Historical Fiction Reads for Women’s History Month
March is Women’s History Month, a month dedicated to commemorating and celebrating the meaningful role women have played in history. This week, I decided to focus on historical fiction titles that honor real women who made some lasting impact on our world.
I love historical fiction and read it regularly; as a result, I was a little surprised when I started combing through my books to find that a substantial portion of the genre focuses more on specific time periods and events and less on actual individuals. The historical fiction genre is experiencing a boom, and I will be curious to see if that translates to more stories about actual people or if historical fiction authors gravitate more to stories about events or time periods without the limitation of sticking with the details of a particular person’s life.
Here are six books that highlight women who deserve to be celebrated during Women’s History Month:
- The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer: In The Age of Light, Scharer tackles Lee Miller’s relationship with and impact on surrealist Man Ray’s photography and legacy as well as Miller’s own career as a photographer. Readers will revel in the beautiful and lyrical prose as well as the details of Miller’s storied career including her documentation of the concentration camps following World War 2.
- The Dragon Lady by Louisa Treger - The Dragon Lady tells the story of Virginia “Ginie” Courtauld, her husband Stephen and their time in Rhodesia before the colony succeeded with its independence quest and became Zimbabwe. Ginie was an independent, free-thinking woman who opted to push for the necessary social changes she knew should happen even when those views made her incredibly unpopular with her peers. Particularly fascinating are the portions of the story about Rhodesia’s quest for independence including an actual meeting the Courtaulds had with Robert Mugabe prior to his ascent to power.
- Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart - Girl Waits with Gun is the first in a series based on the life of Constance Kopp, a real woman who served as one of the country’s first female sheriffs. Constance faced so many issues as a female law enforcement officer; some issues that I think people would argue are still faced today. Stewart includes actual newspaper articles at the end of her books with stories about Constance and her exploits and loosely bases her mysteries on these stories.
- Learning to See by Elise Hooper - Dorothea Lange’s photographs from the Great Depression, and the Japanese American internment camps to a lesser extent, are iconic and part of the fabric of our culture, but the story of her life is less well known. Hooper’s novel tells Lange’s tale including the sacrifices she made to bring about social change for the less fortunate. Learning to See is a fabulous tale from start to finish, and the inclusion of some of Lange’s photographs at the end of the novel are an added bonus.
- The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict: The Only Woman in the Room chronicles the long and accomplished life of Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Keisler), the Hollywood screen star from the 1940s and 1950s. Escaping her Nazi-affiliated husband in the dead of night, she arrives in Hollywood where she launches the acting career for which she is well known. Unable to forget the horrors she witnessed in Austria, she recruits a partner (George Antheil), and they quietly begin work on an invention that she hopes will help the United States win the war against Germany. While the U.S. Navy did not adopt their invention until the 1960’s, their work eventually led to the creation of Bluetooth and ultimately WiFi and the cell phone, and she and Antheil were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.
- A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler - A Well-Behaved Woman tells the story of Alva Vanderbilt and her determination to succeed in cut-throat, Gilded-Age New York. She hailed from a Southern family who lost their fortune after the Civil War and managed to marry into the Vanderbilt dynasty. In addition to shaking up the wealthy social circles in New York City, Alva was a prominent supporter of the women’s suffrage movement and was vocal about women’s rights, most often asserting power in her own marriage and encouraging others to do the same.
I would love to hear about your favorite books honoring fabulous women! Comment below.
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