Women’s History Month 2022 Reading List (Curated by Helen Kyriakoudes)

Happy Women’s History Month! In celebration of this historical month, we’ll be sharing reading lists curated by our staff featuring all authors who identify as women. Today we’re sharing a list from our Publicity Assistant Helen Kyriakoudes. Click here to see the previously shared lists and learn more about how Women’s History Month came about.

If you’re interested in purchasing any of these books, don’t forget to use code 01DAH40 at checkout to get 40% off; this discount code applies to any other UNC Press book as well.

This year we’re also celebrating our centennial; happy 100th year anniversary to us! Visit our centennial page to see the latest on all of our centennial content, events, blog posts and more.


FLORENCE “FLO” KENNEDY: THE LIFE OF A BLACK FEMINIST RADICAL

BY SHERIE M. RANDOLPH

Often photographed in a cowboy hat with her middle finger held defiantly in the air, Florynce “Flo” Kennedy (1916–2000) left a vibrant legacy as a leader of the Black Power and feminist movements. In the first biography of Kennedy, Sherie M. Randolph traces the life and political influence of this strikingly bold and controversial radical activist. Rather than simply reacting to the predominantly white feminist movement, Kennedy brought the lessons of Black Power to white feminism and built bridges in the struggles against racism and sexism. Randolph narrates Kennedy’s progressive upbringing, her pathbreaking graduation from Columbia Law School, and her long career as a media-savvy activist, showing how Kennedy rose to founding roles in organizations such as the National Black Feminist Organization and the National Organization for Women, allying herself with both white and black activists such as Adam Clayton Powell, H. Rap Brown, Betty Friedan, and Shirley Chisholm.

Making use of an extensive and previously uncollected archive, Randolph demonstrates profound connections within the histories of the new left, civil rights, Black Power, and feminism, showing that black feminism was pivotal in shaping postwar U.S. liberation movements.

UNCEASING MILITANT: THE LIFE OF MARY CHURCH TERRELL

BY ALISON M. PARKER

Born into slavery during the Civil War, Mary Church Terrell (1863–1954) would become one of the most prominent activists of her time, with a career bridging the late nineteenth century to the civil rights movement of the 1950s. The first president of the National Association of Colored Women and a founding member of the NAACP, Terrell collaborated closely with the likes of Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, and W. E. B. Du Bois. Unceasing Militant is the first full-length biography of Terrell, bringing her vibrant voice and personality to life. Though most accounts of Terrell focus almost exclusively on her public activism, Alison M. Parker also looks at the often turbulent, unexplored moments in her life to provide a more complete account of a woman dedicated to changing the culture and institutions that perpetuated inequality throughout the United States.

Drawing on newly discovered letters and diaries, Parker weaves together the joys and struggles of Terrell’s personal, private life with the challenges and achievements of her public, political career, producing a stunning portrait of an often-under recognized political leader.

GENDER AND JIM CROW, SECOND EDITION: WOMEN AND THE POLITICS OF WHITE SUPREMACY IN NORTH CAROLINA, 1896-1920

BY GLENDA ELIZABETH GILMORE

This classic work helps recover the central role of black women in the political history of the Jim Crow era. Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore explores the pivotal and interconnected roles played by gender and race in North Carolina politics from the period immediately preceding the disfranchisement of black men in 1900 to the time black and white women gained the vote in 1920. Gilmore argues that while the ideology of white supremacy reordered Jim Crow society, a generation of educated black women nevertheless crafted an enduring tradition of political activism. In effect, these women served as diplomats to the white community after the disfranchisement of their husbands, brothers, and fathers. Gilmore also reveals how black women’s feminism created opportunities to forge political ties with white women, helping to create a foundation for the emergence of southern progressivism. In addition, Gender and Jim Crow illuminates the manipulation of concepts of gender by white supremacists and shows how this rhetoric changed once women, black and white, gained the vote.

SPEAKING OF FEMINISM: TODAY’S ACTIVISTS ON THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF THE U.S. WOMEN’S MOVEMENT

BY RACHEL F. SEIDMAN

From the Women’s Marches to the MeToo movement, it is clear that feminist activism is still alive and well in the twenty-first century. But how does a new generation of activists understand the work of the movement today? How are their strategies and goals unfolding? What worries feminist leaders most, and what are their hopes for the future? In Speaking of Feminism, Rachel F. Seidman presents insights from twenty-five feminist activists from around the United States, ranging in age from twenty to fifty. Allowing their voices to take center stage through the use of in-depth oral history interviews, Seidman places their narratives in historical context and argues that they help explain how recent new forms of activism developed and flourished so quickly. These individuals’ compelling life stories reveal their hard work to build flexible networks, bridge past and present, and forge global connections. This book offers essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the contemporary American women’s movement in all its diversity.

EDNA LEWIS: AT THE TABLE WITH AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL

EDITED BY SARA B. FRANKLIN

Edna Lewis (1916-2006) wrote some of America’s most resonant, lyrical, and significant cookbooks, including the now classic The Taste of Country Cooking. Lewis cooked and wrote as a means to explore her memories of childhood on a farm in Freetown, Virginia, a community first founded by black families freed from slavery. With such observations as “we would gather wild honey from the hollow of oak trees to go with the hot biscuits and pick wild strawberries to go with the heavy cream,” she commemorated the seasonal richness of southern food. After living many years in New York City, where she became a chef and a political activist, she returned to the South and continued to write. Her reputation as a trailblazer in the revival of regional cooking and as a progenitor of the farm-to-table movement continues to grow. In this first-ever critical appreciation of Lewis’s work, food-world stars gather to reveal their own encounters with Edna Lewis. Together they penetrate the mythology around Lewis and illuminate her legacy for a new generation.

The essayists are Annemarie Ahearn, Mashama Bailey, Scott Alves Barton, Patricia E. Clark, Nathalie Dupree, John T. Edge, Megan Elias, John T. Hill (who provides iconic photographs of Lewis), Vivian Howard, Lily Kelting, Francis Lam, Jane Lear, Deborah Madison, Kim Severson, Ruth Lewis Smith, Toni Tipton-Martin, Michael W. Twitty, Alice Waters, Kevin West, Susan Rebecca White, Caroline Randall Williams, and Joe Yonan. Editor Sara B. Franklin provides an illuminating introduction to Lewis, and the volume closes graciously with afterwords by Lewis’s sister, Ruth Lewis Smith, and niece, Nina Williams-Mbengue.

FEMINISM FOR THE AMERICAS: THE MAKING OF AN INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT

BY KATHERINE M. MARINO

This book chronicles the dawn of the global movement for women’s rights in the first decades of the twentieth century. The founding mothers of this movement were not based primarily in the United States, however, or in Europe. Instead, Katherine M. Marino introduces readers to a cast of remarkable Latin American and Caribbean women whose deep friendships and intense rivalries forged global feminism out of an era of imperialism, racism, and fascism. Six dynamic activists form the heart of this story: from Brazil, Bertha Lutz; from Cuba, Ofelia Domíngez Navarro; from Uruguay, Paulina Luisi; from Panama, Clara González; from Chile, Marta Vergara; and from the United States, Doris Stevens. This Pan-American network drove a transnational movement that advocated women’s suffrage, equal pay for equal work, maternity rights, and broader self-determination. Their painstaking efforts led to the enshrinement of women’s rights in the United Nations Charter and the development of a framework for international human rights. But their work also revealed deep divides, with Latin American activists overcoming U.S. presumptions to feminist superiority. As Marino shows, these early fractures continue to influence divisions among today’s activists along class, racial, and national lines. 

Marino’s multinational and multilingual research yields a new narrative for the creation of global feminism. The leading women introduced here were forerunners in understanding the power relations at the heart of international affairs. Their drive to enshrine fundamental rights for women, children, and all people of the world stands as a testament to what can be accomplished when global thinking meets local action.

ELLA BAKER AND THE BLACK FREEDOM MOVEMENT: A RADICAL DEMOCRATIC VISION

BY BARBARA RANSBY

One of the most important African American leaders of the twentieth century and perhaps the most influential woman in the civil rights movement, Ella Baker (1903-1986) was an activist whose remarkable career spanned fifty years and touched thousands of lives. 

A gifted grassroots organizer, Baker shunned the spotlight in favor of vital behind-the-scenes work that helped power the black freedom struggle. She was a national officer and key figure in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and a prime mover in the creation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Baker made a place for herself in predominantly male political circles that included W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King Jr., all the while maintaining relationships with a vibrant group of women, students, and activists both black and white.

In this deeply researched biography, Barbara Ransby chronicles Baker’s long and rich political career as an organizer, an intellectual, and a teacher, from her early experiences in depression-era Harlem to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Ransby shows Baker to be a complex figure whose radical, democratic worldview, commitment to empowering the black poor, and emphasis on group-centered, grassroots leadership set her apart from most of her political contemporaries. Beyond documenting an extraordinary life, the book paints a vivid picture of the African American fight for justice and its intersections with other progressive struggles worldwide across the twentieth century.

THE SOULS OF WOMENFOLK: THE RELIGIOUS CULTURES OF ENSLAVED WOMEN IN THE LOWER SOUTH

BY ALEXIS WELLS-OGHOGHOMEH

Beginning on the shores of West Africa in the sixteenth century and ending in the U.S. Lower South on the eve of the Civil War, Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh traces a bold history of the interior lives of bondwomen as they carved out an existence for themselves and their families amid the horrors of American slavery. With particular attention to maternity, sex, and other gendered aspects of women’s lives, she documents how bondwomen crafted female-centered cultures that shaped the religious consciousness and practices of entire enslaved communities. Indeed, gender as well as race co-constituted the Black religious subject, she argues—requiring a shift away from understandings of “slave religion” as a gender-amorphous category.

Women responded on many levels—ethically, ritually, and communally—to southern slavery. Drawing on a wide range of sources, Wells-Oghoghomeh shows how they remembered, reconfigured, and innovated beliefs and practices circulating between Africa and the Americas. In this way, she redresses the exclusion of enslaved women from the American religious narrative. Challenging conventional institutional histories, this book opens a rare window onto the spiritual strivings of one of the most remarkable and elusive groups in the American experience.