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Books highlighting women you never learned about in history class 

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Toronto MU chapter.

March is Women’s History Month, and while it is a great time to celebrate the contributions of women, it also serves as a reminder that history is too often skewed. Male narratives continue to dominate our textbooks, and women’s accomplishments and experiences get swept under the rug. We are left with little knowledge about the many women who, among male historical figures and leaders, simultaneously shaped history.

Recently writers and historians have focused on bringing us the stories of women that history tried to erase or ignore. So, in honour of Women’s History Month, I rounded up a list of books showcasing incredible women who are rarely discussed. From undercover reporters to resistance fighters, these stories all capture how ordinary women are extraordinary. If you are looking to learn more about the experiences of remarkable yet lesser-known women, add one of these seven fascinating books to your TBR. 

Broad Band by Claire L. Evans 

When you think of who created the internet, an image of a young, nerdy white man in Silicon Valley might come to mind. But those are not the only people who made the internet what it is today. Claire Evans’ Broad Band turns that perception on its head by exploring the little-told stories of those who also shaped the internet — women. From Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer, to Stacy Horn, who ran a social network out of her apartment in the 1980s, Evans showcases the women who programmed, designed, computed and built our way into the Age of Information. 

You can purchase the book here

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman

This book explores the social arrangements of Black women in the early 20th century in Philadelphia and New York. From housemaids and cooks to prison inmates, Hartman examines the lives of ordinary women surviving extraordinary circumstances of racism and abuse. Ultimately, these stories chronicle how Black women found freedom in marginality by rejecting social norms and embracing different ways of living. Hartman raises strong points, such as how to recover lost histories and the importance of understanding the everyday realities of women whose experiences are often forgotten. 

You can purchase the book here.  

Sensational by Kim Todd

You probably have heard of investigative reporting, but have you ever heard of “girl stunt reporters”? In Sensational, Kim Todd recounts the history of “girl stunt reporters,” women journalists in the late 19th century who went undercover to expose abuse and corruption in Gilded Age America. This book delves into the work and “stunts” of female reporters such as Elizabeth Bisland and Winifred Sweet. However, on a broader scale, it explores these women’s impact on journalism and societal issues, such as mental health, the labour movement and women’s rights.

Todd uses these women’s stories to track the revolution of journalism against the backdrop of the developing newspaper industry and how women journalists in the 20th century were often branded as untruthful and gimmicky. Todd highlights how these women impacted journalism in ways that still exist today, despite their work often being undervalued or unacknowledged.

You can purchase the book here

Hope Matters by Lee Maracle, Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter 

Hope Matters is a poetry collection by award-winning Indigenous author Lee Maracle and her two daughters Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter, that charts the Indigenous journey from colonization to reconciliation. The poems in this collection explore the experiences of Indigenous women, particularly through the lens of a mother and her two daughters. This is a powerful read that uncovers uncomfortable yet essential truths. 

You can purchase the book here.

The Light of Days by Judy Batalion

This book details the true story of dozens of “ghetto girls” — Jewish women in Poland who became resistance fighters against the Nazi regime, yet whose efforts went virtually unknown. Batalion recounts how these courageous women, some as young as 15, partook in an armed underground resistance of Jewish resistance fighters. Rather than flee, these women risked their lives to become armed fighters, weapon smugglers, seducers and killers, knowing that being captured would almost certainly lead to a brutal death. Batalion walks readers through the destruction of the Nazi occupation, following these women into ghettos and concentration camps. This book changes the view of World War II and gives voice to Jewish female heroes whose acts of bravery went largely untold. 

You can purchase the book here

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock 

In her 2014 memoir, journalist and activist Janet Mock explores her transition into womanhood through her many intersections as a Black and Indigenous trans woman. She writes about her experiences growing up in Hawaii, her gender identity, and how she ultimately reclaimed that identity. Mock makes powerful points about the individuality of her experience but also about larger social issues contextualizing her life and what being a woman means. This is essential reading for anyone looking to educate themselves about the trans community. 

You can purchase the book here

Wild Swans by Jung Chang 

Part autobiography, part historical account, Wild Swans documents three generations of remarkable women in 20th-century China. One is the author herself, growing up in China and becoming a British citizen. She also recounts her mother’s story, who raised a family as a communist during a challenging time. The book also follows Chang’s grandmother, who was married off as a concubine to a warlord. Through these three narratives, Chang weaves in the history of China from the early 20th century through to the 1980s, touching on the takeover of communist leader Mao Zedong, poverty and famine, and the Cultural Revolution. This book provides important education on the impact of Chinese history on ordinary women, which is not discussed enough. 

You can purchase the book here

The experiences and contributions of women are often overshadowed by male narratives or by those who are more well-known. While these books may be challenging to read, they also capture women’s bravery, resilience, wisdom and determination, even those seen as “ordinary.” These books remind us of the importance of women’s voices being heard and are great to read not just during Women’s History Month but all year round.

Julia Tramontin

Toronto MU '24

Julia is a storyteller and bookworm based in Toronto, Canada and is currently pursuing a degree in journalism. Julia believes storytelling has the power to create change and is particularly interested in stories about feminism, mental wellness, and literature. When she's not hanging out with her two dogs, she can be found with her nose in a book.