Celebrate Women’s History Month
by Rhonna Hargett, Associate Director
The world lost an American icon this week with the death of Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician who played a big part in moving the U.S. ahead in the space race against the Soviet Union and the main subject in the book “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly. We celebrate Women’s History Month in March every year to honor contributions like Johnson’s and make sure that they are remembered. Here are a few titles to help you mark the occasion.
In “All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation,” author Rebecca Traister explores the lives of single women, both historically and contemporarily. She shares that the quest for more independent lives for unmarried women has improved the lives of all women. Unmarried women have often been a force behind such ground-breaking societal changes as abolition, suffrage, and labor movements. Both informative and engaging, this New York Times Notable Book selection explores an often ignored part of our history.
Do you ever long for your childhood days when books had all the pictures? The Smithsonian has collaborated with respected children’s publisher DK to produce a study of women’s history that will keep your eyes absorbed, along with your mind. “Women: Our Story” is chock full of images and text ranging from all the way back in pre-history up to very recent times, including the lives of famous women and the day-to-day activities of the average woman. Good for browsing as well as for real learning, this book feels very much like a visit to a museum.
“American Indian Women” by ethnologist Patrick Deval is a thorough exploration of an often dismissed population. The book is divided into three sections: cultures before colonization, encounters with colonists, and the American Indian Renaissance. Examining both primary research and oral tradition, Deval attempts to look beyond the idealized images of popular culture to the real lives and accomplishments of Native women. He discusses the objectification experienced when European explorers arrived, the effects of American Indian Schools, and some forgotten stories, such as the warrior women who battled against the English in the 1600s. Rich with illustrations, Deval’s book is a fascinating look into a neglected part of women’s history in America.
Author Cokie Roberts, another American icon recently lost, has done much to cast light on history from the perspective of women. Her last book, “Capital Dames,” tells the story of life for women in Washington D.C. during the years surrounding the Civil War. The conflict leading up to the war and the war itself transformed the capital from an inward-looking political hub into an army camp. Women who were accustomed to very limited roles in society, found that their help was needed in nursing, reporting, and other important tasks. This shift affected how they viewed themselves after the war, creating a shift that led to societal changes for decades to come. Roberts researched government documents and newspapers from the time period, but also personal letters and diaries, allowing her to give her readers a glimpse into the innermost thoughts of the women as they were going through this challenging time.
Black women’s stories have historically been hushed or ignored. Diana Ramey Berry and Kali Gross seek to rectify this wrong with “A Black Women’s History of the United States.” The authors started with the individual stories of eleven women and incorporated their research to illuminate the issues Black women have faced and often overcome throughout history. Berry and Gross have managed to contribute an update to American history in the most inspiring and concise way.
We are living in an exciting time in publishing, when more and more “hidden” stories about women of the past are being shared, providing insight and inspiration for the generations of today and tomorrow. Manhattan Public Library is honored to be a place where these stories can be found.