15 Books About Women Who Led Revolutions
A woman's place is in the revolution. Whether you're enjoying your Day Without Women at home or out on the streets protesting every weekend, you need to add these 15 books about women who led revolutions to your TBR, ASAP. These are the women whose stories and strength will inspire you and your activism.
But first, a caveat. You may not agree with the political positions and philosophies of these women, and that's OK. You don't have to agree with someone in order to respect them*, their passion, and their legacy.
With that being said, I have tried to avoid selecting a bunch of women that everyone knows about. Too often, we focus on the stories we already know are great, at the expense of discovering all the Rejected Princesses and other badass women and girls in our collective history. We should not ignore the women embroiled in contemporary battles for equality, because they are making history right now.
So, if you don't recognize a lot of names on this list, I've done my job. Check out the books about women who led revolutions I've selected for you below, and share your favorites with me on Twitter when you're done.
*Note: If someone does not believe that you are a human being deserving of dignity, you have no obligation to respect that person or their opinions. Period.
1. 'In the Time of the Butterflies' by Julia Alvarez
In the 1950s, the four Mirabal sisters opposed Rafael Trujillo's dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Three of them became heavily involved in the underground movement to unseat Trujillo, calling themselves Las Mariposas: the Butterflies. Their story is retold in Julia Alvarez's 1994 novel, In the Time of the Butterflies.
2. 'The Mother of Us All: A History of Queen Nanny, Leader of the Windward Jamaican Maroons' by Karla Gottlieb
Born in the 17th-century Ashanti region, the woman who would later be known as Queen Nanny came to the Caribbean from what is now Ghana, and became a leader of the Maroons: escaped slaves who founded their own free communities in the Jamaican interior. She out-strategized British and Spanish forces who tried to recapture her people, and led raids to free hundreds of Jamaican slaves. Read all about this Jamaican national hero in Karla Gottlieb's The Mother of Us All.
3. 'Sophie Scholl and the White Rose' by Annette Dumbach & Jud Newborn
After years spent in quiet opposition to Hitler's regime, 21-year-old Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans, and their friends formed an anti-Nazi resistance movement called the White Rose. Eight months later, they were arrested, found guilty of treason, and executed or imprisoned for their rebellion. Scholl and her movement have since become symbols for courage in the face of insurmountable odds. Historians Annette Dumbach and Jud Newborn explore their story in Sophie Scholl and the White Rose.
4. 'Through the Eyes of Rebel Women: The Young Lords 1969-1976' by Iris Morales
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Young Lords Organization was "a human rights movement for self determination for Puerto Rico and other nations, and for neighborhood controlled development and empowerment." As was the case with many civil rights movements of the time, women within the Young Lords fought to bring issues of gender and sexuality to the forefront of the party platform. Check out the experiences of women in the Young Lords Organization in Iris Morales' Through the Eyes of Rebel Women.
5. 'Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More' by Janet Mock
Born into a low-income, multiracial family in Honolulu, Janet Mock rose up to become a staff editor for People. She began transitioning in high school, and did not come out publicly as trans until 2011. Her 2014 memoir, Redefining Realness, is the "public example of trans living that she never had as a child and adolescent," according to The Washington Post. Mock's second book, Surpassing Certainty, hits store shelves in Summer 2017.
6. 'Empress Zenobia: Palmyra's Rebel Queen' by Pat Southern
In the 3rd century, in-fighting broke out across the Roman Empire as minor monarchs and generals battled for control. One of these candidates was Empress Zenobia of Palmyra, who challenged Roman authority in the eastern part of the empire, particularly in Egypt, which she annexed for herself. Read all about her exploits in Empress Zenobia: Palmyra's Rebel Queen by Pat Southern.
7. 'The Trung Sisters Revisited' by Nghia M. Vo and Nguyen Ngoc Bich
During the 1st century, two sisters, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, led a rebellion against the occupying Han, capturing 65 Chinese citadels. For four years, the Trung sisters ruled over an independent state between what is now Hue, Vietnam and the southern part of China. In The Trung Sisters Revisited, authors Nghia M. Vo and Nguyen Ngoc Bich tell the tale of two revolutionaries who would become synonymous with Vietnamese independence.
8. 'Pirate Queen: The Life Of Grace O'Malley 1530-1603' by Judith Cook
In 16th century Ireland, Grace O'Malley inherited and grew her father's international shipping business, taking over waters and taxing other fleets by force. After several male members of her family were captured by an English governor, Grace traveled to England to formally petition Queen Elizabeth I for their release. Judith Cook recounts her amazing life in Pirate Queen.
9. 'Tales of the Lavender Menace: A Memoir of Gay Liberation' by Karla Jay
In the 1960s and 1970s, many "mainstream" facets of the women's liberation movement refused to include LGBTQ issues, out of fear that widespread homophobia would prevent the movement's success. Lesbians formed the Lavender Menace — named for The Feminine Mystique author Betty Friedan's insult toward lesbian feminists — to fight for LGBTQ visibility and inclusion. Lavender Menace member Karla Jay recalls her experiences in the movement in Tales of the Lavender Menace.
10. 'Soldaderas in the Mexican Military: Myth and History' by Elizabeth Salas
Elizabeth Salas' Soldaderas in the Mexican Military examines the history and significance of Mexican women's participation in armed conflict, from the time before Spanish conquest to the Mexican Revolution.
11. 'Gaby Brimmer: An Autobiography in Three Voices: The Life of a Disability Rights Activist and Writer' by Gaby Brimmer and Elena Poniatowska
Born with cerebral palsy in 1940s, poet Gaby Brimmer founded the Association for the Rights of People with Motor Disabilities and studied sociology at the University of Mexico. Her autobiography is told from three points of view: hers, her mother's, and her caretaker's.
12. 'Njinga of Angola: Africa's Warrior Queen' by Linda M. Heywood
Queen Njinga ruled over the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms that spread over one fourth of Angola. She helped lead the Ndongo resistance against Portuguese slavers in the 17th century, a task that included planning guerilla raids on European camps. In Njinga of Angola, Boston University professor Linda M. Heywood tells the warrior queen's story.
13. 'Sorrow Mountain: The Journey of a Tibetan Warrior Nun' by Ani Pachen and Adelaide Donnelly
Ani Pachen, whose name means "Nun Big Courage," was a Tibetan Buddhist who led 600 fighters in armed resistance to Chinese occupation. She spent 21 years of her adult life in prison for her actions, but was released in 1981, and spent the last 19 years of her life fighting for Tibetan freedom. Richard Gere helped to get her memoir, Sorrow Mountain, published in 2000.
14. 'I Am Malala' by Malala Yousafzai
After writing a blog on schoolgirl life in Taliban-occupied Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by an operative who boarded her bus in 2012. She survived, and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her refusal to be silenced. In I Am Malala, she tells her story.
15. 'Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot' by Masha Gessen
In 2012, Russian punk feminist collective Pussy Riot staged an open, anti-Putin protest at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior. They were arrested, tried, and sentenced to imprisonment, but the Russian government could not suppress video of their demonstration. In Words Will Break Cement, Masha Gessen chronicles Pussy Riot's journey from fomentation to legend.