As a lifelong book nerd who is also a lady, I feel like it’s my job to celebrate Women’s History Month with some book recommendations.
Most of my picks are about women who were almost lost to the dust of history forever, and all of my picks are about women who made pioneering, courageous, moxie-filled contributions that changed the entire course of the world as we know it.
Radium Girls by Kate Moore
This is now a movie, but the book is definitely worth picking up even if you’ve watched the show!
Radium Girls tells the story of the women who worked in factories that made radium wristwatches. These women were told that the radium was harmless (despite the scientists and company owners knowing the effects radium can have), and they were made to believe that their jobs were glamorous. They were called “the shining girls” because they would glow like stars when they left the factories each night.
The book covers the beginnings of the work for these women, which was initially seen as exciting and fun because they didn’t know of the danger. It then tells the dark story of corruption and how they began to get horribly sick from radiation poisoning. The so-called “Radium Girls” banded together and struggled hard for years to make their voices heard and save the lives of other women across the nation.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Henrietta Lacks is the reason that we have the polio vaccine. She played a pivotal role in understanding cancer, radiation poisoning, viruses, and cloning. Without her, the world of gene mapping and in-vitro fertilization would be much less advanced.
Unfortunately, most people have no idea who she is. Henrietta Lacks was a poor Black tobacco farmer whose cells were taken without her knowledge or any form of compensation. These cells, known as HeLa cells, are the first “immortal” human cells grown in a lab, and even now, more than 60 years later, they’re still alive.
The story of Henrietta and her descendants is super interesting, and Rebecca Skloot does a great job of bringing the story to life and giving Henrietta Lacks the credit she deserves.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Like Radium Girls, this book is also a movie, and I recommend both!
Hidden Figures is the story of the “human computers,” aka female mathematicians, who calculated things like rocket trajectories and planetary orbits by hand for NASA.
In particular, it tells the story of a group of Black women who were called to work at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Virginia during World War II. These women were the best and brightest of the female mathematicians, and they were able to help America make serious advancements through WWII, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the “Space Race” of the 60s.
It’s a true story that reads like exciting fiction, and it’ll make you feel proud to be a woman.
Code Girls by Liza Mundy
I know I’m on a kick with groups of women who were nearly lost to history, but I just love finding out about these kinds of stories.
Code Girls is an amazing story of more than 10,000 women who were recruited to serve as codebreakers during World War II. These women helped to save their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sweethearts by tirelessly working to break the secret codes used by the enemy. Because of their efforts, the war was shorter and countless soldiers were saved. As if that wasn’t enough, these women helped to open up important career opportunities for future generations with their work.
They may not have had to register for the draft, but there’s no denying that these women were a pivotal part of the war effort.
The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel
To round out my list of “ladies of history who make me proud to be a lady,” The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel is next on my reading list.
This book, like Hidden Figures, is about female “calculators.” These are women who worked in the Harvard College Observatory interpreting the data that their male colleagues amassed via telescope each night. Once stellar photography was invented, these women were then able to begin studying glass photo plates.
This “glass universe” of over half a million photography plates allowed these women to make stunning progress in the field of astronomy. These women are responsible for developing the system that we still use today to catalog stars, and they also identified hundreds of individual stars. From these women also came Harvard’s first female astronomy professor, too.
I’ve been obsessed with space since I was a kid, so this book is like uncovering a gem!
Tell Me About Your Favorite Books
This roundup only covers five books, but there are dozens more that I didn’t mention. Drop your must-read Women’s History Month books in the comments so I can add them to my endless reading list!