March is Women’s History Month, an occasion to celebrate the important—and too-often overlooked, ignored, or flat-out denied—contributions of the female half of the world’s population. To honor the spirit of our namesake bluestockings, those learned literary women of the eighteenth century, Bas Bleu has long championed books by and about extraordinary women. (If you don’t already know, Bas Bleu was founded by a woman, and our editorial and purchasing departments are staffed entirely by women.) You can find female-centric reads in the pages of our catalogs and on our website year-round, but today we’re highlighting ten titles we think are worth moving to the top of your TBR pile during Women’s History Month.
Radium Girls, Kate Moore: During the early twentieth century, the chemical radium—discovered by two-time Nobel laureate Marie Curie—was used in medicine, cosmetics, even food and drink. It was also used to create the luminous paint that made watch dials glow…paint that would ultimately sicken and kill many of the young women who worked in those watch factories. But the women didn’t go quietly: American workers have “the radium girls” to thank for enhanced industrial safety standards.
The Woman Who Smashed Codes, Jason Fagone: Cryptographer William F. Friedman is considered today to be the “godfather” of the U.S. National Security Agency, but it was his wife, Elizebeth—an English literature major and the ambitious daughter of Midwestern Quakers—who introduced him to the fledgling science of codebreaking. Elizebeth’s cryptography skills were largely self-taught…and proved critical to the establishment of our nation’s modern intelligence community.
Game of Queens, Sarah Gristwood: You know the names Elizabeth I and Isabella of Castile, but what about Margeret of Austria? Louise of Savoy? Jeanne d’Albret? Sixteenth-century Europe was an unprecedented heyday for female rulers, whose accidents of birth or strategic marriages landed them in positions of enormous power at a time when women had little to no legal or political standing. Sarah Gristwood profiles more than a dozen influential women, exploring the wits and wiles they used to change the course of history.
The Lives of Margaret Fuller, John Matteson: Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli was a journalist, teacher, women’s-rights advocate, author, speaker, and critic who spent much of her too-short life pushing against the social constraints that bound women. A transcendentalist who worked alongside Ralph Waldo Emerson, she advocated for women’s intellectual and religious freedom in her seminal feminist work on American democracy, Women in the Nineteenth Century…and that’s before she became the New York Tribune’s first female foreign correspondent, traveling abroad to interview prominent writers and to advocate for real-life revolutionaries.
Irena’s Children, Tilar J. Mazzeo: After Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Irena Krzyżanowska Sendler joined forces with the Polish underground, and leveraged her position in Warsaw’s Social Welfare Department to smuggle children out of the Warsaw ghetto. Eventually imprisoned by the Gestapo, Sendler refused to reveal the children’s whereabouts or betray her collaborators in the secret network, even under torture. She narrowly survived, and in 1965 was recognized by Israel’s Yad Vashem as “Righteous Among the Nations” for helping to save more than 2,500 Jewish children.
The Good Girls Revolt, Lynn Povich: On March 16, 1970, Newsweek published “Women in Revolt,” a cover story about the feminist movement. That same day, nearly fifty of the venerated newsmagazine’s female employees shocked their bosses—and set the media world on fire—by suing Newsweek for gender discrimination. The plaintiffs’ battle for parity in the workplace would last for years…and help to open professional doors for millions of American women.
Clementine, Sonia Purnell: Winston Churchill was an extraordinary man who made a lasting mark on world history, but to quote his countryman John Dunne, “no man is an island.” Clementine Hozier Churchill was her husband’s fiercest advocate and closet confidante, a political powerhouse and wheeler-dealer in her own right. She vetted his speeches and policy proposals, advised him in dealing with constituents and colleagues, and was a major influence throughout his career. Author Sonia Purnell told NPR “I think if she were alive today…she might’ve gone for the prime minister’s job herself.”
Never Caught, Erica Armstrong Dunbar: This National Book Award finalist introduces readers to Ona Judge, a slave in George and Martha Washington’s household, who escaped from the presidential mansion in Philadelphia when she was just twenty-two. Not only does historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar tell the tale of our nation’s founding through the eyes of an enslaved woman and the black communities that aided her, she shines a revelatory light on our slave-owning first president.
Victoria’s Daughters, Jerrold M. Packard: We don’t need to tell you how much the world changed during the history-making reign of Queen Victoria. But while her eldest son would succeed her on the throne, her five daughters (and some of their children) made their own marks on European history. This fascinating multi-woman biography has been a Bas Bleu bestseller for nearly twenty years, and shows no signs of slowing down…for good reason!
Little Feminist Board Book Set: Vowing to raise the newest generation with a more inclusive view of women’s contributions to history and culture? Little girls and boys can begin learning about Cleopatra, Sally Ride, Frida Kahlo, Malala Yousafzai, and a dozen more trailblazing females with these inspirational little board books.
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