roles as well as impacting the very concept of rights and citizenship in the United States. 


Who am I?

I am a historian with a PhD in history from American University. My research has focused on the changing nature of U.S. citizenship after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. In particular, my newly released book, Gendered Citizenship, sheds light on the competing civic ideologies embedded in the original conflict over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) from the 1920s through the 1960s. My research has won recognition through several grants and fellowships and my writing has appeared in the Washington Post, History News Network, New America Weekly, Gender on the Ballot, and Frontiers


I wrote...

Gendered Citizenship: The Original Conflict over the Equal Rights Amendment, 1920-1963

By Rebecca DeWolf,

Book cover of Gendered Citizenship: The Original Conflict over the Equal Rights Amendment, 1920-1963

What is my book about?

By engaging deeply with United States’ legal and political history, Gendered Citizenship illuminates the ideological contours of the original ERA conflict. Through an extensive examination of almost-forty different archival collections, several court cases, and a multitude of government documents, Gendered Citizenship unearths the array of both men and women who participated in the original conflict. In the process, Gendered Citizenship takes the struggle over the ERA in an entirely new direction.

Rather than focusing on the familiar theme of why the ERA failed to gain enactment, Gendered Citizenship explores how the debates over the ERA transcended traditional political divides in the early to mid-twentieth century and ultimately redefined the concept of citizenship in the United States.

Pay Up

By Reshma Saujani,

Book cover of Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work

In Pay Up, Reshma Saujani astutely addresses the moment that working women exist in today: a moment when burnout is more common than not and inequality persists both at work and at home. Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code and author of Brave, Not Perfect challenges the dangerous myth that women can "have it all" and pushes readers to redefine our notions of success. The book contains bold calls for change and tools for working women and leaders in the corporate space to implement to help achieve this.


Who am I?

Throughout my career, I’ve always been passionate about leveling the playing field for women. I do this through my writing, speaking, and investing. Much of my current work is informed by the 20 years I spent in corporate as both an executive and a mentor to hundreds of women. ​The books I’ve chosen for this list are written by women I admire and who espouse similar approaches to the way I lead and show up at work. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I have!


I wrote...

Embrace the Work, Love Your Career: A Guided Workbook for Realizing Your Career Goals with Clarity, Intention, and Confidence

By Fran Hauser,

Book cover of Embrace the Work, Love Your Career: A Guided Workbook for Realizing Your Career Goals with Clarity, Intention, and Confidence

What is my book about?

I came up with the idea for this guided workbook when I realized that women all around me were feeling stuck, and there wasn’t a practical yet inspiring resource to help them find clarity and achieve their career goals. The pandemic has driven so many women out of the workforce and left others questioning their paths. My hope is that through simple, inspiring, and actionable tools, Embrace the Work, Love Your Career will help women of all ages thrive in their careers and ultimately live the lives they want and deserve.

Feminism for the Americas

By Katherine M. Marino,

Book cover of Feminism for the Americas: The Making of an International Human Rights Movement

When global diplomats formed the League of Nations in 1919, feminists were forced to lobby for women’s rights from outside the halls of power. As a small measure of progress, after World War II six states would appoint women to the 1945 conference charged with drafting a charter to govern the League’s successor: the United Nations. Half of the female delegates were appointed by Latin American nations, and together, the three feministas would lobby tirelessly to ensure that the UN Charter bound the body to promote human rights “without distinction as to race, language, religion, or sex.” Marino’s fabulous book explains why, in the 1920s and 1930s, Latin American feminists came to play such an outsized role in the global quest for sexual equality and human rights.


Who am I?

When I was at university in the 1980s, I thought I wanted to become the ambassador to France. Then one of my roommates made me promise to take a women’s studies class—any class—before I graduated. I opted for “The History of Women’s Peace Movements.” Descending into historical archives for the first time, I held in my hands crumbling, 100-year-old letters of World War I-era feminists who audaciously insisted that for a peaceful world to flourish, women must participate in its construction. My life changed course. I became a professor and a historian, and I have been following the trail of feminist, internationalist, social justice pioneers ever since.  


I wrote...

Peace on Our Terms: The Global Battle for Women's Rights After the First World War

By Mona L. Siegel,

Book cover of Peace on Our Terms: The Global Battle for Women's Rights After the First World War

What is my book about?

As World War I drew to a close, statesmen and diplomats descended on Paris, promising to build a new international order rooted in peace, justice, and democracy. Women demanded they live up to their word. Excluded from the negotiations, female activists met separately and insisted boldly that peace would never be secured to the exclusion of half of humanity. My book follows dozens of remarkable women from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and North America as they demanded women’s right to dignity, security, and equality in civil, political, and economic life. It shows how, in the watershed year of 1919, nascent feminists from across the world transformed women’s rights into a global rallying cry.

Free Thinker

By Kimberly A. Hamlin,

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

Helen Hamilton Gardener secured crucial support from leading politicians in Washington, DC for the 19th Amendment’s ratification. Despite her significance, few know the story of her exciting and controversial life. Fortunately, Kimberly Hamlin tells Gardener’s dramatic story in her book Free Thinker. Born Alice Chenoweth in 1853, she had to leave her job as a teacher in Ohio after an affair with a married school commissioner in 1876. She adopted the name Helen Hamilton Gardener and a range of modern ideas: women’s rights, opposition to the sexual double standard, and freethought. Gardener eventually became the highest-ranking female official in the federal government by the time of her death in 1925. Free Thinker provides a fascinating glimpse into the behind-the-scenes politics that led to the 19th Amendment’s ratification.


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.

Alice Paul

By J.D. Zahniser, Amelia Fry,

Book cover of Alice Paul: Claiming Power

Alice Paul is nearly as obscure as Gandhi is famous, but not because she deserves to be. Paul led the American suffrage movement during its final decade, from 1910 to 1919, when the nineteenth amendment was finally passed. Claiming Power is the best biography out there about the underappreciated Paul.  Zahniser and Fry detail the life of this indefatigable activist, who changed the suffrage movement from an often “ladylike,” deferential campaign to an unapologetically confrontational crusade. My own book emerged from a desire to tell Paul’s story as an example of nonviolent activism at work, because she is rarely understood in this context.  But make no mistake about it, Paul was a nonviolent leader of the first order.   


Who am I?

In the early years of the Trump presidency, I looked for a subject that would inspire young readers, and keep me from falling into despair. I loved researching this topic and finding ways to do justice to the incredible people and the movements at the center of my book. Simply put, it was a joy to become an expert on this important topic. There are so many reasons to be pessimistic about the state of the world, but these stories give me hope that together we can create a better future for everyone.


I wrote...

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World

By Todd Hasak-Lowy,

Book cover of We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World

What is my book about?

We Are Power brings to light the incredible individuals who have used nonviolent activism to change the world. The book explores questions such as what is nonviolent resistance and how does it work? In an age when armies are stronger than ever before, when guns seem to be everywhere, how can people confront their adversaries without resorting to violence themselves? Through key international movements as well as people such as Gandhi, Alice Paul, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and Václav Havel, this book discusses the components of nonviolent resistance. It answers the question “Why nonviolence?” by showing how nonviolent movements have succeeded again and again in a variety of ways, in all sorts of places, and always in the face of overwhelming odds. The book includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

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