Women's History Month

Brush up on some women's history with one of these new nonfiction books!

The other side : a story of women in art and the spirit world

Higgie, Jennifer, author.

704.9491339 /Higgie

"It's not so long ago that a woman's expressed interest in other realms would have ruined her reputation, or even killed her. And yet spiritualism, in various incarnations, has influenced numerous men - including lauded modernist artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Kazimir Malevich and Paul Klee - without repercussion. The fact that so many radical women artists of their generation - and earlier - also drank deeply from the same spiritual well has for too long been sorely neglected. In The Other Side, we explore the lives and work of a group of extraordinary women, from the twelfth-century mystic, composer and artist Hildegard of Bingen to the nineteenth-century English spiritualist Georgiana Houghton, whose paintings swirl like a cosmic Jackson Pollock; the early twentieth-century Swedish artist, Hilma af Klint, who painted with the help of her spirit guides and whose recent exhibition at New York's Guggenheim broke all attendance records; the 'Desert Transcendentalist', Agnes Pelton, who painted her visions beneath the vast skies of California; the Swiss healer, Emma Kunz, who used geometric drawings to treat her patients; and the British surrealist and occultist, Ithell Colquhoun, whose estate of more than 5,000 works recently entered the Tate gallery collection. While the individual work of these artists is unique, the women loosely shared the same goal: to communicate with, and learn from, other dimensions. Weaving in and out of these myriad lives, sharing her own memories of otherworldly experiences, Jennifer Higgie discusses the solace of ritual, the gender exclusions of art history, the contemporary relevance of myth, the boom in alternative ways of understanding the world and the impact of spiritualism on feminism and contemporary art. A radical reappraisal of a marginalised group of artists, The Other Side is an intoxicating blend of memoir, biography and art history."--Publisher's description.

Pure wit : the revolutionary life of Margaret Cavendish

Peacock, Francesca, author.

BIOGRAPHY Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish

"Margaret Cavendish, then Lucas, was born in 1623 to an aristocratic family. In 1644, as England descended into civil war, she joined the court of the formidable Queen Henrietta Maria at Oxford. With the rest of the court she went into self-imposed exile in France. Her family's wealth and lands were forfeited by Parliament. It was in France that she met her partner, William Cavendish, Marquess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a marriage that made her the Duchess of Newcastle and would remain at the heart of both her life and career. Margaret was a passionate writer. She wrote extensively on gender, science, philosophy, and published under her own name at a time when women simply did not do so. Her greatest work was The Blazing World, published in 1666, a utopian proto-novel that is thought to be one of the earliest works of science fiction that brought together Margaret's talents in poetry, philosophy, and science. Yet hers is a legacy that has long divided opinion, and history has largely forgotten her, an undeserved fate for a brilliant, courageous proto-feminist. In Pure Wit, Francesca Peacock remedies this omission and shines a spotlight on the fascinating, pioneering, yet often complex and controversial life, of the multi-faceted Margaret Cavendish."--Amazon.com

We are free to change the world : Hannah Arendt's lessons in love and disobedience

Stonebridge, Lyndsey, 1965- author.

320.53 /Stonebridge

"In the months after Donald Trump's election, Hannah Arendt's seminal work, The Origins of Totalitarianism crashed onto the Amazon bestseller lists. "Never has our future been more unpredictable," she had written in the preface to the first edition in 1951, "never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest - forces that look like sheer insanity, if judged by the standards of other centuries." With an uncannily accurate prescience, Arendt's dark history of her times seemed to be describing the insanity of our own. Arendt would've recognized the extremes of the twenty-first century from her own: the disenchantment with politics; the rise of conspiracy theories; self-censorship; powerlessness; tyranny and occupation, the climate catastrophe, the banality of evil. She had lived through it already. Born in the first decade of the last century, just before it lurched into war, she escaped Fascist Europe to make a new life for herself in America, where she became one its most influential-and controversial-public intellectuals. She wrote about power and terror, exile and love, and above all about freedom. Hannah Arendt wrote, and thought, in order to engage directly with the political chaos of her time. Questioning - thinking - was her first defense against tyranny. Her approach was to change the world by examining it unflinchingly, and not simply to criticize and protest. It is this defiance that attracts so many to her work today"--

Blood: The Science, Medicine, and Mythology of Menstruation.

Gunter, Jen.


Gynecologist Gunter (The Menopause Manifesto) delivers a superb overview of "the menstrual cycle and the medical conditions and therapies associated with" it. Delving into the science of periods, Gunter explains that "seven to 10 days after ovulation," endometrium in the uterus fills "with storage sugars and lipids" to provide nourishment for potential embryos; if conception doesn't occur, the endometrium is expelled and the process restarts. Patriarchal perspectives, Gunter contends, have dominated women's healthcare for centuries (ancient Greek men viewed menstruation as "proof that women have troublesome physiology"), and women continue to be underserved by the medical research community, as evidenced by the fact that government-funded medical studies weren't required to include women until 1993 and that the U.S. only spends about $2 per patient on endometriosis research per year, compared to $31.30 on diabetes, "which affects the same number of people." Gunter is a sharp critic of the ways in which menstrual complications have been dismissed by the medical establishment (she notes that despite painful periods affecting a majority of women, they are often dismissed as "exaggerated and a sign of weakness" while "billions of dollars of funding" are showered on erectile dysfunction), and her talent for explicating the biology of periods will engage even the scientifically uninclined. Filled with piercing social analysis and enlightening science, this one's a winner.

Becoming Ella Fitzgerald : the jazz singer who transformed American song

Tick, Judith, author.

781.65092 /Fitzgerald

A landmark biography that reclaims Ella Fitzgerald as a major American artist and modernist innovator.


Biederman, Marcia.


Review by Kirkus Book Review Two 19th-century abortionists run from the law and the repercussions of a patient's death in this nonfiction work. In the wake of Roe v. Wade's reversal, Biederman's latest book focuses on the death and subsequent investigation of the murder of Emma Gill, a young unmarried woman from Connecticut who secretly sought an abortion in 1898; her body was found dismembered under a bridge. This historical account follows Henry and Nancy Guilford, a couple of unlicensed "doctors" who'd become some of the most notorious abortion providers across New England. Neither properly studied medicine, but they were ambitious and duplicitous enough to convince many desperate women to seek their services. Emma is thinly sketched, but her story reveals the ways communities, law enforcement, and the media perceived and stigmatized abortion. The author draws on an exhaustive collage of newspaper accounts, historical records, and archival research to not only animate the era, but to provide specifics about the extensive harm caused by regulating women's bodies. Nancy's eventual conviction for manslaughter for Emma's death (Henry, who wasn't involved with Emma Gill's abortion, wasn't charged) reveals how far abortion and sex education discourse has come (and recently regressed). Biederman's economic prose avoids sentimentality ("A saloonkeeper's wife, presumably with access to cash, would have received a warm welcome, particularly at that time. Nancy's financial pressures were mounting"), and the narrative unfolds like a high-stakes crime novel. An afterword explains that the Guilfords' trials and imprisonments did not dissuade them from continuing to give abortions. A multifaceted, revealing historical account of one woman's abortion.

Only say good things : surviving Playboy and finding myself

Hefner, Crystal, author.

BIOGRAPHY Hefner, Crystal

"A raw and unflinching look at the objectification and misogyny of the Playboy mansion, a woman's stolen young adulthood and her journey to self-acceptance, and a rare look inside Hugh Hefner's final days. Crystal offers a vulnerable and clear-eyed look at how her experience with Hugh Hefner catalyzed her transformative journey from someone who prized external validation over all else to a person who finally recognizes her true worth. This candid memoir provides a fascinating look behind the scenes at a powerful cultural icon and brand, and an equally empowering perspective on hard-won lessons about who we allow to determine our value."--

Naomi Osaka : her journey to finding her power and her voice

Rothenberg, Ben, author.

796.342092 /Osaka

"A deeply reported, revealing biography of tennis phenomenon and activist Naomi Osaka, telling the untold story behind her Grand Slam-winning career, her headline-making advocacy for racial justice and mental health, and the challenges of a life in the international spotlight"--

The counterfeit Countess : the Jewish woman who rescued thousands of Poles during the Holocaust

White, Elizabeth B., author.

940.5318 /White

"The astonishing story of Dr. Josephine Janina Mehlberg--a Jewish mathematician who saved thousands of lives in Nazi-occupied Poland by masquerading as a Polish aristocrat--drawing on Mehlberg's own unpublished memoir. World War II and the Holocaust have given rise to many stories of resistance and rescue, but The Counterfeit Countess is unique. It tells the remarkable, unknown story of "Countess Janina Suchodolska," a Jewish woman who rescued more than 10,000 Poles imprisoned by Poland's Nazi occupiers. Mehlberg operated in Lublin, Poland, headquarters of Aktion Reinhard, the SS operation that murdered 1.7 million Jews in occupied Poland. Using the identity papers of a Polish aristocrat, she worked as a welfare official while also serving in the Polish resistance. With guile, cajolery, and steely persistence, the "Countess" persuaded SS officials to release thousands of Poles from the Majdanek concentration camp. She won permission to deliver food and medicine--even decorated Christmas trees--for thousands more of the camp's prisoners. At the same time, she personally smuggled supplies and messages to resistance fighters imprisoned at Majdanek, where 63,000 Jews were murdered in gas chambers and shooting pits. Incredibly, she eluded detection, and ultimately survived the war and emigrated to the US. Drawing on the manuscript of Mehlberg's own unpublished memoir, supplemented with prodigious research, Elizabeth White and Joanna Sliwa, professional historians and Holocaust experts, have uncovered the full story of this remarkable woman. They interweave Mehlberg's sometimes harrowing personal testimony with broader historical narrative. Like The Light of Days, Schindler's List, and Irena's Children, The Counterfeit Countess is an unforgettable account of inspiring courage in the face of unspeakable cruelty"--

Tripping on utopia : Margaret Mead, the Cold War, and the troubled birth of psychedelic science

Breen, Benjamin, 1985- author.

973.921 /Breen

""It was not the Baby Boomers who ushered in the first era of widespread drug experimentation. It was their parents." Far from the repressed traditionalists they are often painted as, the generation that survived the second World War emerged with a profoundly ambitious sense of social experimentation. In the '40s and '50s, transformative drugs rapidly entered mainstream culture, where they were not only legal, but openly celebrated. American physician John C. Lilly infamously dosed dolphins (and himself) with LSD in a NASA-funded effort to teach dolphins to talk. A tripping Cary Grant mumbled into a Dictaphone about Hegel as astronaut John Glenn returned to Earth. At the center of this revolution were the pioneering anthropologists-and star-crossed lovers-Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. Convinced the world was headed toward certain disaster, Mead and Bateson made it their life's mission to reshape humanity through a new science of consciousness expansion, but soon found themselves at odds with the government bodies who funded their work, whose intentions were less than pure. Mead and Bateson's partnership unlocks an untold chapter in the history of the twentieth century, linking drug researchers with CIA agents, outsider sexologists, and the founders of the Information Age. As we follow Mead and Bateson's fractured love affair from the malarial jungles of New Guinea to the temples of Bali, from the espionage of WWII to the scientific revolutions of the Cold War, a new origin story for psychedelic science emerges"--

Witchcraft : a history in thirteen trials

Gibson, Marion, 1970- author.

133.4309 /Gibson

"Witchcraft is a dramatic journey through thirteen witch trials across history, some famous--like the Salem witch trials--and some lesser-known: on Vardø island, Norway, in the 1620s, where an indigenous Sami woman was accused of murder; in France in 1731, during the country's last witch trial, where a young woman was pitted against her confessor and cult leader; in Pennsylvania in 1929 where a magical healer was labelled a "witch"; in Lesotho in 1948, where British colonial authorities executed local leaders. Exploring how witchcraft became feared, decriminalized, reimagined, and eventually reframed as gendered persecution, Witchcraft takes on the intersections between gender and power, indigenous spirituality and colonial rule, and political conspiracy and individual resistance. Offering a vivid, compelling, and dramatic story, unspooling through centuries, about the men and women who were accused--some of whom survived their trials, and some who did not--Witchcraft empowers the people who were and are victimized and marginalized, giving a voice to those who were silenced by history."--Amazon.com.

How to Be a Renaissance Woman : The Untold History of Beauty & Female Creativity

Burke, Jill, author.

940.21 /Burke

"An alternative history of the Renaissance—as seen through the emerging literature of beauty tips—focusing on the actresses, authors, and courtesans who rebelled against the misogyny of their era. Beauty, make-up, art, power: How to Be a Renaissance Woman presents an alternative history of this fascinating period as told by the women behind the paintings, providing a window into their often overlooked or silenced lives. Can the pressures women feel to look good be traced back to the sixteenth century? As the Renaissance visual world became populated by female nudes from the likes of Michelangelo and Titian, a vibrant literary scene of beauty tips emerged, fueling debates about cosmetics and adornment. Telling the stories of courtesans, artists, actresses, and writers rebelling against the strictures of their time, when burgeoning colonialism gave rise to increasingly sinister evaluations of bodies and skin color, this book puts beauty culture into the frame. How to Be a Renaissance Woman will take readers from bustling Italian market squares, the places where the poorest women and immigrant communities influenced cosmetic products and practices, to the highest echelons of Renaissance society, where beauty could be a powerful weapon in securing strategic marriages and family alliances. It will investigate how skin-whitening practices shifted in step with the emerging sub-Saharan African slave trade, how fads for fattening and thinning diets came and went, and how hairstyles and fashion could be a tool for dissent and rebellion—then as now. This surprising and illuminating narrative will make you question your ideas about your own body, and ask: Why are women often so critical of their appearance? What do we stand to lose, but also to gain, from beauty culture? What is the relationship between looks and power?" ~Amazon.