Books to read during Women’s History Month

Books to read during Women’s History Month

A key component of Princeton University Press’s mission is to increase the representation of women across our publishing disciplines. Throughout Women’s History Month in March, we will be taking time to highlight the books by and about women who have pushed boundaries, affected change, redefined roles, or who have complicated our understanding of what it means to be powerful.

The Sky Is for Everyone is an internationally diverse collection of autobiographical essays by women who broke down barriers and changed the face of modern astronomy. Virginia Trimble and David Weintraub vividly describe how, before 1900, a woman who wanted to study the stars had to have a father, brother, or husband to provide entry, and how the considerable intellectual skills of women astronomers were still not enough to enable them to pry open doors of opportunity for much of the twentieth century. After decades of difficult struggles, women are closer to equality in astronomy than ever before. Trimble and Weintraub bring together the stories of the tough and determined women who flung the doors wide open. 

Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, first published in 1792, is a work of enduring relevance in women’s rights advocacy. However, as Sylvana Tomaselli shows, a full understanding of Wollstonecraft’s thought is possible only through a more comprehensive appreciation of Wollstonecraft herself, as a philosopher and moralist who deftly tackled major social and political issues and the arguments of such figures as Edmund Burke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Adam Smith. Reading Wollstonecraft through the lens of the politics and culture of her own time, this book restores her to her rightful place as a major eighteenth-century thinker, reminding us why her work still resonates today.

What role do women play in the perpetuation of patriarchy? On the one hand, popular media urges women to be independent, outspoken, and career-minded. Yet, this same media glorifies a specific, sometimes voluntary, female submissiveness as a source of satisfaction. In philosophy, even less has been said on why women submit to men and the discussion has been equally contradictory—submission has traditionally been considered a vice or pathology, but female submission has been valorized as innate to women’s nature. Is there a way to explore female submission in all of its complexity—not denying its appeal in certain instances, and not buying into an antifeminist, sexist, or misogynistic perspective? We Are Not Born Submissive offers the first in-depth philosophical exploration of female submission, focusing on the thinking of Simone de Beauvoir, and more recent work in feminist philosophy, epistemology, and political theory.

One of the most groundbreaking artists to emerge in American art in the 1960s, Hannah Wilke consistently challenged the prevailing narratives of women’s bodies and their representation throughout her career, until her untimely death in 1993. Wilke established a uniquely feminist iconography in virtually all of the mediums she engaged with—painting, sculpture, photography, video, and performance art—and offered a life-affirming expression of vitality and bodily pleasure in her work. Hannah Wilke: Art for Life’s Sake highlights the artist’s full range of expression, bringing together photographs, works on paper, video, and examples of Wilke’s sculptures in clay and other, nonconventional materials such as latex, kneaded erasers, and chewing gum. 

For the Many presents an inspiring look at how US women and their global allies pushed the nation and the world toward justice and greater equality for all. Reclaiming social democracy as one of the central threads of American feminism, Dorothy Sue Cobble offers a bold rewriting of twentieth-century feminist history and documents how forces, peoples, and ideas worldwide shaped American politics. Cobble follows egalitarian women’s activism from the explosion of democracy movements before World War I to the establishment of the New Deal, through the upheavals in rights and social citizenship at midcentury, to the reassertion of conservatism and the revival of female-led movements today.

Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville (1650–1705), also known as Madame d’Aulnoy, was a pioneer of the French literary fairy tale. Though d’Aulnoy’s work now rarely appears outside of anthologies, her books were notably popular during her lifetime, and she was in fact the author who coined the term “fairy tales” (contes des fées). Presenting eight of d’Aulnoy’s magical stories, The Island of Happiness juxtaposes poetic English translations with a wealth of original, contemporary drawings by Natalie Frank, one of today’s most outstanding visual artists. In this beautiful volume, classic narratives are interpreted and made anew through Frank’s feminist and surreal images.

With nearly 200 color illustrations, Votes for Women offers a more complete picture of American women’s suffrage, one that sheds new light on the movement’s relevance for our own time.

A century ago, it was a given that a woman with a college degree had to choose between having a career and a family. Today, there are more female college graduates than ever before, and more women want to have a career and family, yet challenges persist at work and at home. This book traces how generations of women have responded to the problem of balancing career and family as the twentieth century experienced a sea change in gender equality, revealing why true equity for dual career couples remains frustratingly out of reach.

Maria Theresa (1717–1780) was once the most powerful woman in Europe. At the age of twenty-three, she ascended to the throne of the Habsburg Empire, a far-flung realm composed of diverse ethnicities and languages, beset on all sides by enemies and rivals. Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger provides the definitive biography of Maria Theresa, situating this exceptional empress within her time while dispelling the myths surrounding her.

This concise edition of the biography of Walatta-Petros (1672) tells the story of an Ethiopian saint who lived from 1592 to 1642 and led a successful nonviolent movement to preserve African Christian beliefs in the face of European protocolonialism. This is the oldest-known book-length biography of an African woman written by Africans before the nineteenth century, and one of the earliest stories of African resistance to European influence. Written by her disciples after her death, The Life of Walatta-Petros praises her as a friend of women, a devoted reader, a skilled preacher, and a radical leader, providing a rare picture of the experiences and thoughts of Africans—especially women—before the modern era.