What better way to recognize Women’s History Month – celebrated in March – than to open the cover and discover a woman from the past?
Since the late 1980s, the United States government has proclaimed the entire month of March as an opportunity to “celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States and recognize the specific achievements women have made throughout American history in various fields,” according to womenshistorymonth.gov.
One of the best ways to recognize and celebrate these remarkable individuals is to read the books that tell their stories. Through these volumes, we watch women overcome the odds, face challenges, make their mark on history and inspire our futures.
1. Bold Spirit by Linda Lawrence Hunt
If you’ve known me even briefly, you’ll have heard of this, the first book on this list.
Helga and her daughter Clara completed a trek across the United States with little money, on foot, and in dresses. While the story doesn’t end with fireworks, it does end with an incredible lesson in grit and determination.
I also loved the back story about how Bold Spirit was “discovered” – thanks to an essay by Helga’s great-great grandson and his submission for the Washington State History Contest for elementary children. Let’s encourage those youngsters to write more!
2. Incredible Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
It has been several years since I read this book, but I still recommend it and still think about the questions it raises about medical ethics and what makes us who we are.
Henrietta Lacks was born in 1920. In 1951, she had a biopsy done at John Hopkins Medical Center and unwillingly donated her unique cells for research.
Lacks’ life story and the ongoing story of her cells and the scientific advancements because of them are compelling. This is an excellent read for your book club.
3. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This book isn’t a true story. It is historical fiction set in France during the German occupation. It introduces us to two sisters and depicts how they handle the disruption of war.
I include it on this list for two reasons. First, the two sisters represent many women of the time, and it fits so much history in a compelling story that holds your interest. Second, it leads you to explore the life of the non-fiction WWII resistance fighter Andrée De Jongh, who helped rescue British pilots from the Germans.
4. Rose Code by Kate Quinn
As with her other books, Kate Quinn mixes historical facts with imaginative details to create a story that gives us a sample of what it may have looked like at Bletchley Park in the 1940s.
Weaving the stories of three women together, Quinn takes us on a journey through war and love. I typically don’t like flashbacks, but Quinn uses the mechanism to keep you engaged with the story.
The restored park is now a museum and is definitely on my list of places to visit.
5. The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and The Future of The Human Race by Walter Isaacson
Want some more code-breaking? Take a jump in time and see how Doudna is working now on breaking codes in our DNA.
An in-depth look at the history and progression of genes, this book tells us of history and sparks critical conversations about where we are going next.
It takes some time to read, and you will leave the book with a better understanding of the pieces that make up life.
6. Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History by Keith O’Brien
I am not a relaxed flyer, so I have trouble imagining being a pilot during the early years of flight. The courage and determination of these women as they make their mark – fighting not only gravity but the prejudice and taunts of their male counterparts – is inspiring.
7. Radium Girls by Kate Moore
“Don’t do it!” was my mantra as I read about these women who had no idea they were painting poison on their skin. So frustrating to read about the lack of knowledge and the deadly mistakes made.
Moore’s book is a reminder of the mistakes of the past and also a call to awareness of the poisons of our present.
8. The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald
Written in 1945, this book reflects a different time and culture. Advertised as non-fiction, there is some debate about which parts are true and which parts are possibly exaggerated.
MacDonald brings plenty of laughs as she navigates a chicken farm on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State.
After reading her version of books, pick up “Looking for Betty MacDonald” by Paula Becker to unravel a bit more of her life and the places she lived.
9. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
It’s a thrilling story. Women were traversing the hills of Kentucky to deliver books to remote areas. We don’t necessarily know how those lives were changed, but thanks to Richardson’s book, we have a glimpse of the lives of the women who delivered them.
Can’t get enough of these daring librarians? Check out Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes as well.
10. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and The Untold Story of The Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win The Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
The book is better, of course, but this movie is a great way to make this story accessible, so check out both if you like. Many women fight sexism, but the ladies in this book must fight both sexism and racism.
11. Women in White Coats: How The First Women Doctors Changed The World of Medicine by Olivia Campbell
I’m so excited to read this one. In this book are the stories of three women who fought against restrictions to be able to serve their communities.
12. ADA Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in The Arctic by Jennifer Niven
At 23, Ada Blackjack set out as the only female in a group of Canadian explorers headed to the Arctic to claim a piece of tundra. The expedition doesn’t go well.
Spoiler alert: Ada is the only survivor, and her story of finding food and shelter in extreme conditions is inspiring.
As I read through this list of books, I’m thankful for the freedoms I have as a woman of this century. I’m also compelled to reach out to the young ladies in my sphere of influence. How can I make them aware of the boundaries broken, hurdles jumped, and tears shed in the past centuries? How can I inspire them to continue that mission of making the world a better place?
We have come a long way in changing our society, but much work remains. What strides will you make as you use these historical accounts to change the future? What inspiration can you give today that will fuel the stories for the next Women’s History Month Book List?This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.
About the author
Millissa Macomber pays the bills with a job at the local public library. Through her blog Life Well Read, she aims to pass on tips and tricks she’s collected for living, wellness, and what book to add to your nightstand. She resides in beautiful Washington state but as has travel plans for across the globe.