According to a 2016 study, over 75% of recent history books were written by men, about men.
Having spent the last few years looking through different history books in search of the stories of single women with no children, I can now estimate that over 80% of the books and articles that I have read and referenced were written by women. As Women’s History Month begins, I want to express how crucial the work done by female scholars has been for my own project. Without these books and articles, my own research would have stalled rather quickly.
Below is a list of 60 history books that I have either read and/or specifically referenced in my own work – biographies are not included here because there would be too many. They were written by women, for everyone. Short summaries provided in promotional material are included in this blog post to give you more insight into what each book is about. While there is no specific order to this list, I have tried to keep books arranged by time period, from the dawn of time to contemporary history.
My goal here is simply to show that, even though most history books are focused on men’s history, there is a wealth of women’s history books that provide us a better understanding of history, whether it’s a broad overview of women’s history, specific studies of women’s lives at certain times and in certain regions, or general history.
- Marilyn French‘s From Eve To Dawn, A History of Women in the World, Vol I to IV (2002)
Four volumes of a monumental, readable, and unprecedented history of women throughout the world.
2. Kirstin Olsen‘s Chronology of Women’s History (1994)
This book profiles the achievements of nearly 5,000 women from prehistory to the present. Western history is thoroughly covered and supplemented by information on Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Africa.
3. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History, Vol I to IV (2008), edited by Bonnie G. Smith
Four volumes with over 650 biographies of influential women and over 600 topical articles covering topics such as geography and history, culture and society, organizations, movements, and gender studies.
4. Daily Life of Women: An Encyclopedia from Ancient Times to the Present (2020) edited by Colleen Boyett, H. Micheal Tarver, and Mildred Diane Gleason
In a wide array of cultural settings and time periods, an exploration of how women displayed agency by carrying out their daily economic, familial, artistic, and religious obligations.
5. Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, Vol I to XVI (1999), edited by Anne Commire and Deborah Klezmer
Sixteen volumes that include biographies of around 10,000 women.
6. Elizabeth Abbott’s A History of Celibacy (2000)
A wide-ranging historical study of celibacy, which is found in every society and practiced by both the anonymous and the legendary (St. Catherine, Joan of Arc, Leonardo da Vinci, Elizabeth I, Gandhi).
7. Rachel Chrastil‘s How to Be Childless: A History and Philosophy of Life Without Children (2019)
This book uncovers the voices and experiences of childless women from the past 500 years to demonstrate that the pathways to childlessness, so often simplified as “choice” and “circumstance,” are far more complex and interweaving.
8. Gerda Lerner‘s The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-Seventy (1993)
From the Middle Ages to the late 19th century, this book traces several important ways by which women strove for autonomy and equality, to free their minds from patriarchal thought, and to achieve a feminist consciousness.
9. Mary Ellen Waithe‘s A History of Women Philosophers, Vol I to IV (1987)
Four volumes that chronicle the contributions women have made to philosophy.
10. Flowering in the Shadows: Women in the History of Chinese and Japanese Painting (1990), edited by Marsha Weidner
Western art historians seldom paid much attention to the work of East Asian women. The essays in this volume “rediscover,” for an English-speaking audience, some of these women and their roles as artists, art patrons, and collectors.
11. Emily Taitz, Sondra Henry, Cheryl Tallan‘s The JPS Guide to Jewish Women: 600 B.C.E.to 1900 C.E.
An exploration of the role of Jewish women from post-biblical times to the 20th century.
12. Fatima Mernissi‘s The Forgotten Queens of Islam (1997) – translated by Mary Jo Lakeland
Recovering the stories of 15 Islamic queens, this book explores how they ascended the throne, how they governed and exercised their power, and how their forgotten reigns influence the ways in which politics is practiced in Islam today.
13. Eve Krakowski‘s Coming of Age in Medieval Egypt: Female Adolescence, Jewish Law, and Ordinary Culture (2018)
Through Jewish and Islamic legal writings, this book examines how gender, kinship, and rabbinic law interacted to shape Jewish women’s coming of age and transition to first marriage in medieval Egypt and Syria.
14. Delia Cortese and Simonetta Calderini‘s Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam (2006)
This study of women during the Fatimid period examines an unexplored area in the field of Islamic and medieval studies: women’s contribution within the courts in their roles as mothers, courtesans, wives and daughters, and as workers and servants.
15. Asma Sayeed‘s Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam (2013)
An exploration of the history of women as religious scholars from the first decades of Islam through the early Ottoman period.
16. Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia (2006), edited by Margaret Schaus
A cross-disciplinary resource that examines the daily reality of medieval women from all walks of life in Europe between 450 CE and 1500 CE.
17. Italian women artists: from Renaissance to Baroque (2007), curated by Vera Fortunati, Jordana Pomeroy, and more…
Why are women artists of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque so relatively unknown today when, during their lifetimes, their artistic merits were celebrated by their foremost contemporaries? This catalog features 60 outstanding works by a dozen of the foremost Italian female artists who managed to gain public, if not international, acclaim.
18. Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation (1987), edited by Katharina M. Wilson
This anthology introduces the works of 25 women writers of the Renaissance and Reformation.
19. Allyson M. Poska‘s Women and Authority in Early Modern Spain: The Peasants of Galicia (2005)
An examination of how peasant women in Northwestern Spain came to have significant social and economic authority within the family and the community due to a large number of female-headed households.
20. Annemarie Schimmel’s The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture (2006)
A detailed picture of daily life in the Mughal empire: the role of rank in this strictly hierarchical society, the life of women, and the various religions, languages, and styles of literature of the era.
21. Domna C. Stanton‘s The dynamics of gender in early modern France : Women writ, women writing (2014)
An emphasis on the central importance of historical context and close reading from a feminist perspective, which it also interrogates as a practice.
22. Women in the Ottoman Empire: Middle Eastern Women in the Early Modern Era, edited by Madeline Zilfi
A collection of articles by 14 Middle East historians that reconstructs the history of (Muslim) women’s experience in the middle centuries of the Ottoman era, between the mid-17th century and the 19th century.
23. Women, Gender and Art in Asia, c. 1500-1900, edited by Melia Belli Bose
How unusual was it for women to engage directly with art? What factors precluded more women from doing so? In what ways did women’s artwork or commissions differ from those of men? A study of women artists from India, Southeast Asia, Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan, from the 16th to the early 20th century.
24. Elizabeth Lillehoj‘s Art and Palace Politics in Early Modern Japan, 1580s-1680s (2011)
This study examines the artistic engagement of
the emperors and warrior lords and considers not
only the making of art, but also patronage, acquisition,
gift-giving, and exchange in Early Modern Japan.
25. Beyond Their Sex: Learned Women of the European Past (1980) edited by Patricia H. Labalme
Seven essays on learned women of western Europe from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern period.
26. Numerous chapters in Women and Freedom in Early America (1997), edited by Larry Eldridge
Bringing to light the enormous diversity of women’s experience from 1400 to 1800, from New France and the Iroquois Nations to mainland British-American colonies, this book examines the influence of race, religion, work, and marriage on women’s lives and freedom in Early America.
27. Karin Wulf‘s Not All Wives: Women of Colonial Philadelphia (2000)
An exploration of the lives of unmarried women in Philadelphia at a time when free women who were not married could own property, make wills, contracts, and court appearances – rights that were denied to married women.
28. Susan Migden Socolow‘s The Women of Colonial Latin America (2000)
An overview of the varied experiences of women in colonial Spanish and Portuguese America including the ways in which race, social status, occupation, and space altered women’s social and economic realities.
29. Londa Schiebinger‘s The Mind Has No Sex? Women in the Origins of Modern Science (1991)
Aristocratic women participated in the learned discourse of the Renaissance court and dominated the informal salons that proliferated in 17th-century Paris. In Germany, women of the artisan class pursued research in astronomy and entomology. These women fought to renegotiate gender boundaries within the newly established scientific academies in order to secure their place among the men of science.
30. Women, Gender and Enlightenment (2006), edited by Sarah Knott and Barbara Taylor
This path-breaking volume of interdisciplinary essays by 40 leading scholars provides a detailed picture of the controversial, innovative role played by women and gender issues in the age of light.
31. Women Writers in Pre-Revolutionary France: From Marie de France to Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun (2017), edited by Colette H. Winn and Anne R. Larsen
English translations of selected works of 30 women writers from the Middle Ages to the early 19th century.
32. Valerie Paradiz‘s Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales (2009)
More than half the fairy tales that the Grimm brothers collected were actually contributed by their educated female friends from the bourgeois and aristocratic classes. Valerie Paradiz examines these women’s lives and their contributions to the preservation of our beloved fairytales.
33. Susan Mann’s Precious Records: Women in China’s Long Eighteenth Century (1997)
A study of women’s lives during the High Qing era (c.1683-1839): women’s place in the family, in writing and learning, in entertainment, at work, and in religious practice.
34. Women in Iran from the Rise of Islam to 1800 (2003), edited by Guity Nashat and Lois Beck
Focusing on a region wider than today’s nation-state of Iran, this book explores developments in the spheres that most affect women: gender constructs, family structure, community roles, education, economic participation, Islamic practices and institutions, politics, and artistic representations.
35. Maria Raquél Casas‘s Married To A Daughter Of The Land: Spanish-Mexican Women And Interethnic Marriage In California, 1820-80 (2007)
An examination of the role of Spanish-Mexican women in the development of California. Far from being pawns in a male-dominated society, Californianas of all classes were often active and determined creators of their own destinies, finding ways to choose their mates, to leave unsatisfactory marriages, and to maintain themselves economically.
36. Devon A. Mihesuah’s Cultivating the Rosebuds: The Education of Women at the Cherokee Female Seminary, 1851-1909 (1997)
A study of the Cherokee Female Seminary, one of the most important schools in the history of Native American education.
37. Wilma King‘s The Essence of Liberty: Free Black Women During the Slave Era (2006)
An examination of a wide-ranging body of literature to show that, even in the face of economic deprivation and draconian legislation, many free Black women were able to maintain some form of autonomy and lead meaningful lives.
38. Dea Birkett‘s Spinsters Abroad: Victorian Ladies Explorers (1989)
Drawing from diaries and other writings, this book explores the lives of more than 50 Victorian pioneers who ventured through remote peaks and perilous rivers, spurning the security and comfort of their middle-class lives.
39. Teresa Palomo Acosta and Ruthe Winegarten‘s Las Tejanas 300 Years of History (2003)
A general history and a celebration of Tejanas’ contributions to Texas over three centuries.
40. Rosemary Dinnage’s Alone! Alone! Lives of Some Outsider Women (2004)
A variety of outstanding women who, in one way or another, felt powerfully alone, from solitaries like the painter Gwen John to muses like Giuseppina Verdi.
41. Tricia Martineau Wagner‘s African American Women of the Old West (2007)
Reconstructed from historic documents found in century-old archives, the stories of 10 African American women of the Old West are compiled in this book.
42. Francesca Miller‘s Latin American Women and the Search for Social Justice (1991)
This book focuses on the ways in which Latin American women pushed for social changes, from the reform-minded female intellectuals of the 19th century to women leaders of the grassroots movements of the 1980s.
43. More than Petticoats Series
Compelling biographies of famous and lesser-known women from specific states such as California, Tennesse, Alaska, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Missouri, Kentucky, Colorado, North Carolina, Kansas, Washington, Oregon, Florida, Utah, New Hampshire, Louisiana, Vermont, South Carolina, and Connecticut.
44. Jennifer Heath‘sThe Scimitar and the Veil: Extraordinary Women of Islam (2004)
Over 30 extraordinary Muslim women from the birth of Islam through the 19th century, from scholars to warriors to concubines and queens.
45. Native American Women: A Biographical Dictionary (2016), edited by Gretchen M. Bataille and Laurie Lisa
This A-Z reference contains 275 biographical entries on Native American women, past and present.
46. Angela Woollacott‘s To Try Her Fortune in London: Australian Women, Colonialism, and Modernity (2001)
Between 1870 and 1940, tens of thousands of Australian women were drawn to London, their imperial metropolis and the center of the publishing, art, theatrical, and educational worlds.
47. Grace S. Fong‘s Herself an Author: Gender, Agency, and Writing in Late Imperial China (2008)
An exploration of the writings of women of the late Ming and Qing periods, and how these women used reading and writing to create literary and social communities, transcend temporal-spatial and social limitations, and represent themselves as the authors of their own life histories.
48. Black French Women and the Struggle for Equality, 1848-2016 (2018), edited by Silyane Larcher and Félix Germain
An exploration of how black women in continental France, the French Caribbean, Gorée, Dakar, Rufisque, and Saint-Louis experienced and reacted to French colonialism and how gendered readings of colonization, decolonization, and social movements cast new light on the history of French colonization and of black France.
49. We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century (1997), edited by Dorothy Sterling
The stories of Black American women, retrieved from hundreds of primary sources – letters, diaries, court testimonies, newspaper articles, autobiographies, and oral interviews.
50. Susan E. Cayleff‘s Wash and Be Healed: The Water Cure Movement and Women’s Health (1987)
An exploration of the theories, philosophies, and proponents of the water-cure movement (hydrotherapy) in the 19th century.
51. Gayle Fischer‘s Pantaloons and Power: A Nineteenth-Century Dress Reform in the United States (2001)
When 19th-century reformers denounced women’s fashion as physically restrictive, they started wearing pantaloons – a subversive act that was often met with social ostracism. This struggle over clothing became representative of power relations between the sexes.
52. Lean’tin L. Bracks and Jessie Carney Smith‘s Black Women of the Harlem Renaissance Era (2014)
This book profiles the most important female figures of the Harlem Renaissance, one of the most significant periods of creative and intellectual expression for African Americans.
53. Women in Caribbean Politics (2011), edited by Cynthia Barrow-Giles
The profiles of 20 of the most influential women in Caribbean politics who have struggled and excelled, in spite of the obstacles.
54. Ally Acker‘s Reel Women : Pioneers of the Cinema, 1896 to the Present (1991)
More women worked in creative and influential positions before 1920 than at any other time in motion picture history. Yet their stories are largely lost in traditional accounts. Reel Women resurrects their tales and places them firmly back into pioneering film history.
55. Elizabeth Kerri Mahon’s Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women (2011)
The stories of the famous and the infamous queens, divorcées, actresses, outlaws, and risk-takers who have flouted convention, beaten the odds, and determined the course of world events.
56. Claudia Gold‘s Queen, Empress, Concubine: Fifty Women Rulers from the Queen of Sheba to Catherine the Great (2008)
The number of women who have ruled as queens or empresses remains but a small subset of the total of those who have attained ultimate political power. This elite group of women who have reached the heights of leadership includes some of the most influential and charismatic figures of world history.
57. Libraries, Archives, and Museums: An Introduction to Cultural Heritage through the Ages (2021), edited by Suzanne M. Stauffer
The first book to consider the development of all three cultural heritage institutions – libraries, archives, and museums – from ancient history to the present day in Western Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
58. Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie‘s Woman in Science: Antiquity Through the Nineteenth Century: A Biographical Dictionary with Annotated Bibliography (1986)
From the ancient Greek physician Agamede to physicist and chemist Marie Curie, in descriptions ranging from a single paragraph to several pages, Women in Science profiles 186 women who as patronesses, translators, popularizers, collectors, illustrators, inventors, and active researchers, made significant contributions to science before 1910.
59. Leila Ahmed‘s Women and Gender in Islam (1992)
An exploration of the discourse about women and gender in Islamic Middle Eastern history with a focus on three main time periods: pre-Islamic, medieval, and modern-day.
60. Women Writing Latin: From Roman Antiquity to Early Modern Europe, Vol I to III (2002), edited by Laurie J. Churchill, Phyllis R. Brown, and Jane E. Jeffrey
A three-volume anthology of women’s writing in Latin from antiquity to the early modern era.