Powerful Women of History: Books that Break Ceilings

women's history
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Inspiration for the future from the past. Your Women’s History Month TBR list.

Women’s History Month isn’t just about celebrating the remarkable women of history, but understanding how they shape the world. From Supreme Court justices to Chinese empresses, suffragettes to the vice president of the United States, these women have left their mark on history. Some are still fighting for change today, some have only just begun.

Celebrate women’s history by reading books about women, by women. Learn about their struggles and how you can overcome your own. Here are our favorite books to read for Women’s History Month. Who knows, you might just be inspired to change history.

The Truths We Hold, Kamala Harris

The Truths We Hold, Kamala Harris - Powerful Women in History

Vice President Kamala Harris is not only the first woman VP of the US, but the first Black and South Asian VP of the US. She is smashing glass ceilings and taking names. But before she made history as VP, she was a Senator, a District Attorney, and a lawyer.

This memoir is more than a story about who Harris is, it’s also a masterclass in problem solving, crisis management, and leadership through her own experiences. Harris has spent her life finding, defining, and living by those truths we hold dear. She shows readers that we all live by those same truths and that we aren’t as different as some say. Her experience is proof that once we start living by our common truths and begin working together, we can build something great that can sustain us all.

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists, by Mikki Kendall

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists, by Mikki Kendall

Across all of human history, the ongoing struggle for women’s equality is a hard fought battle. The fight for each victory lead by some of the world’s most extraordinary women. From queens to freedom fighters, warriors and spies, they shaped women’s history and this book tells their stories.

This graphic novel not only depicts the key figures from women’s history, but describes the movements they lead. Progressive movements such as abolition, suffrage, labor civil rights, LGBTQ liberation, and reproductive rights were all lead by women. You might think you know some of these stories, but it’s time to read them in a bold new light.

Ruth Bater Ginsburg, by Jane Sherron De Hart

Ruth Bater Ginsburg, by Jane Sherron De Hart - Powerful Women in History

Before becoming one of the most recognized judges on the Supreme Court, before making fashion statements into judicial statements, and well before she became the Notorious RBG, Ruth Bater Ginsburg was a young girl from Brooklyn. She lived through the Holocaust and WWII. She was Jewish. But, most importantly, she chose to live her life by the concept of tikkum olam – Repair the World.

This comprehensive and inspiring biography follows RBG as she moves from Brooklyn to Harvard and Columbia universities to the highest court in the land. She was the first female law professor in the country. Became the director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. Argued anti-sex discrimination cases before the Supreme Court. She is the reason why women can have their own bank account (thank you!)

Ginsburg was notorious for making history long before she became the second women ever appointed to the supreme court. Her decisions and dissents continue to make history, even after her death. RBG’s inspiration and spirit will forever reverberate throughout American history.

My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayor

My Beloved World, Sonia Sotomayor

From one history-making Supreme Court justice to another, the story justice Sonia Sotomayor is one of hope. It takes extraordinary determination to go from living in a Bronx housing project to becoming the first Hispanic woman appointed to the Supreme Court. Justice Sotomayor did it.

From early on, Sotomayor learned how to take care of herself. She dreamed of a different life than the one she had, and worked to make it happen. Her television role models inspired her to become a lawyer. This led her down a path that led to her becoming valedictorian in high school, earning the highest honors at Princeton, and attending Yale Law School. She worked for the New York County District Attorney’s office, a private practice, and be appointed as a federal judge. All of this, before the age of forty.

Now, with a seat on the highest court, Sotomayor looks to keeping the future of America bright. This honest and enlightening book offers an intimate look at the life of a sitting justice.

No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, by Greta Thunberg

No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, by Greta Thunberg - Powerful Women in History

One day, fifteen-year-old Great Thunberg decided not to go to school. Tired of governments doing nothing to save our planet, she chose to do something, even if it was small. She went on strike for the climate crisis. Turns out, her small strike started a movement. Students all across the world joined her protest, striking for the planet.

Since then, Thunberg hasn’t stopped. She spoke at the United Nations and the US Capitol, quickly becoming a leading voice in climate change activism. This book is a collection of her historic speeches. A rally call to address climate change.

Thunberg may only be a teenager, but she has proven that you can make history, no matter your age. No matter how powerless you feel, you can stand up for what you believe in. You can make a difference. Especially when the future of the planet depends on it.

Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang

Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang

When you think of powerful historic female rulers, a few names instantly come to mind. Queen Elizabeth I and II. Queen Victoria. Cleopatra. Queen Isabella. Nefertitti. But what about Empress Dowager Cixi of China?

Cixi helped created modern day China back in the 1860’s. She brought in industry, railways, and electricity into the country. Her military was outfitted with up-to-date weaponry. She abolished the disfiguring practice of female foot-binding and set in motion women’s liberation, even starting down the path of allowing women to vote. She was a powerhouse of an empress, but she wasn’t supposed to be.

In 1852, Cixi became a concubine for the emperor. After his death, her five-year-old son took the throne, flanked by his regents. She didn’t agree with that, so she launched a coup. Placing herself in the true seat of power, she governed as Empress, only speaking to her male officials through a silk screen. She was once considered a conservative despot. But, new sources show a different side of this powerful queen.

Ida B. the Queen, by Michelle Duster

Ida B the Queen - Black History Month

Ida B. Wells would be considered by the FBI to be a “dangerous agitator.” She was a journalist, a suffragist, a crusader. Her contemporaries include the likes of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. In 2020, Ida B. Wells won a Pulitzer Prize.

During her lifetime, Wells was an advocate for those who did not have power. She fought for civil rights, women’s rights, and was a co-founder of the NAACP. But it was her writing that set her apart from her contemporaries. As a journalist, she brought to light the horrors of lynching that was unjustly hurting Black communities across America. It was this reporting that won her a posthumous Pulitzer in 2020.

Today, her great-grandaughter writes about the incredible mark Wells made on history. The fight against systemic racism is still being fought today. Well’s story inspires us to topple the status quo.

Becoming, by Michelle Obama

Becoming, by Michelle Obama

As the first African American First Lady of the United State of America, Michelle Obama not only created one of the most inclusive and welcoming White Houses in history, but she established herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls around the world. But before she was FLOTUS, she defied expectations before her life in the public eye.

In her memoir, Obama describes her triumphs and defeats in an honest and witty light. She tells her whole story in her own words, as she experienced it. Her story takes readers from the South Side of Chicago, through her experience as a working mother, to the White House. See how her experience shaped her into the wise, witty, and inspirational woman we see today.

The Women’s Hour, by Elaine Weiss

The Women's Hour, by Elaine Weiss

Do you know where the battle for the women’s vote was won? Nashville, Tennessee. in August of 1920, thirty-five states had passed the Nineteenth Amendment. It only needed one more state to ratify it before becoming law and allowing women the right to cast their vote. That state was Tennessee.

The Women’s Hour follows the story of a few remarkable women who battled for the vote in Tennessee. Facing opposition from politicians, clergy, corporations, and racists, these women did everything in their power to win their freedom. Sadly, however, one of their biggest opponents were Antis – women against the vote. How do you convince women who want to hold you back to fight for their own freedom?

This remarkable story shows how one movement can overcome immense obstacles. This is the opening battle for the great twentieth century war for civil rights.

The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line, by Mari Eder

The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line, by Mari Eder

Not every hero is remembered by history. This is certainly true of the fifteen women featured in this book. During WWII, these women fought, served, and struggled, but shied away from recognition. They made things happen. They saved lives. Their stories deserve to be told.

A few of the stories include; Liane B Russell who fled Austria with nothing only to become a scientist whose radiation research would save thousands of lives. Gena Turgel who cared for the dying Anne Frank while working at the hospital at Bergen-Belsen. Ida and Loise Cook were smugglers who established housing and sponsored refugees and immigrants in London.

The lives and experiences of these women will inspire women for generations and shine a light on some of the hidden heroes of the war.

It doesn’t matter if you are a teenager fighting climate change or a girl from the Bronx projects dreaming of becoming a lawyer. I hope these reads inspire you to leave your mark on history.

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Photo by Lindsey LaMont on Unsplash