I loved history lessons when I was in school. Yep, I was that brace-faced nerd in the front row who always had her hand up in the air and could rattle off random facts about people who’d died hundreds of years ago. Still am. Minus the braces, obviously! But I was never completely satisfied by what I heard in class – all these stories about men and what they did. Where were the women?
Even today, school history lessons have that old bias. A handful of Tudor Queens, the suffragettes and Florence Nightingale if you’re lucky… and that’s about it. Women’s voices are whispers in the footnotes, or on a single, patronising, end-of-topic page about ‘Women’s Roles’. Wives, whores and witches. If you want more, you have to go looking for it yourself. The truth is, that women’s achievements and their place in the history books has – for a very long time – been undermined or belittled by the men (and women!) who were afraid of them. Like Catherine the Great, who – despite all the amazing things she achieved in her lifetime – still can’t seem to shake off that horrible (and completely untrue) rumour about her and the horse! And it’s sad, because history is bursting with brilliant and bold women whose stories deserve to be heard in the classroom – not just by girls, but by boys too – particularly right now with the rise of retro-sexism.
Today is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is #BeBoldForChange. So, here are four bold books about Women’s History that I love.
▲ The Weaker Vessel by Antonia Fraser. If you’ve never read an historical biography before or you’re just starting out in Women’s History, then Antonia Fraser’s books are the perfect place to start. She’s written books about Mary Queen of Scots, Charles II and various others. Her biography of Marie Antoinette (which later inspired the Sofia Coppola movie) was the first book by her I ever read and I loved it so, so much that I went on to read the rest. She writes in such a sympathetic, chatty, story book sort of way that makes the history so easy to digest. The Weaker Vessel is all about the lives of different women during the Seventeenth Century, when the roles of women and their rights were beginning to change.
▲ Liberty by Lucy Moore. I’m really into my French history and my Mum was super chuffed when she picked this book up for my birthday one year. Liberty follows the lives of several different women leading up to, during and after the French Revolution – flashing between them as they get involved in the changing politics, persecution and violence. Brave ladies.
▲ Hypatia’s Heritage by Margaret Alic. These days there’s a huge panic because not enough women are getting involved in STEM subjects; stereotypically labelled as “boy’s subjects”. NOT TRUE. Women’s fingerprints are on some of the biggest STEM achievements in history. I picked up Hypatia’s Heritage on Amazon Marketplace and it’s all about women in science right from the ancient world to the nineteenth century – including two of my favourites: Émilie du Châtelet (who dressed up as a man to talk physics in French cafes of the Enlightenment) and Ada Lovelace (child mathematical genius and the very first computer programmer). Smart women.
▲ Scandalous Women by Elizabeth Kerri Mahon. I found this book in Barnes and Noble on holiday one year and refused to leave it behind. Split into sections like Wayward Wives and Warrior Queens, Scandalous Women is essentially a selection of short biographies written by blogger, Elizabeth Kerri Mahon. Funny and very easy to read, it’s a good one to dip in and out of, and includes a wide range of women from Zelda Fitzgerald and Josephine Baker to Cleopatra and Joan of Arc.
Who are your favourite historical women? 🙂