Women’s Equality Day and the centennial of the 19th Amendment are upon us! Although the amendment was ratified on August 18th, 1920, it was certified on the 26th. Exactly 100 years ago today, women finally secured the right to vote. This was a key turning point in the fight for equality, and the women highlighted in many of the books below played integral roles in the suffrage movement. But, the work was—and still is—far from over. Other voices featured on this list represent different waves of feminism and aspects of the ongoing struggle for gender equality, and all are equally valuable on this Women’s Equality Day, and every other day before and after.
This list is also available on our page at Bookshop.org.
Written by Abeje Schnake, Summer Intern
Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells by Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells was a seminal figure in the fight for equality one hundred years ago, championing both women’s suffrage and civil rights. Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells is a gripping memoir that traverses both personal and private aspects of her life: we see Ida as a mother, as a teacher, as a journalist, as one of the most influential activists of her time and beyond. Also, earlier this summer we chatted with Michelle Duster, a writer and the great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells, about her ancestor’s legacy. Watch the fascinating virtual author talk here.
Why They Marched: Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote by Susan Ware
Big names associated with women’s suffrage like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton do, of course, get their recognition in Susan Ware’s collection of brief biographies, but most of the names are not as well-known. Ware writes a historical account of the fight for women’s rights that is expansive and colorful, transcending the white-washed version of the struggle many of us are familiar with. Read her book for more insight into the stories of many miraculous women and why each of them marched for women’s rights.
Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the author of the iconic short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” was a utopian feminist who used her writing to examine the ways in which women were treated unfairly and stripped of their autonomy. In Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman imagines a world where women are free from the oppressive patriarchy, as they live in a community that is solely inhabited by women. What unfolds is an ideal society free from conflict, until the men arrive.
The Black Unicorn: Poems by Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde pursued women’s equality through poetry and personal essays. As a Black woman and a lesbian, she wrote from an intersectional perspective and addressed how far there was left to go to true equality. In The Black Unicorn, Lorde reveals all the nuances and dualities of womanhood, all the challenges and the irrefutable beauty in being a mother, a child, a warrior, and a lover. Her words still resonate today.
Born Criminal: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist by Angelica Shirley Carpenter
Matilda Joslyn Gage was a radical suffragist who pushed for equality—she did not limit her view of equality by gender, race, religion, or any other factor. And she pushed for rights far beyond votes for women. Angelica Shirley Carpenter’s book examines Gage’s radical views and her undeserved obscurity compared to her counterparts. Read Born Criminal to discover a name that should have never been forgotten.
For colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange
Ntozake Shange was a Black feminist who wrote about the experiences of women of color in America, revealing the still-present lapse in equality decades after the ratification of the 19th amendment. Her most well-known and acclaimed work, a “choreopoem” called For colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, is comprised of colorful, sorrowful, poignant poems spoken from intertwining perspectives. It is a must read for those who see themselves in the words and those who don’t.
More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth
Elaine Welteroth’s More Than Enough is a success story of glass ceilings shattered and barriers broken. But, of course, her rise to success in the editing world did not come without struggle. This inspiring memoir details the turbulent yet inspiring journey of a young Black woman who, despite odds being stacked against her, proved that she is more than enough.
Ain’t I a Woman? by bell hooks
bell hooks has been one of the most prominent voices of feminism for decades, weaving together the intricacies of race, gender, and class into her intersectional work. Her book Ain’t I a Woman? borrows its title from the speech by Sojourner Truth—another woman well worth reading about today. Read hooks’ book for an examination of how racism and sexism impact Black women, spanning from the women’s suffrage movement a hundred years ago to the civil rights movement of the 1970s.
The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss
Elaine Weiss’ nonfiction book is an account of the final stretch of the fight for women’s suffrage that places the reader right in the sweltering heat of that August a hundred years ago. The Woman’s Hour wields a sense of immediacy, a tense but ultimately triumphant moment in history rising up off the page like all the people who were there—the suffragists, the opposers, the powerful women who used their voices and the men who supported the fight—are in the room with you.
She the People: A Graphic History of Uprisings, Breakdowns, Setbacks, Revolts, and Enduring Hope on the Unfinished Road to Women’s Equality by Jen Deaderick
Jen Deaderick’s words come together with Rita Sapunor’s illustrations to divulge a graphic narrative that focuses on the Equal Rights Amendment, an amendment that was initially written not long after the ratification of the 19th but still remains to be officially recognized today. She the People is funny and illuminating and important. Jen Deaderick delves into the past and spotlights the present, reminding us that the fight for equality is ongoing.
Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote and Insisted on Equality for All by Martha Jones
Keep an eye out for Martha Jones’ forthcoming book Vanguard. It is the history of the important role Black women played in achieving equality and securing their right to vote, a battle that was far different from their white counterparts. The book is expected to be released September 8, 2020.
Edited by Nate King
Nate is the Content & Communications Coordinator for the American Writers Museum. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2014 with a B.A. in Journalism and a penchant for American literature. For three years he waited tables while developing a healthy writing habit, during which time he became a regular blogger for the AWM blog. Originally from the mountains of New Hampshire, Nate moved to Chicago in 2015.