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Memorial Hall Library

Unsung Women in History

In honor of Women's History Month, here are some fascinating biographies and memoirs about women whose historical contributions you might not have learned about in school. These books are written for teens and adults. For children's books about women in history, check out Ms. Beth's recent book talk video.

The doctors Blackwell : how two pioneering sisters brought medicine to women--and women to medicine
The doctors Blackwell : how two pioneering sisters brought medicine to women--and women to medicine
by Janice P. Nimura

Presents a biography of two pioneering sisters who, together, became America's first female doctors and transformed New York's medical establishment by creating a hospital by and for women.
The Incredible Nellie Bly : Journalist, Investigator, Feminist, and Philanthropist
The Incredible Nellie Bly : Journalist, Investigator, Feminist, and Philanthropist
by Luciana Cimino

Born in 1864, Nellie Bly was a woman who did not allow herself to be defined by the time she lived in, she rewrote the narrative and made her own way. Luciana Cimino's meticulously researched graphic-novel biography tells Bly's story through Miriam, a fictionalized female student at the Columbia School of Journalism in 1921. While interviewing the famous journalist, Miriam learns not only about Bly's more sensational adventures, but also about her focus on self-reliance from an early age, the scathing letter to the editor that jump-started her career as a newspaper columnist, and her dedication to the empowerment of women. 
 
In Love and Struggle : The Revolutionary Lives of James and Grace Lee Boggs
In Love and Struggle : The Revolutionary Lives of James and Grace Lee Boggs
by Stephen M. Ward

James and Grace Lee Boggs were two largely unsung but critically important figures in the black freedom struggle. James Boggs was the son of an Alabama sharecropper who came to Detroit during the Great Migration, becoming an automobile worker and a union leader. Grace Lee was a Chinese American scholar who studied Hegel, worked with Caribbean political theorist C. L. R. James, and moved to Detroit to work toward a new American revolution. As husband and wife, the couple was influential in the early stages of what would become the Black Power movement, laying the intellectual foundation for labor and urban struggles during one of the most active social movement periods in modern U.S. history. Stephen Ward details both the personal and the political dimensions of the Boggses' lives, highlighting the vital contributions these two figures made to black activist thinking.
The baddest bitch in the room : a memoir
The baddest bitch in the room : a memoir
by Sophia Chang

The first Asian woman in hip-hop, Sophia Chang shares the inspiring story of her career in the music business, working with such acts as The Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest, her path to becoming an entrepreneur, and her candid accounts of marriage, motherhood, aging, desire, marginalization, and martial arts.
Wally Funk's race for space : the extraordinary story of a female aviation pioneer
Wally Funk's race for space : the extraordinary story of a female aviation pioneer
by Sue Nelson

A journalist recounts her experiences traveling with Wally Funk, one of the Mercury 13, a group of women who participated in the space program only to have their program cut, and explains how Wally, now in her eighties, still dreams of getting to space.
The princess spy : the true story of World War II spy Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones
The princess spy : the true story of World War II spy Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones
by Larry Loftis

The best-selling author of Code Name: Lise chronicles the extraordinary life of OSS spy Aline Griffith, who performed deep-cover intelligence missions during and after World War II throughout the upper echelons of European politics and society. 
Looking for Lorraine : the radiant and radical life of Lorraine Hansberry
Looking for Lorraine : the radiant and radical life of Lorraine Hansberry
by Imani Perry

A revealing portrait of one of the most gifted and charismatic, yet least understood, Black intellectuals of the 20th century traces the extraordinary life of Lorraine Hansberry, a force of nature who died at age 34 and is known primarily for her work, “A Raisin in the Sun”.
With her fist raised : Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the transformative power of black community activism
With her fist raised : Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the transformative power of black community activism
by Laura L. Lovett

The author of Conceiving the Future chronicles the life and achievements of trailblazing Black feminist Dorothy Pitman Hughes, discussing her work at the side of Gloria Steinem, revitalization of her West Side neighborhood and Vietnam War activism.
Gentleman Jack : The Real Anne Lister
Gentleman Jack : The Real Anne Lister
by Anne Choma

 In 1834, Anne Lister made history by celebrating and recording the first ever known marriage to another woman. Now the basis for the HBO series Gentleman Jack, this is her remarkable, true story. Anne Lister was extraordinary. Fearless, charismatic and determined to explore her lesbian sexuality, she forged her own path in a society that had no language to define her. She was a landowner, an industrialist and a prolific diarist, whose output has secured her legacy as one of the most fascinating figures of the 19th century. Gentleman Jack: The Real Anne Lister follows Anne from her crumbling ancestral home in Yorkshire to the glittering courts of Denmark as she resolves to put past heartbreak behind her and find herself a wife. This book introduces the real Gentleman Jack, featuring unpublished journal extracts decrypted for the first time by series creator Sally Wainwright and writer Anne Choma.
Dreaming in code : Ada Byron Lovelace, computer pioneer
Dreaming in code : Ada Byron Lovelace, computer pioneer
by Emily Arnold McCully

An award-winning author presents an illuminating biography of Ada Lovelace, the brilliant daughter of Lord Byron, Britain’s most infamous Romantic poet, who is now recognized as a pioneer and prophet of the information age for her ideas and concepts, formulated in collaboration with inventor Charles Babbage, that presaged computer programming by almost 200 years.
Photographic : the life of Graciela Iturbide
Photographic : the life of Graciela Iturbide
by Isabel Quintero

A blending of photographs and illustrations trace the life and work of Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide, who embarked on a journey across Mexico and the world.
Odetta : a life in music and protest
Odetta : a life in music and protest
by Ian Zack

A portrait of the music artist credited as the “Voice of the Civil Rights Movement” traces Odetta’s early life in deeply segregated Alabama through her famed performances in major cities, demonstrating how she combated racism through her powerful lyrics.
A well-read woman : the life, loves, and legacy of Ruth Rappaport
A well-read woman : the life, loves, and legacy of Ruth Rappaport
by Kate Stewart

For forty years, book by book, one librarian saved our nation. This is her story. Books were the one constant in a life full of trauma and turmoil, and Ruth Rappaport always turned to them for reassurance, renewal, and solace when she had no one and nothing else ... Above all, this book is a tribute to a teenage girl who understood the power of forbidden books: that by reading them she would find a way to liberate herself. She devoted the rest of her long life to liberating them for the readers of the world. That includes you.
Mighty justice : the untold story of civil rights trailblazer Dovey Johnson Roundtree
Mighty justice : the untold story of civil rights trailblazer Dovey Johnson Roundtree
by Jabari Asim

Complemented by black-and-white photos, a young readers’ adaptation of the acclaimed memoir by the late civil rights activist recounts her upbringing in Jim Crow-era North Carolina and her fight for equality and justice in America’s military environments, churches and courtrooms. 
On Gold Mountain : the one-hundred-year odyssey of my Chinese-American family
On Gold Mountain : the one-hundred-year odyssey of my Chinese-American family
by Lisa See

Documenting the history of her own Chinese-American family, a journalist shares the results of five years of research, including interviews with nearly one hundred Chinese and Caucasian relatives.
Rebel Cinderella : from rags to riches to radical, the epic journey of Rose Pastor Stokes
Rebel Cinderella : from rags to riches to radical, the epic journey of Rose Pastor Stokes
by Adam Hochschild

The best-selling author of King Leopold’s Ghost documents the story of Jewish-Russian refugee Rose Pastor, who transformed from an immigrant sweatshop worker to a charismatic radical leader and wife of an American heir. 
Fairest : a memoir
Fairest : a memoir
by Meredith Talusan

The award-winning journalist and activist presents a coming-of-age memoir that describes her experiences as a Filipino boy with albinism, a white immigrant Harvard student, a transgender woman and an artist whose work reflects illusions in race, disability and gender.
Madam C.J. Walker : The Making of an American Icon
Madam C.J. Walker : The Making of an American Icon
by Erica L. Ball

Madam C. J. Walker--reputed to be America's first self-made woman millionaire--has long been celebrated for her rags-to-riches story. Born to former slaves in the Louisiana Delta in the aftermath of the Civil War, married at fourteen, and widowed at twenty, Walker spent the first decades of her life as a laundress, laboring in conditions that paralleled the lives of countless poor and working-class African American women. By the time of her death in 1919, however, Walker had refashioned herself into one of the most famous African American figures in the nation: the owner and president of a hair-care empire and a philanthropist wealthy enough to own a country estate near the Rockefellers in the prestigious New York town of Irvington-on-Hudson. In this biography, Erica Ball places this remarkable and largely forgotten life story in the context of Walker's times. Ball analyzes Walker's remarkable acts of self-fashioning, and explores the ways that Walker (and the Walker brand) enabled a new generation of African Americans to bridge the gap between a nineteenth-century agrarian past and a twentieth-century future as urban-dwelling consumers.
Ida B. the queen : the extraordinary life and legacy of Ida B. Wells
Ida B. the queen : the extraordinary life and legacy of Ida B. Wells
by Michelle Duster

Written by her great-granddaughter, a historical portrait of the boundary-breaking civil rights pioneer includes coverage of Wells’s early years as a slave, her famous acts of resistance and her achievements as a journalist and anti-lynching activist. 
Forgotten Women: The Artists
Forgotten Women: The Artists
by Zing Tsjeng

The Artists brings together the stories of 48 brilliant woman artists who made huge yet unacknowledged contributions to the history of art, including Camille Claudel, the extraordinarily talented sculptor who was always unfairly overshadowed by her lover, Rodin; Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, who has been claimed as the true originator of Marcel Duchamp's Fountain; and Ana Mendieta, the Cuban refugee who approached violence against women through her performance art before her own untimely death
Forgotten Women : The Leaders
Forgotten Women : The Leaders
by Zing Tsjeng

Profiles forty-eight forgotten women leaders who made huge yet unacknowledged contributions to history, including a sixteenth century pirate queen, an unknown rebel spy during the American Revolution, and a pioneer for transgender rights.
Forgotten Women : The Scientists
Forgotten Women : The Scientists
by Zing Tsjeng

Profiles forty-eight forgotten women scientists who transformed the understanding of the scientific world, including Nettie Stevens, Sophie Germain, and Admiral Grace Hopper.
Forgotten Women: The Writers
Forgotten Women: The Writers
by Zing Tsjeng

The Writers celebrates 48 unsung genius female writers from throughout history and across the world, including the Girl Stunt Reporters, who went undercover to write exposés on the ills of 1890s America; Aemilia Lanyer, the contemporary of Shakespeare whose polemical re-writing of The Bible's Passion Story is regarded as one of the earliest feminist works of literature; and Sarojini Naidu, the freedom fighter and 'Nightingale of India' whose poetry echoed her political desire for Indian independence. 
Anna May Wong : from laundryman's daughter to Hollywood legend
Anna May Wong : from laundryman's daughter to Hollywood legend
by Graham Russell Hodges

This title provides a biography of Anna May Wong who is undoubtedly, one of the best known and most popular Chinese-American actresses ever to have graced the silver screen. Between 1919 and 1960 she starred in over 50 movies.
The House of Yan : A Family at the Heart of a Century in Chinese History
The House of Yan : A Family at the Heart of a Century in Chinese History
by Lan Yan

One of the most influential businesswomen of China today brings to life a century of Chinese history from the last emperor to the present day, including the Cultural Revolution that tore her family apart.