7 Books That Celebrate History's Forgotten Women, Because Their Names Deserve To Be Known
Think back to your schooldays. In your history lessons, do you remember ever reading about women? I don't mean in terms of their family roles, but in terms of their careers. I'm ashamed to say the only name that comes to my mind is Florence Nightingale. But I, and you, shouldn't be ashamed because it's not our fault that textbooks and teachers failed to mention women's achievements. This pattern, however, doesn't have to last any longer, because there's now a plethora of books about the forgotten women of history.
Half of the world's population is evidently not a trend, but it's only recently that publishers have given the nod to the numerous authors longing to cast a spotlight on women they've read about in newspaper clippings or heard about in family conversations. Now you can read about female mathematicians, scientists, doctors, sports stars, and revolutionaries that made the world a better place.
Unfortunately, education is still lacking a gender-equal approach. As Fast Company reports, less than 11 percent of history textbook references "are devoted to specific women." But the more people read books like the ones listed below, the more pressure there will be for a major overhaul of school curriculums.
Here's just a few to get you started.
1. 'The Women of the Moon' by Daniel R. Altschuler and Fernando J. Ballesteros
"Of the 1,586 craters that have been named honouring philosophers and scientists, only 28 honour a woman," reads the blurb of this upcoming astronomy book. It's an unfortunate, but unsurprising, statistic that could well be rectified after a read of The Women of the Moon. Co-authors Daniel R. Altschuler and Fernando J. Ballesteros have delved into the lives and work of the aforementioned 28 women, celebrating the female contribution to the moon, stars, and more.
"Reading about the lives and struggles of these women, we hope to inspire more to wish to pursue a scientific career," Altschuler told The Sunday Post. "One thing that’s worth nothing is that there are plenty of more craters on the moon available to add the names of illustrious women scientists.” Too right.
2. 'Bloody Brilliant Women' by Cathy Newman
Your school history textbooks probably failed to include any of the incredible women spotlighted in this book. Author and Channel 4 news presenter Cathy Newman presents a new history of Britain, including all the women who were left on the sidelines the first time round. Covering a huge range of sectors including politics, medicine, and the military, Bloody Brilliant Women is a truly fascinating read.
"I do feel quite annoyed that I didn’t know about these women growing up,” Newman said at the 2018 Durham Book Festival. “Who knows, I might have been an aeronautical engineer if I’d known about Beatrice Shilling.” Never heard of Shilling? Well, now you know where to go.
3. 'Women Warriors: An Unexpected History' by Pamela D. Toler
"When scholars say maybe this particular woman didn't exist, it's easy to accept," Pamela D. Toler once said in an interview with novelist Greer Macallister. "But when you see many examples of scholars writing about different times and places who give similar reasons why women in their own particular field may not have existed, you start to question every example."
Thankfully, her questioning led to this book. Whether it's the notion that women had to pretend to be a man to fight or the idea that it was unladylike for women to go into battle, stereotypes surrounding female warriors are quickly refuted by Toler. Showcasing the stories of female fighters from places like Africa, Japan, and Latin America, this eye-opening history book deserves a place on your shelf.
4. 'Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World' by Rachel Swaby
Before I spent a lot of time on the internet, I struggled to name even a few female scientists. Now, the number is a little higher. But it's still not enough. To aid people's thirst for knowledge, Rachel Swaby has highlighted more than 50 innovative minds who are responsible for astounding scientific research and discoveries. Despite being an avid reader, even she had never heard of some of them.
But the thing that interested Swaby the most was how different each of the women were. "There wasn’t a certain type of person that was able to be a mathematician or scientist," she told women's site The Women's Eye. That's a lesson that sadly still needs to be taught today.
5. 'Bold, Brilliant and Bad: Irish Women from History' by Marian Broderick
In 2012, Marian Broderick published Wild Irish Women. Six years later, she decided to add even more names to the extraordinary female list, covering the arts, radical individuals, and even those who fell on the wrong side of the law. The result is a book spanning more than 120 names.
Broderick explained why Irish women in particular deserve attention. "My women are all multi-layered individuals," Broderick told Irish publisher The O'Brien Press. "Many of them took their courage in their hands and flouted the conventions of their society one way or another during the course of their lives. This is true of women throughout history, but doubly so for Irish women, and trebly so for Irish women from less well-off backgrounds."
6. 'Game Changers: The Unsung Heroines of Sports History' by Molly Schiot
Filmmaker Molly Schiot runs an Instagram account called @TheUnsungHeroines. ("I started [it] as a way to publicly streamline documentary ideas I pitched about women that I was told at the time were not 'interesting enough' by TV networks," she told Urban Outfitters.) Her daily posts would consist of a female athlete "who had changed the face of sports" in the 20th century.
Those photos inspired a book of numerous forgotten sportswomen of the world. As well as explaining who they are and what they did, Schiot brought together sports personalities from the past and present to discuss both historical and modern day issues.
7. 'Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History' by Vashti Harrison
"The stories of black women have always been overlooked in media and publishing, because they’ve been overlooked throughout all of history. They sit at the crossroads of two marginalised groups — women and people of colour," writer and illustrator Vashti Harrison explained to HelloGiggles.
Whether you're seven or 27, her book, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, is designed to educate you on the history-making black women you need to know about. Focusing specifically on American history, the stories are a mixture of known names and overlooked ones. But each and every one of them made a significant contribution to the world we live in today.
Here's to a bookshelf full of female achievements.