Lesser Known Heroes for Women’s History Month | And 10 Children’s Books That Celebrate Female Heroes & Activists

Happy Women’s History Month!

In honor of the celebration of great women around the world, let me suggest 10 terrific books about activists and heroes you can read with your kiddos to kick off the celebration:

In addition to reading bedtime stories about amazing women, you can also use this month to teach your kids about heroes they might not have heard about in school.

They have probably heard of Susan B. Anthony, but what about Ida B. Wells, an African American woman who fought for suffrage and civil rights? Wells was not only a founding member of the NAACP, but she was also a valiant anti-lynching crusader. If you’d like to read more about her yourself, check out Ida: A Sword Among Lions by Paula J. Giddings. You can also explore lesser-known suffragists like  Sarah and Angelina Grimké, and you can help your children understand the link between women’s efforts to abolish slavery and their political activism to secure the right to vote. For my own reading, I like The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina by the legendary women’s historian Gerda Lerner.

Your kids probably learned about Rosa Parks in school, but have they heard about Fannie Lou Hamer? Hamer was a powerful speaker and a crusader for voting rights for African Americans, as well as someone who worked tirelessly against poverty at the grassroots level. A wonderful orator and organizer, Hamer left behind a rich rhetorical legacy that is explored in the children’s book Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston WeatherfordMaegan Parker Brooks has also written a rhetorical biography of Hamer for grownups called A Voice That Could Stir an Army: Fannie Lou Hamer and the Rhetoric of the Black Freedom Movement.

How about birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger, feminist icon Gloria Steinem, or poet activist Audre Lorde? Contemporary women have Sanger to thank for access to birth control pills. Wisconsin women will be particularly interested to know that heiress Katharine McCormick, of the famous spice and reaper family, funded a lot of the research that created the Pill. Thanks to Steinem and her contemporaries, including Betty Friedan whose book The Feminine Mystique was the first mainstream writing to question the idea that a woman’s place is in the home, we have the freedom to choose how we’d like to live our lives. And whether we recognize her name or not, all of us owe a debt to Lorde whose book The Cancer Journals helped to change the way we understand the femininity, sexuality, and victimization of women experiencing serious illness. Lorde was, moreover, a civil rights activist who challenged her readers to understand marginalized voices.

We can’t forget cookbook author Fannie Farmer whose book was the first to use science to explain cooking and helped readers understand standard measurements. Farmer’s book was so popular that it remains in print today, and she was a negotiating pioneer as well. Because her publishers didn’t think a book by a woman would be a top seller, the company made Farmer pay for the first run of her book herself. After it exploded in popularity, she controlled the rights to The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and enjoyed great financial success.

Finally, be sure to think about Edie Windsor, a woman brilliantly eulogized by Hillary Clinton in 2017. Windsor was a civil rights activist whose case United States v. Windsor helped to strike down the Defense of Marriage act. Windsor was also a groundbreaking mathematician, making her an inspiration multi-tasker for our kids.

Let me know in the comments below if there are other women you like to study with your children this month. Remember, as you raise your own strong girls and well-rounded boys, the wise words of historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Sarah Jedd has a Ph.D. in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches and studies the rhetoric of Planned Parenthood. Sarah has 5 (F I V E) children: teens Harry and Jack, elementary schoolers Cooper and Dorothy, and sweet baby Minnie, born in August 2020. Sarah blogs about being a mom of many at harrytimes.com and overshares on IG as @sarahjedd. Sarah, her husband, and their kids live in Verona with the world's laziest dog.

1 COMMENT

  1. Sorry – you lose all credibility when you suggest Margaret Sanger as a feminist role model. The woman was in favor of sterilizing disabled people and discriminating against disabled immigrants. She was invited to speak to the Ku Klux Klan – an invitation she ACCEPTED. How horrible if a parent takes your suggestion and promotes Sanger to a child with ADHD or on the autism spectrum or with other differences. Even worse advice for families of color.

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