I’ll be co-hosting Femathon in March; come join in! As you might have guessed from my other posts, I generally don’t reach for Non Fiction, so this post is going to be rather short. If you have any recommendations, please do let me know! So far, I’ve only read one of the books on this list.
Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House by Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley is, well, I’ll let the book blurb speak for itself. This could also count in BIPOC Rep, Fem Positive, and Fems Fight Back. I’m not sure if it counts as a Classic, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be?
“I have often been asked to write my life . . . it has been an eventful one,” wrote Elizabeth Keckley in her autobiography Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House. First published in 1868, it is one of the most candid and poignant slave narratives. It also looks beyond Emancipation and is, in the words of historian William L. Andrews, “the first major text to represent the interests and aims of this nascent African American leadership class in the postwar era.” Born into slavery, Keckley endured untold hardships but she eventually purchased her freedom in the 1850s. Self-reliant and enterprising, Keckley used her dressmaking skills to set up a successful business in Civil War-era Washington, DC, where she became the modiste of choice for many of the city’s most fashionable women. Her talents and warmth led her to become seamstress to Mary Todd Lincoln and confidante to both Mary and Abraham Lincoln. After President Lincoln’s assassination, Keckley became caretaker to the former First Lady, whose financial troubles mounted and mental health declined. In an effort to buoy their financial fortunes and restore Mary Lincoln’s battered public image, Keckley wrote Behind the Scenes. Much to her surprise, it was labeled as “treacherous” and ended her relationship with Mary Lincoln. Elizabeth Keckley is now remembered as an entrepreneur, fashion designer, community activist, educator, writer, as well as friend to Mary Todd Lincoln.– Goodreads Book Blurb
Suffragette: My Own Story by Emmeline Pankhurst could also count in Classic and Fems Fight Back.
The closing paragraphs of this book were written in the late summer of 1914, when the armies of every great power in Europe were being mobilised for savage, unsparing, barbarous warfare-against one another, against small and unaggressive nations, against helpless women and children, against civilisation itself. How mild, by comparison with the despatches in the daily newspapers, will seem this chronicle of women’s militant struggle against political and social injustice in one small corner of Europe. Yet let it stand as it was written, with peace-so-called, and civilisation, and orderly government as the background for heroism such as the world has seldom witnessed. The militancy of men, through all the centuries, has drenched the world with blood, and for these deeds of horror and destruction men have been rewarded with monuments, with great songs and epics. The militancy of women has harmed no human life save the lives of those who fought the battle of righteousness. Time alone will reveal what reward will be allotted to the women.– Goodreads Book Blurb
This we know, that in the black hour that has just struck in Europe, the men are turning to their women and calling on them to take up the work of keeping civilisation alive. Through all the harvest fields, in orchards and vineyards, women are garnering food for the men who fight, as well as for the children left fatherless by war. In the cities the women are keeping open the shops, they are driving trucks and trams, and are altogether attending to a multitude of business.
When the remnants of the armies return, when the commerce of Europe is resumed by men, will they forget the part the women so nobly played? Will they forget in England how women in all ranks of life put aside their own interests and organised, not only to nurse the wounded, care for the destitute, comfort the sick and lonely, but actually to maintain the existence of the nation? Thus far, it must be admitted, there are few indications that the English Government are mindful of the unselfish devotion manifested by the women. Thus far all Government schemes for overcoming unemployment have been directed towards the unemployment of men. The work of women, making garments, etc., has in some cases been taken away.
At the first alarm of war the militants proclaimed a truce, which was answered half-heartedly by the announcement that the Government would release all suffrage prisoners who would give an undertaking “not to commit further crimes or outrages.” Since the truce had already been proclaimed, no suffrage prisoner deigned to reply to the Home Secretary’s provision. A few days later, no doubt influenced by representations made to the Government by men and women of every political faith-many of them never having been supporters of revolutionary tactics-Mr. McKenna announced in the House of Commons that it was the intention of the Government, within a few days, to release unconditionally, all suffrage prisoners. So ends, for the present, the war of women against men. As of old, the women become the nurturing mothers of men, their sisters and uncomplaining helpmates. The future lies far ahead, but let this preface and this volume close with the assurance that the struggle for the full enfranchisement of women has not been abandoned; it has simply, for the moment, been placed in abeyance. When the clash of arms ceases, when normal, peaceful, rational society resumes its functions, the demand will again be made. If it is not quickly granted, then once more the women will take up the arms they to-day generously lay down. There can be no real peace in the world until woman, the mother half of the human family, is given liberty in the councils of the world.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank could also count in Classic. I don’t know how this wasn’t on my high school required reading list, but it’s one of the books I still need to get to at some point.
Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank’s remarkable diary has become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit.– Goodreads Book Blurb
In 1942, with the Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, the Franks and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and surprisingly humorous, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short.
I’ll let the blurb speak for this one too. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs could also count in BIPOC Rep, Fems Fight back, and possibly Classic and Fem Positive – again, I haven’t read it yet to know.
The true story of an individual’s struggle for self-identity, self-preservation, and freedom, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl remains among the few extant slave narratives written by a woman. This autobiographical account chronicles the remarkable odyssey of Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897) whose dauntless spirit and faith carried her from a life of servitude and degradation in North Carolina to liberty and reunion with her children in the North.
Written and published in 1861 after Jacobs’ harrowing escape from a vile and predatory master, the memoir delivers a powerful and unflinching portrayal of the abuses and hypocrisy of the master-slave relationship. Jacobs writes frankly of the horrors she suffered as a slave, her eventual escape after several unsuccessful attempts, and her seven years in self-imposed exile, hiding in a coffin-like “garret” attached to her grandmother’s porch.
A rare firsthand account of a courageous woman’s determination and endurance, this inspirational story also represents a valuable historical record of the continuing battle for freedom and the preservation of family.– Goodreads Book Blurb
The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney is the only book on this list I’ve actually read. It’s a historical account that isn’t dry – at least to me. This could also count in Fems Fight Back and possibly BIPOC Rep if you count ancient Egyptian history?
An engrossing biography of the longest-reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt and the story of her audacious rise to power in a man’s world.– Goodreads Book Blurb
Hatshepsut, the daughter of a general who took Egypt’s throne without status as a king’s son and a mother with ties to the previous dynasty, was born into a privileged position of the royal household. Married to her brother, she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father’s family. Her failure to produce a male heir was ultimately the twist of fate that paved the way for her inconceivable rule as a cross-dressing king. At just twenty, Hatshepsut ascended to the rank of king in an elaborate coronation ceremony that set the tone for her spectacular twenty-two year reign as co-regent with Thutmose III, the infant king whose mother Hatshepsut out-maneuvered for a seat on the throne. Hatshepsut was a master strategist, cloaking her political power plays with the veil of piety and sexual expression. Just as women today face obstacles from a society that equates authority with masculinity, Hatshepsut had to shrewdly operate the levers of a patriarchal system to emerge as Egypt’s second female pharaoh.
Hatshepsut had successfully negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority, and her reign saw one of Ancient Egypt’s most prolific building periods. Scholars have long speculated as to why her images were destroyed within a few decades of her death, all but erasing evidence of her rule. Constructing a rich narrative history using the artifacts that remain, noted Egyptologist Kara Cooney offers a remarkable interpretation of how Hatshepsut rapidly but methodically consolidated power—and why she fell from public favor just as quickly. The Woman Who Would Be King traces the unconventional life of an almost-forgotten pharaoh and explores our complicated reactions to women in power.