A Little Women’s History Reading

It’s Women’s History Month, and I want to share a few of the amazing books by and about women that I’ve read recently. I’ve included two classics of women’s literature and three that are a little outside the box, and added a few words about each taken from my Goodreads reviews. All provide insight, inspiration, and a good dose of fun (not unlike time spent with “the girls” in real life!)

A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN                                                                                                         Virginia Woolf, 1929                                                                                                                             In this lecture to aspiring women writers, Virginia Woolf walks us through the history of why prior centuries produced so few books by women, and explains why “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” It speaks to a much broader audience though.  Don’t most of us long for a creative life, but find it too frequently out of reach? This book provides fuel for the challenge.

A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN                                                                    Mary Wollstonecraft, 1792                                                                                                                   A long and sometimes repetitive 18th century text, but the ideas—shocking and highly controversial in their time–are simple:                                                                                   woman = human                                                                                                                      education should be the same for everyone                                                                               when you oppress women, bad things happen                                                                                 if you treat people equally, good things will happen                                                                      Of course this applies to all human rights. The argument in favor is simple: equality, inclusion, acceptance, appreciation. What is complex, and what this book helps us study, is the engine of oppression: who starts it, what makes it run, and most importantly, how we might speed up the unbearably slow process of stopping it.

LIVING MY LIFE                                                                                                                            Emma Goldman, 1931                                                                                                                       This famous anarchist’s two-part, thousand page tome of a memoir is actually immensely readable. It’s full of history, adventure, unusual personalities, romances and life and death suspense. The writing is excellent. One of the things I most admire is the matter-of-fact tone she uses, whether relaying her accomplishments or her mistakes. She often writes of working “for my ideal.” It struck me that hers was a positive rather than negative stance. We often fight against things, but how often do we fight for something, let alone for our ideal? What might we accomplish if we did?

WONDERFUL ADVENTURES OF MRS. SEACOLE IN MANY LANDS                                                                                                                                                        Mary Seacole, 1857                                                                                                                          Mary Seacole was a wonder; a heroine and larger-than-life character, but at the same time she reminds me of my own very simple, down-to-earth ancestors. Her mother was a Jamaican healer, and her father a Scottish soldier, and it seems she inherited both drives and put them to amazing use. She travelled from Jamaica to Panama and cured cholera patients. When the Crimean War broke out she longed to be a war nurse, but was turned down so she went on her own. I’m not kidding. She hopped a military transport ship to Balaclava, where she attended to soldiers the way she did everything—on her own terms. This book deserves to be better known.

THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE                                                                                     Gloria Naylor, 1982                                                                                                                                A very emotional read, this one hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. It is a novel made up of the stories of seven very different women connected by a particular place–a housing development called Brewster Place. Naylor’s writing is stellar, and powerful. A variety of perspectives are explored, but all of the stories tell something so true that it’s shocking. You may think you know what’s going to happen, and maybe you do, but after you read it you know how what happens makes a person feel. That’s the part you don’t know, unless you do know, and then you’ll know how true it is.

I’ll stop with those for now, but I look forward to finding other excuses to recommend women’s stories, any month of the year.


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