Women’s History Month: 15 Inspiring Stories of Courageous Women

An article on Unsung Sheroes, posted last year during Black History Month, mentioned the announcement of the “Hidden Figures” movie based on Margot Lee Shetterley’s book of the same name. The book and the movie—starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae—have since garnered critical acclaim in the form of reviews, awards, and sales. Our stories are powerful, and they matter. Alice Walker stated, “If you deny people a voice, their own voice, there’s no way you’ll ever know who they were, and so they are erased.” Shetterley’s research of Katherine Johnson and the other amazing NASA mathematicians, makes one wonder about all of the other hidden figures that deserve a place in American history; hopefully, researchers and writers will soon uncover more hidden figures—like Naval engineer, Raye Montague. There remains, however, the inspiring stories of courageous women who have defied odds, broken barriers, and earned a place in history books. For Women’s History Month, let’s remember their contributions. The books listed include picture, middle grade, and young adult titles. Happy Women’s History Month!

The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can – Tererai Trent

This is the story of a little girl with big dreams. All the girl ever wanted was an education. But in Rhodesia, education for girls was nearly impossible. So she taught herself to read and write with her brother’s schoolbooks and to count while watching cattle graze. When the girl became a young wife and mother, she wrote her goals on a scrap of paper and buried them in a can—an ancient ritual that reminded her that she couldn’t give up on her dreams. She dreamed of going to America and earning one degree; then a second, even higher; and a third, the highest. And she hoped to bring education to all the girls and boys of her village.

Oprah: The Little Speaker – Carole Boston Weatherford

At age three, Oprah began performing in churches, becoming known to adoring crowds as the Little Speaker. When she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she answered, “I want to be paid to talk.” Here is the story of Oprah Winfrey’s childhood, a story about a little girl on a Mississippi pig farm who grew up to be the “Queen of Talk.” The host of the Emmy Award–winning Oprah Winfrey Show , she currently directs a media empire that includes television and movie productions, magazines, a book club, and radio shows.

Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman Nikki Grimes 

Soar along with Bessie Coleman in this inspirational tale of a woman whose determination reached new heights. Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman was always being told what she could & couldn’t do. In an era when Jim Crow laws and segregation were a way of life, it was not easy to survive. Bessie didn’t let that stop her. Although she was only 11 when the Wright brothers took their historic flight, she vowed to become the first African -American female pilot. Her sturdy faith and determination helped her overcome obstacles of poverty, racism, and gender discrimination.

Sojourner Truth: A Voice for FreedomPatricia C. & Fredrick L. McKissack

Describes the life of the anti-slavery and women’s rights activist, from her beginnings in slavery to her tireless campaign for the rights and welfare of the freedmen.

An Apple for Harriet Tubman – Glennette Tilley Turner

Like other enslaved African-American children, young Harriet Tubman had to work hard. In her master’s orchard, she spent long hours picking the juicy apples she loved but was forbidden to eat. When she was grown, she made her escape to the North.

Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told – Walter Dean Myers

Ida B. Wells was an extraordinary woman. Long before boycotts, sit-ins, and freedom rides, Ida B. Wells was hard at work to better the lives of African Americans. An activist, educator, writer, journalist, suffragette, and pioneering voice against the horror of lynching, she used fierce determination and the power of the pen to educate the world about the unequal treatment of blacks in the United States.

Jump at de Sun: The Story of Zora Neale Hurston – A.P. Porter

Follows the life of the African American writer known for her novels, plays, articles, and collections of folklore.

Madam C.J. Walker: Entrepreneur – A’Lelia Perry Bundles

Bundles, great-great-granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker, lovingly traces the life and career of the first black female millionaire in America, a woman who literally went from rags to riches and generously contributed to civil rights causes until her death.

A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie “Peanut” Johnson – Michelle Y. Green

Motivated by her love for the game and inspired by the legendary Jackie Robinson, Mamie Johnson is determined to be a professional baseball pitcher. But in a sport that was dominated by white men, there is no place for a black woman. Mamie doesn’t give up, and from the time she insists on trying out for the all-male, all-white Police Athletic League team until she realizes her dream and becomes one of only three women to play in the Negro Leagues. Mamie Johnson’s life shows that with courage and perseverance one can overcome even the greatest challenges.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker: The Unlikely Friendship of Elizabeth Keckley and Mary Todd Lincoln – Lynda Jones

Readers witness Elizabeth Keckley in her many roles: from fashion designer to abolitionist to caretaker. They follow her through the Civil War, the evils of slavery, and the many challenges faced alongside the First Lady…Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker tells the remarkable story of a forgotten figure whose influence ran deep and offers a revealing insight into an extraordinary relationship at the very heart of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina – Michaela DePrince

Michaela DePrince was known as girl Number 27 at the orphanage, where she was abandoned at a young age and tormented as a “devil child” for a skin condition that makes her skin appear spotted. But it was at the orphanage that Michaela would find a picture of a beautiful ballerina en pointe that would help change the course of her life.

Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition – Margot Lee Shetterly

Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. This book brings to life the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, four African-American women who lived through the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the movement for gender equality, and whose work forever changed the face of NASA and the country.

The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America’s First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers – Henry Louis Gates

In 1773, the slave Phillis Wheatley literally wrote her way to freedom. The first person of African descent to publish a book of poems in English, she was emancipated by her owners in recognition of her literary achievement. For a time, Wheatley was the most famous black woman in the West. But Thomas Jefferson, unlike his contemporaries Ben Franklin and George Washington, refused to acknowledge her gifts as a writer—a repudiation that eventually inspired generations of black writers to build an extraordinary body of literature in their efforts to prove him wrong. In The Trials of Phillis Wheatley, Henry Louis Gates Jr. explores the pivotal roles that Wheatley and Jefferson played in shaping the black literary tradition.

To the Mountaintop: My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement – Charlayne Hunter-Gault 

A personal history of the civil rights movement from activist and acclaimed journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault…In this compelling personal history, she uses the event to look back on her own involvement in the civil rights movement, as one of two black students who forced the University of Georgia to integrate, and to relate the pivotal events that swept the South as the movement gathered momentum through the early 1960s.

Unbought and Unbossed – Shirley Chisholm

Unbought and Unbossed is Shirley Chisholm’s account of her remarkable rise from young girl in Brooklyn to America’s first African-American Congresswoman. She shares how she took on an entrenched system, gave a public voice to millions, and sets the stage for her trailblazing bid to be the first woman and first African-American President of the United States. By daring to be herself, Shirley Chisholm shows us how she forever changed the status quo.

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