To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’ve put together a reading list of biographies that capture the lives of influential women throughout history. If you have any reading suggestions for International Women’s Day, please share in the comments below.
The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography by Edmund Gordon
Structured in succinct, briskly moving chapters that make the biography read like an absorbing novel, The Invention of Angela Carter offers the first full account of Carter’s amazing life and enduring work through previously untold anecdotes of her youth, marriages, professional struggles, and her painful battle with cancer.
The Rabbi’s Atheist Daughter: Ernestine Rose, International Feminist Pioneer by Bonnie S. Anderson
Written by a senior scholar of women’s history, The Rabbi’s Atheist Daughter recovers Ernestine Rose’s career as a feminist, freethinker, and abolitionist to the pantheon of 19th century history, and looks at the role of an atheist during Christian reform movements.
Women in the World of Frederick Douglass by Leigh Fought
A readable biographical study of the life of the great abolitionist, Women in the World of Frederick Douglass highlights Douglass’s complicated relationships with family and a range of female activists, friends, admirers, and adversaries. Fought fleshes out female figures in Douglass’s life—including his grandmother Betsey, mother Harriet, wives Anna Murray and Helen Pitts—despite there being few records in their own words.
Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray by Rosalind Rosenberg
A definitive biography of a key figure in the civil rights and women’s movements, Jane Crow explores the life of Pauli Murray, a black person who identified at birth as female and believed she was male—all before the term “transgender” existed.
Just Another Southern Town: Mary Church Terrell and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Nation’s Capital by Joan Quigley
In this book on District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson Co., Inc., a landmark case in the earliest days of the civil rights movement, author Joan Quigley brings attention to the indomitable Mary Church Terrell, a frequently overlooked civil rights figure. After being refused service at a DC restaurant due to her race, Terrell, a former suffragette and one of the country’s first college-educated African American women, took the matter to court.
Restless Ambition: Grace Hartigan, Painter by Cathy Curtis
By drawing on the Hartigan’s emotionally revealing journal and candid interviews, author Cathy Curtis traces the artist’s rise from virtually self-taught painter to art-world. Restless Ambition, the first biography of Grace Hartigan, places her in context of other Abstract Expressionists, including Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and Helen Frankenthaler.
Marie von Clausewitz: The Woman Behind the Making of On War by Vanya Eftimova Bellinger
In this biography of Marie von Clausewitz, author Vanya Eftimova Bellinger offers the first comprehensive and compelling look at the woman behind the composition of On War. Bellinger discusses the social and cultural climate of Clausewitz’s time, and includes her analysis on newly discovered correspondence that sheds light on Clausewitz’s influence over her husband’s work.
The Book of Margery Kempe by Margery Kempe, translated by Anthony Bale
Known as the earliest autobiography written in the English language, Kempe’s Book describes the dramatic transformation of its heroine from failed businesswoman and lustful young wife, to devout and chaste pilgrim. The introduction by Bale discusses Kempe and her status as a woman writer and proto-feminist, the historical context, medieval pilgrimage and travel, audience and reception.
American Women’s History: A Very Short Introduction by Susan Ware
This offers concise introduction to American women’s history emphasizes the diversity of American women’s experiences. Drawing on her four decades of experience researching and teaching, author Susan Ware discusses the factors that have shaped American women throughout history, including race, class, religion, geographical location, age, and sexual orientation.
Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector by Benjamin Moser
In this biography of novelist Clarice Lispector, Benjamin Moser demonstrates how Lispector’s development as a writer was directly connected to the story of her turbulent life. Why This World strips away the mythology surrounding this extraordinary figure and shows how Lispector transformed one woman’s struggles into a universally resonant art.
Love, Madness, and Scandal: The Life of Frances Coke Villiers, Viscountess Purbeck by Johanna Luthman
A thrilling tale of love, sex, forced marriage, elopement, kidnapping, jail-break, high-speed chases, and royal fury, this dramatic and inspiring biography tells the life of Frances Coke Villiers–an aristocratic social rebel in seventeenth century England.
Katherine Dunham: Dance and the African Diaspora by Joanna Dee Das
This biography tells the story of one of the most important dance artists of the twentieth century. As an African American woman, Katherine Dunham broke barriers of race and gender, most notably as the founder of an important dance company that toured the United States, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Australia for several decades.
An English Governess in the Great War: The Brussels Diary of Mary Thorp by Sophie De Schaepdrijver and Tammy M. Proctor
The first edition of the long-forgotten diary of Mary Thorp, an English governess in Belgium during World War I. Thorp’s writing gives a personal perspective on civilian life in the Great War through her commentary on the political, social, and cultural changes rocking Europe in the latter years of the war and following the Armistice.
Featured image credit: Untitled by Lia Leslie. CCO via Pexels.
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