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April 1, 2023

Women in American History

by Susan Roberts

March might be over but you can continue celebrating Women in History. Donna did a fantastic review of books about strong women during World War II.  I have listed some books that show the contributions made by women in American history.  These are all historical fiction novels based on real women who were often ignored in the history books but made a real difference.

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The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

book cover of historical fiction novel The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
February 2021; St. Martin's; 978-1250178602
audio, ebook, print (464 pages); historical fiction

It's 1934 in Texas and the recession and drought have drastically changed the lives of the farmers.  Instead of the crops they had in the past, they now have dry fields that don't yield anything and dust storms that make their lives and their farms even more brutal.  Many farmers are losing their farms and equipment to the banks and the federal government is doing nothing to help their plight.  They've heard that California has jobs and life will be good for them there.  Many of them pack up their household goods and start the trek to California.  When they got there, they find a way of life much worse than what they left.  They are forced to live in unsafe conditions and paid a pittance for helping the rich farmers pick their crops.

Elsa has to decide whether to take her children to California for a better life or stay in Texas on the family farm.  Her husband has left her and his parents are struggling to keep the farm profitable.  When her son gets sick from the dust, she feels that she has no choice and leaves to find a better life.  What she finds is a camp full of people who can barely earn the money to feed their children.  She also finds prejudice and dislike from the Californians.  Elsa never gives up on trying to keep her children healthy and fed.  She'd never felt strong or brave in her entire life but she showed bravery and love every day to try to find a better life for her family.  

Buy The Four Winds at Amazon

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

book cover of biographical fiction novel The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
January 2014; Viking; 978-0670024780
audio, ebook, print (384 pages); biographical fiction

Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth-century Charleston, yearns for a life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday when she is given ownership of ten-year-old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.

Buy The Invention of Wings at Amazon 

Stories from Suffragette City edited by M.J. Rose & Fiona Davis 

book cover of historical fiction anthology Stories from Suffragette City
October 2020; Henry Holt and Co; 978-1250241320
audio, ebook, print (272 pages); anthology

"This year marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that 'The Right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex.'  Like all movements of its time, the push toward gender equality has been, and remains a multifront challenge, but there is little doubt that the right to vote - and to have a voice in the democratic process is a fundamental for success. " 
(loc 62)

Stories from Suffragette City is a collection of short stories that all take place on October 23, 1915, in New York City when over 25,000 women marched up Fifth Avenue demanding the right to vote. Thirteen well-known authors have written a short story about the march. The stories look at the experiences of the very rich, the very poor, and everyone in between. Normally when I read an anthology, I like one or two of the stories better than the others - that wasn't the case with this book - I enjoyed all of the stories and I enjoyed the different characters they wrote about on this important day in the history of women's rights in this country.

I really enjoy a book that teaches me as I'm being entertained. I knew about the Suffrage movement but had no idea of the planning and work that went into it from all levels of society. Most of the women were ridiculed by both men and women who thought that women weren't smart enough to vote. But they persevered to get the vote for women!

This is a very timely and important anthology. Many women have become too complacent about voting and don't take advantage of their right to do so. This book reminds us of the hard work and sacrifices that the woman of the early 1900s did to give us the right to vote. 

When We Had Wings by Ariel Lawhon, Kristina McMorris, and Susan Meissner

book cover of historical fiction novel When We Had Wings by Ariel Lawhon, Kristina McMorris, and Susan Meissner
October 2022; Harper Muse; 978-0785253341
audio, ebook, print (432 pages); historical fiction

The Philippines, 1941. When U.S. Navy nurse Eleanor Lindstrom, U.S. Army nurse Penny Franklin, and Filipina nurse Lita Capel forge a friendship at the Army Navy Club in Manila, they believe they’re living a paradise assignment. All three are seeking a way to escape their pasts, but soon the beauty and promise of their surroundings give way to the heavy mantle of war.

Caught in the crosshairs of a fight between the U.S. military and the Imperial Japanese Army for control of the Philippine Islands, the nurses are forced to serve under combat conditions and, ultimately, endure captivity as the first female prisoners of the Second World War. As their resiliency is tested in the face of squalid living arrangements, food shortages, and the enemy's blatant disregard for the articles of the Geneva Convention, the women strive to keep their hope— and their fellow inmates—alive, though not without great cost.

In this sweeping story based on the true experiences of nurses dubbed "the Angels of Bataan," three women shift in and out of each other's lives through the darkest days of the war, buoyed by their unwavering friendship and distant dreams of liberation.

Buy When We Had Wings at Amazon

Other Books about Brave Women in American History to Include on your Reading Lists

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
The Women's March by Jennifer Chiaverini
Yesterday's Tides by Roseanna M White
The Engineer's Wife by Tracey Emerson Wood
The Flight Girls by Nicolle Salazar
The House Girl by Tara Conklin
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash

Susan Roberts grew up in Michigan but loves the laid-back life at her home in the Piedmont area of North Carolina where she is two hours from the beach to the east and the mountains in the west. She reads almost anything but her favorite genres are Southern Fiction and Historical Fiction.

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