Essential Reads on Feminism: The New York Public Library Creates a Reading List to Honor the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment

We may all have the best of inten­tions when we col­lect and share read­ing lists. We buy the books, stack them neat­ly by the chair or bed, then some­thing hap­pens. Like… lit­er­al­ly, every day, some­thing hap­pens…. Let’s cut our­selves some slack. We’ll get to those books, or give them away to peo­ple who will read them, which is also a good thing to do.

But even if we can’t keep up, read­ing lists are still essen­tial edu­ca­tion­al tools, espe­cial­ly for kids, young adults, and their par­ents and teach­ers. As we cel­e­brate the cen­te­nary of the 19th Amend­ment (which fell on August 18th) and talk about its many short­com­ings, it may be more impor­tant than ever to under­stand the U.S. his­to­ry that brought us to the cur­rent moment.

This is a his­to­ry in which—whether rights were guar­an­teed by the con­sti­tu­tion or not—peo­ple his­tor­i­cal­ly denied suf­frage have always had to strug­gle. Each gen­er­a­tion of women, but most espe­cial­ly Black, Lat­inx, Indige­nous, and LGBTQ women, must claim or reclaim basic rights, lib­er­ties, and pro­tec­tions. More than ever, fem­i­nist read­ing lists reflect the vast dif­fer­ences in col­lec­tive and per­son­al expe­ri­ence that fall under the label “Fem­i­nist.”

To illus­trate the con­tin­ued crit­i­cal impor­tance of fem­i­nist his­to­ry, the­o­ry, and lit­er­a­ture, the New York Pub­lic Library pub­lished read­ing lists for adults, kids, and teens on the 19th Amendment’s 100th anniver­sary. These books can help cre­ate com­mu­ni­ty and sol­i­dar­i­ty and inspire deep reflec­tion as kids are pushed back into schools and par­ents and teach­ers try to help them cope.

The adult list con­tains 126 books and includes links to the library cat­a­log or e‑Book edi­tions. “The titles bridge the past and present of fem­i­nist move­ments, from Simone de Beauvoir’s The Inde­pen­dent Woman (1949) to Rox­ane Gay’s Bad Fem­i­nist: Essays (2014), and from the ear­li­est man­i­festos for equal­i­ty to con­tem­po­rary writ­ings on inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty,” Valenti­na Di Lis­cia writes at Hyper­al­ler­gic.

The lists for kids and teens are of a more man­age­able length, and “if you’re look­ing to stock the book­shelves before his­to­ry class starts this fall,” you can hard­ly do bet­ter than to start with these titles (or just book­mark the lists for now), as Danielle Valente—who help­ful­ly tran­scribes both lists, below—notes at Time Out New York.

NYPL’s Essen­tial Reads on Fem­i­nism: For Kids 

  • Black Girl Mag­ic by Mahogany L. Browne
  • Black Women Who Dared by Nao­mi M. Moy­er
  • Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote by Sen­a­tor Kirsten Gilli­brand,
  • Brave. Black. First. 50+ African Amer­i­can Women Who Changed the World by Cheryl Willis Hud­son
  • Delores Huer­ta: A Hero to Migrant Work­ers by Sarah War­ren
  • Eliz­a­beth Start­ed All the Trou­ble by Doreen Rap­pa­port
  • Equal­i­ty’s Call: The Sto­ry of Vot­ing Rights in Amer­i­ca by Deb­o­rah Diesen
  • Good Night Sto­ries for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extra­or­di­nary Women by Ele­na Fav­il­li and Francesca Cav­al­lo
  • The Gut­sy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adven­ture by Car­o­line Paul
  • Heart on Fire: Susan B. Antho­ny Votes for Pres­i­dent by Ann Malaspina
  • Her­sto­ry: 50 Women and Girls Who Shook Up the World by Kather­ine Hal­li­gan
  • I Am Enough by Grace Byers
  • I am Jazz by Jes­si­ca Herthel and Jazz Jen­nings
  • Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told by Wal­ter Dean Myers
  • It Feels Good to Be Your­self: A Book About Gen­der Iden­ti­ty by There­sa Thorn
  • Julián Is a Mer­maid by Jes­si­ca Love
  • Lead­ing the Way: Women in Pow­er by Janet How­ell and There­sa How­ell
  • Lil­lian’s Right to Vote: A Cel­e­bra­tion of the Vot­ing Rights Act of 1965 by Jon­ah Win­ter
  • Lim­it­less: 24 Remark­able Amer­i­can Women of Vision, Grit, and Guts by Leah Tinari
  • Lit­tle Lead­ers: Bold Women in Black His­to­ry by Vashti Har­ri­son
  • Lucía the Luchado­ra by Cyn­thia Leonor Garza
  • Malala’s Mag­ic Pen­cil by Malala Yousafzai
  • Miss Paul and the Pres­i­dent: The Cre­ative Cam­paign for Wom­en’s Right to Vote by Dean Rob­bins
  • The Moon With­in by Aida Salazar
  • My Name Is Truth: The Life of Sojourn­er Truth by Ann Turn­er
  • Noto­ri­ous RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg by Irin Car­mon and Shana Knizh­nik
  • Rad Amer­i­can Women A–Z: Rebels, Trail­blaz­ers, and Vision­ar­ies Who Shaped Our His­to­ry… and Our Future! by Kate Schatz
  • Ros­es and Rad­i­cals: The Epic Sto­ry of How Amer­i­can Women Won the Right to Vote by Susan Zimet
  • Shak­ing Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World by Susan Hood
  • She Per­sist­ed: 13 Amer­i­can Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clin­ton
  • They, She, He, Me: Free to Be! by Maya Gon­za­lez and Matthew SG
  • Women Win the Vote!: 19 for the 19th Amend­ment by Nan­cy B. Kennedy


New York Pub­lic Library’s Essen­tial Reads on Fem­i­nism: For Teens 

  • Alice Paul and the Fight for Wom­en’s Rights by Deb­o­rah Kops
  • Ask a Queer Chick: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life for Girls Who Dig Girls by Lind­say King-Miller
  • Because I Was a Girl: True Sto­ries for Girls of All Ages by Melis­sa de la Cruz
  • Beyond Magen­ta: Trans­gen­der Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuk­lin
  • Beyond the Gen­der Bina­ry by Alok Vaid-Menon
  • Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Péné­lope Bagieu
  • The Bride Was a Boy by Chii
  • Col­o­nize This!: Young Women of Col­or on Today’s Fem­i­nism by Daisy Hernán­dez and Bushra Rehman (eds.)
  • Dear Ijeawele, or a Fem­i­nist Man­i­festo In Fif­teen Sug­ges­tions by Chi­ma­man­da Ngozi Adichie
  • Fem­i­nism Is… by Alexan­dra Black, Lau­ra Buller, Emi­ly Hoyle and Dr. Megan Todd
  • Fem­i­nism: Rein­vent­ing the F‑Word by Nadia Abushanab Hig­gins
  • Fierce Femmes and Noto­ri­ous Liars: A Dan­ger­ous Trans Girl’s Con­fab­u­lous Mem­oir by Kai Cheng Thom
  • Fight Like a Girl: 50 Fem­i­nists Who Changed the World by Lau­ra Bar­cel­la
  • Full Frontal Fem­i­nism: A Young Wom­an’s Guide to Why Fem­i­nism Mat­ters by Jes­si­ca Valen­ti
  • Girl Ris­ing: Chang­ing the World One Girl at a Time by Tanya Lee Stone
  • Girls Resist!: A Guide to Activism, Lead­er­ship, and Start­ing a Rev­o­lu­tion by Kae­Lyn Rich
  • Girls Write Now: Two Decades of True Sto­ries from Young Female Voic­es
  • Here We Are: Fem­i­nism for the Real World by Kel­ly Jensen (ed.)
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • I, Rigob­er­ta Menchú: An Indi­an Woman In Guatemala by Rigob­er­ta Menchú
  • Light­ing the Fires of Free­dom: African Amer­i­can Women in the Civ­il Rights Move­ment by Janet Dewart Bell
  • Mod­ern Her­sto­ry: Sto­ries of Women and Non­bi­na­ry Peo­ple Rewrit­ing His­to­ry by Blair Imani
  • Mus­lim Girl: A Com­ing of Age by Amani Al-Khataht­beh
  • Not for Our­selves Alone: The Sto­ry of Eliz­a­beth Cady Stan­ton and Susan B. Antho­ny by Geof­frey C. Ward and Ken Burns
  • #NotY­our­Princess: Voic­es of Native Amer­i­can Women by Lisa Charley­boy and Mary Beth Leatherdale (eds.)
  • Rethink­ing Nor­mal: A Mem­oir in Tran­si­tion by Katie Rain Hill
  • She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Har­ri­et Tub­man by Eri­ca Arm­strong Dun­bar
  • Sis­sy: A Com­ing-of-Gen­der Sto­ry by Jacob Tobia
  • Tomboy: A Graph­ic Mem­oir by Liz Prince
  • Trans Teen Sur­vival Guide by Owl and Fox Fish­er
  • Trans+: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You by Kathryn Gon­za­les and Karen Rayne
  • Votes for Women!: Amer­i­can Suf­frag­ists and the Bat­tle for the Bal­lot by Winifred Con­kling
  • With Courage and Cloth: Win­ning the Fight for a Wom­an’s Right to Vote by Ann Bausum
  • You Don’t Have to Like Me: Essays on Grow­ing Up, Speak­ing Out, and Find­ing Fem­i­nism by Ali­da Nugent
  • Ama­zons, Abo­li­tion­ists, and Activists: A Graph­ic His­to­ry of Wom­en’s Fight for Their Rights by Mik­ki Kendall

This is, indeed, an excel­lent place to start. Giv­en younger gen­er­a­tions’ lev­els of engage­ment with cur­rent events, it’s like­ly your kids or stu­dents are already famil­iar with many of the new­er books on the lists.

And if you, your­self, need some less daunt­ing bib­li­ogra­phies to get you start­ed, you might also check out Emi­ly Temple’s “40 New Fem­i­nist Clas­sics” list on LitHub or her (short­er and less diverse) “10 Essen­tial Fem­i­nist Books” at The Atlantic, or fem­i­nist writer Mona Eltahawy’s list of Black fem­i­nist books on Twit­ter, or for­mer NFL play­er Wade Davis and Cor­nell Eng­lish pro­fes­sor Muko­ma Wa Ngugi’s lists for “men who care about fem­i­nism.”

If there’s any over­ar­ch­ing theme to be found among such a vast and ever-expand­ing canon of fem­i­nist lit­er­a­ture, it might be summed up best in the title of a recent Angela Davis book on fem­i­nist move­ments around the world: “Free­dom is a con­stant strug­gle.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

11 Essen­tial Fem­i­nist Books: A New Read­ing List by The New York Pub­lic Library

Down­load All 239 Issues of Land­mark UK Fem­i­nist Mag­a­zine Spare Rib Free Online

103 Essen­tial Films By Female Film­mak­ers: Clue­less, Lost In Trans­la­tion, Ishtar and More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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