10 Biographies Of Trailblazing Women To Inspire Your Life & Work
The #girlboss hashtag may be new, but women's capacity for entrepreneurship and forging our own way is not. Women have always cut paths for others to follow them, which is why you should read these 10 biographies of trailblazing women if your life and work need a little pick-me-up.
In compiling this article, I found so many amazing women who have not been the subjects of English-language biographies written for adults. These include Patsy Mink, Dolores Huerta, Fatima al-Fihri, Mae Jemison, the Mirabal sisters, Ibtihaj Muhammad, and others.
Likewise, there are a number of inspiring women who have available biographies for adults, but were not included below simply because of the limited space available here. I strongly recommend that you check out the National Women's Hall of Fame and the Southern Rural Black Women's Hall of Fame, as well as some of the fantastic book lists available on Bustle, such as:
- 14 Political Biographies Every Woman Needs To Read
- 25 History Books Written By Women
- 14 Biographies & Memoirs About Groundbreaking Women In History
- 12 Inspiring Nonfiction Books About Kickass Women
Don't see your favorite biographies of trailblazing women included below? Share them with your fellow Bustle readers on Twitter!
1. 'On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker' by A'Lelia Bundles
The first free-born child of former slaves in Louisiana, Madam C.J. Walker (1867 - 1919) developed her own line of hair-care products for African American women in the early 20th century. Although she died prematurely at the age of 51, Walker left the Earth a self-made millionaire, the first woman to do so.
On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker is written by Walker's great-great-granddaughter, A'Lelia Bundles.
2. 'Mankiller: A Chief and Her People' by Wilma Mankiller and Michael Wallis
Wilma Mankiller (1945 - 2010) found inspiration to fight for Native American rights early in life. While still in her early 30s, she divorced her husband and relocated from California to her home state of Oklahoma, where she began working for the Cherokee Indian Nation. In 1983, Mankiller was elected deputy chief. She became the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation two years later.
3. 'Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator' by Doris L. Rich and Mae Jemison
After dropping out of college due to her family's inability to pay tuition, Bessie Coleman (1892 - 1926) taught herself to speak French and moved across the Atlantic to study aviation, as flight schools in the U.S. would not permit her entry. In France, she became the first black woman and the first Native American woman to earn a pilot's license.
4. 'Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me' by Janet Mock
The first person in her family to go to college, Janet Mock (born 1983) has channeled her energy into a successful career and a life of activism. Her first memoir, Redefining Realness, was the first to be published by a trans woman who transitioned early in life. Surpassing Certainty picks up where Mock's previous book left off.
5. 'Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts' by Stacy A. Cordery
After her marriage to a millionaire ended in tragedy, Juliette Gordon Low (1860 - 1927) traveled the world, feeding the passion for adventure she had had since childhood. A meeting with Boy Scouts founder William Baden-Powell inspired Low to start a similar group for girls, and so the Girl Scouts — originally known as the Girl Guides — was born.
6. 'Honouring High Places: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei' by Junko Tabei and Helen Y. Rolfe
The first woman to climb Mount Everest, Junko Tabei (1939 - 2016) caught the mountaineering bug at the age of 10, when a teacher took Tabei and her classmates to climb Japan's Asahi and Chausu peaks. In 1975, after climbing many other mountains, Tabei became the 36th person and first woman to conquer Everest. By the time of her death, she had climbed the Seven Summits and more than 150 other peaks.
In Honouring High Places, readers can enjoy Tabei's writings for the first time in English.
7. 'Rita Moreno: A Memoir' by Rita Moreno
At the time of this writing, Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno (born 1931) is the only Latinx person to have won an EGOT, the coveted foursome of entertainment honors. Moreno has two Emmy awards (The Muppet Show, The Rockford Files), a Grammy (The Electric Company), an Oscar (West-Side Story), and a Tony (The Ritz). Her Oscar win was a first for Hispanic actresses. Moreno has also been honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Arts.
8. 'America's Girl: The Incredible Story of How Swimmer Gertrude Ederle Changed the Nation' by Tim Dahlberg, Mary Ederle Ward, and Brenda Greene
Two years after she competed as an Olympic swimmer, Gertrude Ederle (1905 - 2003) swam across the English Channel, becoming the sixth person and first woman to do so. With a time of 14 hours, 39 minutes, Ederle set a speed record that would not be broken until 1950, when Florence Chadwick completed her swim in 13 hours, 20 minutes.
9. 'Sally Ride: A Photobiography of America's Pioneering Woman Astronaut' by Tam O'Shaughnessy
Three years after receiving her Ph.D. in Physics from Stanford University, Sally Ride (1951 - 2012) became the first U.S. woman in space as a mission specialist aboard the successful Space Shuttle Challenger flight in 1983. When Challenger exploded shortly after launch in 1986, Ride helped to investigate the cause of the disaster.
Sally Ride: A Photobiography of America's Pioneering Woman Astronaut was compiled by Ride's partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy.
10. 'Maria Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina' by Maria Tallchief and Larry Kaplan
Born to an Osage tribe member and his wife, Maria Tallchief (1925 - 2013) studied ballet throughout her childhood and adolescence. At the age of 17, Tallchief moved to New York City, where she spent five years in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. When her husband founded the New York City Ballet, Tallchief became its first star, earning the distinction of being both the United States' first prima ballerina and the first Native American woman to hold the title.