March is Women’s History Month, dedicated to celebrating women who have changed the world by breaking down barriers. But, fortunately, we are not limited to only one month of learning about such amazing women, as their stories continue to unfold throughout the years.
In the last decade alone, there have been numerous books published that focus on women who have had a tremendous impact on humankind, both overtly and behind-the-scenes. Whether their efforts were directed to areas of science, politics, sports, the arts, or other fields, their contributions have been significant. And we have authors to thank for uncovering their identities, praising their accomplishments, and bringing their riveting stories to the attention of readers everywhere. Following are a few brief descriptions of works from the last ten-plus years.
American Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines, by Gail Collins, is a fascinating history that records how American society has been shaped over four centuries by women—ranging from notables to unsung heroines.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, is a moving story of medical advancements that Henrietta enabled without her knowledge, combining painful decisions, ethics, race, love and forgiveness while it unveils Henrietta and her family.
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, by Karen Abbott, tells the remarkable tales of four courageous women who risked their lives to become spies during the Civil War.
Game Changers: the Unsung Heroines of Sports History, by Molly Schiot, describes women who set the stage—whether on a tennis court, golf course, or other site—for athletes such as Althea Gibson, Billie Jean King, and Serena Williams.
In a brief blog, it is impossible to cover the many well-written non-fiction books that have brought talented women to the forefront. But deserving of special attention is one of the latest in that genre, released in early 2017: Identity Unknown-Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists, by Donna Seaman.
In her brilliant and compassionate prose, Seaman captures seven first-rate 20th century women artists and reveals their fascinating lives. Seaman’s choice of artists are Gertrude Abercrombie, with her surreal paintings, along with her friendships with famous jazz musicians; Joan Brown, a self-portraitist and her other works of art influenced by world travel; Ree Morton, artist of witty, unusual, beautiful constructions; Lois Mailou Jones, private artist of the Harlem Renaissance; Lenore Tawney, who combined weaving and sculpture before such art/craft was recognized; Christina Ramberg, whose unsettling works drew on pop culture and advertising; and Louise Nevelson, an art-world superstar in her hey-day, but omitted from recent surveys of her era.
Donna Seaman offers biographical accounts of these forgotten female artists, while revealing what inspired them, how they worked, and the challenges they faced in their day to be recognized as makers—not merely subjects—of art. Seaman also introduces examples of their eclectic works of art by including many full-color photos. A captivating book on multiple levels, the lives of artists portrayed in Identity Unknown will make readers want to uncover even more stories of women who deserve our attention and praise.
-Francine Pappadis Friedman