6 Great Books About Influential Women

Claire Handscombe

Women have often been the forgotten protagonists of history. But these books help fill that gap.

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Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists, by Mikki Kendall and A. D'Amico

Billed as “an indispensable resource for people of all genders interested in the fight for a more liberated future”, this book is also beautiful – making it an ideal gift for the aesthetically oriented history nerd in your life.

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No Modernism Without Lesbians, by Diana Souhami

The famous Parisian bookstore Shakespeare & Co was founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919, and became a haunt and gathering place for artists and writers who made Modernism what it was. This book tells the story of that shop, its owner, and the birth of Parisian Modernism between the Wars. It’s about four women – Sylvia Beach, Bryher, Natalie Barney, and Gertrude Stein – and how their lives intersected with those of Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso, Gauguin, Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Paul Bowles, and more.

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Roaring Girls, by Holly Kyte

We’re familiar with the suffragettes and other 20th century British heroines, but it turns out that even before then, British women were fighting for their rights. Roaring Girls highlights eight of them, from a cross-dressing thief to an LGBTQ+ trailblazer. Nevertheless, they persisted.

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Women's London: A Tour Guide to Great Lives, by Rachel Kolsky

If you’re planning a trip across the Pond anytime soon (or if you want to indulge in a little armchair travel) you’ll want to pack this guidebook to London, which offers self-guided tours to places where key women—artists, doctors, reformers, royals, authors, and more—lived, worked, and are commemorated.

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Square Haunting, by Francesca Wade

“I like this London life…the street-sauntering and square-haunting,” wrote Virginia Woolf in her diary in 1925 – hence the title of this book. The square in question is Mecklenburgh Square, a radical address back in 1920s London, where five notable women, Woolf among them, did some of their best thinking. This book brings them to life and highlights their importance. Sally Rooney found this book “beautiful and deeply moving”.

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Rise Up, Women! by Diane Atkinson

2018 marked 100 years since some British women got the vote and were first able to stand for Parliament, and that inspired a lot of books about feminism in general and the suffrage movement in particular. Rise Up, Women takes a closer look at some of the women who made that up that movement—women of all ages and social classes, from all four corners of the UK, in a “meticulously researched, vividly rendered and truly defining biography of a movement.”

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC

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