Westerly Sun Column | Books to Celebrate Women's History Month

March 04, 2024

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8 “Women’s History Week.” Seven years later, in 1987, Congress designated March Women’s History Month. This is meant as a time to reflect on and celebrate the achievements of often-overlooked women and the role they have played in shaping history. There are many ways to do this, not the least of which is by reading books by and about women. But, where to start? At the library, of course!

Perhaps the most obvious place to begin is in the Biography section, which includes memoirs and autobiographies. This collection is organized by the last name of the subject of the book, which makes it easy to browse through. Pick up a book about a woman in history that you admire (“In My Own Words” by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or “Becoming” by Michelle Obama”). Even better, check out someone who you aren’t as familiar with, such as “Good for a Girl” by Lauren Fleshman, or “Crying in H Mart,” the acclaimed memoir by Michelle Zauner.

If history or biographies, don’t particularly interest you, another fun option is to try out a novel that retells a well-known, male-centered story from the perspective of the women who were involved. You may be surprised to learn that there are many of these, and the collection is growing! Some of them tackle classic novels, like “The Chosen and the Beautiful” by Nghi Vo, which retells “The Great Gatsby” from the viewpoint of Jordan Baker. Another is “Julia: A retelling of George Orwell’s 1984” by Sandra Newman, which pretty much spells it out in the title! If you like mythology, there are plenty of books that give the women in the stories an opportunity to reclaim their narrative, like “Circe” by Madeline Miller, or “Penelopiad” by Margaret Atwood, which recounts “The Odyssey” from the perspective of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope.

Before Carter called for Women’s History Month, an education task force in Sonoma, California, led the way by celebrating “Women’s History Week,” holding programs and presentations in hundreds of classrooms, where lessons about the contributions of women were, at the time, largely overlooked. Reading stories about strong women leaders in history to children is a great way to continue this work! “Little Leaders” and “Little Dreamers” by Vashti Harrison are fantastic and accessible books that feature one-page vignettes abut different women, alongside colorful and engaging illustrations. Both books focus on variety of women, including inventory, artists, scientists, and mathematicians. Frida Kahlo is mentioned, but so are lesser-known women like astronomer Vera Rubin. In addition to making sure these amazing women are remembered, you can inspire the younger generations to follow their dreams and make their own unique impact on history.

by Cassie Skobrak, Adult Services Librarian

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