Books About Women in History: Non-Fiction for Women’s History Month

While we created this list of books in honor of Women’s History Month, these female history books are great reads all year round! If you’re ever feeling like you need an extra dose of motivation, read about these extraordinary trailblazing women. They broke barriers and paved the way for the rest of us in so many different fields.

three tilted book covers with Code Girls in the middle

Gender Equality & Trailblazing Women

As of March 2023, women made up 50% of the population. However, they hold only 28% of the seats in the US Congress, 28% of science and engineering jobs, and, most shockingly, only 10% of the Fortune 500 CEO jobs. The numbers drop even further when you incorporate race. Less than 1% of the CEOs are black women, which demonstrates the double barrier so many face.

Thankfully, progress continues. While it’s taken countless women trailblazers in male-dominated fields, we were thrilled to see that there are now slightly more women than men enrolled in law and medical schools.

So, this month, take a moment of gratitude for all of those women who broke ground before us. So many of their names will never be known. There is still work to be done, and we hope the history on this list encourages you to actively support causes important to you.

The Best Non-Fiction Women’s History Month Books to Read in 2024

Confidante book cover

Book Summary

After learning more about Anna Marie Rosenberg, it’s hard to believe this is the first book about her. When she became a close advisor to FDR during the war, Life magazine called her “the most important official woman in the world”. Yet, the name of this groundbreaking woman was unrecognizable to both of us today.

Rosenberg was a Hungarian-Jewish immigrant with a high school education. She was also the power behind the policies that ended WW2 and helped America prosper afterward. By 1950, she was the assistant secretary of defense. By 1962, she was organizing the infamous JFK birthday dinner with Marilyn Monroe. And, for the rest of her life, she continued her service to the country, fighting for causes from racial integration to women’s equality to national health care.

The Book Girls Say…

We can’t wait to pick up The Confidante and learn more about this inspiring woman whose legacy should be more well-known.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 02/22/2024
37 Words book cover

Book Summary

In 1972, Title IX was passed to prohibit sex discrimination in federally funded education. This changed the future of education for girls both in the classroom and on the sports fields. 

Getting Title IX passed was a substantial legal and legislative battle. The book covers the history of how it was passed and then digs into impacts, both positive and negative. Some students have benefited more than others, and this book is a perfect primer on the history and current state of Title IX.

Valiant Women book cover

Book Summary

During WW2, over 350,000 American women served in uniform, but their efforts are often overlooked today. They served in every branch, and in 2/3rds of the available military occupations at the time. The women’s core branches include WAAC (army), WASPS (Army Air Force), SPARS (Coast Guard), MCWR (Marines), and WAVES (Navy).

From D-Day landings to peace negotiations in Paris, women worked as pilots, codebreakers, metalsmiths, chemists, truck drivers, pigeon trainers, and many more.

Now, their stories are finally being told by military analyst Lena Andrews. She completed new archival research and firsthand interviews with surviving veterans to make sure these incredible women are not forgotten.

The Book Girls Say…

Valiant Women was a 2023 Goodreads Choice Nominee for Best History & Biography.

If you’re interested in ground-breaking women during WW2, don’t miss The First Lady of World War II, which details Eleanor Roosevelt’s secret five-week journey to the Pacific Theater in 1943.

Woman's Hour book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

In 1920, after a seven-decade crusade for the right of women to vote, thirty-five states had ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, twelve have rejected or refused to vote, and one last state – Tennessee is needed.

The suffragists face vicious opposition from politicians, clergy, corporations, racists who don’t want black women to vote, and even the “Antis” – women who oppose enfranchisement, fearing the nation’s moral collapse.

The Book Girls Say…

Following a handful of remarkable women who led the charge, this is the gripping non-fiction story of how America’s women won their own freedom.

Woman They Could Not Silence book cover

Book Summary

In this non-fiction read by the author of The Radium Girls, we learn about a pioneer of rights for women and mental health patients, Elizabeth Packard. She was sent to the Illinois State Hospital in Jacksonville, Illinois by her husband in 1860. He was tired of her independent nature and wanted to put her back in her place. 

While her marriage was bad, life inside the hospital was even worse. Elizabeth quickly realized she was only one of many women who did not need any medical care. The other women were silenced by the stigma of their gender and the labels that come with being institutionalized. But Elizabeth is different and knows she has nothing to lose by fighting back. 

The Book Girls Say…

During our Decades Reading Challenge, many of us read books about journalist Nellie Bly’s efforts in the late 1880s to expose the insane asylums in New York that held perfectly sane women and mistreated them while also mistreating those with real mental health challenges. This is a great companion book to learn about another hero who helped stop this horrific practice.

Sisterhood book cover

Book Summary

When the male-dominated CIA launched in 1947, the only role for women was to work as clerks and secretaries. However, those women rose to become some of the shrewdest, toughest operatives. The CIA capitalized on the assumptions of the day that women were unimportant, so they were able to gather information right in front of the KGB.

It took another shift for them to rise in the ranks, despite making countless sacrifices for the agency. This book follows the journey of women in the CIA from the beginning, all the way through the close-knit network of female CIA analysts who warned about the rising threat of Al Qaeda and, even more recently, helped track down Osama Bin Laden and, later, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The Book Girls Say…

While The Sisterhood covers women throughout the entire history of the CIA, if you’d like to read more on the topic, we also recommend Wise Gals, which digs deeper into the four women who helped create the template for female spies in the 1940s.

Code Girls book cover

Book Summary

Readers who enjoyed Hidden Figures will love this astonishing, untold story of the American women who cracked Axis codes to help secure the Allied victory.

Recruited by the US Army and Navy, more than ten thousand women from small towns and elite colleges served as codebreakers during WWII. Unfortunately, their efforts were largely erased from history due to their strict vow of secrecy.

The Book Girls Say…

This book is on the long side, at more than 600 pages, but it’s well worth it!

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Books Set in the 1940s

Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

For more than half a century, scientists knew her only as HeLa, but the full story of Henrietta Lacks deserves to be heard. 

When Henrietta fell ill, she was treated in the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital. While hospitalized, she had a tissue sample taken without her consent. Those cells became the first “immortal” human cells grown in culture. Still alive today, the HeLa cells have been used to develop the polio vaccine, discover cancer treatments, advance gene mapping, and much more. 

It wasn’t until more than 20 years after Henrietta’s death that her family learned of her “immortality.” With the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the news was devastating to the Lacks family.

The Book Girls Say…

We have both read this one and were blown away by both the science and the story of Henrietta’s life and family. It raises so many important lessons about history, as well as ethical scientific questions that persist today.

Women in Intelligence book cover

Book Summary

Throughout both WW1 and WW2, women were an essential part of spy networks across Western Europe, going as far as parachuting behind enemy lines and interrogating prisoners. The Belgian network, “La Dame Blanche,” even turned ordinary sweaters into coded messages with their knitting.

Author Helen Fry uncovered the contributions of many women in intelligence work, mostly centered at Bletchley Park, in the course of the other research. Thankfully, she decided the incredible real women involved in these activities were worth being celebrated. She gathered them into this fascinating collection of true stories that were previously at risk of being forgetten.

Code Breaker book cover

Book Summary

While Jennifer Douda’s high school counselor told her girls didn’t become scientists, her dad encouraged her, leaving a paperback copy of The Double Helix on her bed. This fueled her interest in getting to the bottom of how nature works. Her ongoing curiosity continued into her career, and with a collaborator, she came up with an easy-to-use tool known as CRISPR that can edit DNA. 

The development of CRISPR opened a brand new world of both healing possibilities and moral questions. How should this technology be used, and where is the line?

Hidden Figures book cover

Book Summary

This is a remarkable non-fiction account of the Black female mathematicians – known as “human computers”. They helped calculate America’s most outstanding engineering achievements, like launching the first rockets and astronauts.

While brilliant Black women were originally relegated to teaching math in segregated public schools, many of these women suddenly found new opportunities open to them when the aeronautics industry suffered labor shortages during WWII. 

The government was in dire need of anyone who possessed high-level math skills. This book interweaves the stories of four African American women who answered the call. Over three decades – from WWII, through the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Space Race – participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes.

The Book Girls Say…

While we always proclaim The Book is Better, in this case, we recommend you watch the movie after reading Hidden Figures.

While the film covers only the time leading up to NASA’s Mercury 7 launch, it does an excellent job portraying the challenges these brilliant women faced. They crossed gender and racial barriers in an era where men dominated their field, and Jim Crow laws also enforced segregation and discrimination.

Young Queens book cover

Book Summary

Catherine de’ Medici had a tumultuous childhood after being orphaned at a young age. But by 14, she was married to the son of the King, in a wedding arranged by her uncle, Pope Clement VII. When her husband died at 40, it was up to Catherine and her sons to reign over a tumultuous period of French history.

In 1546, Catherine gave birth to Elisabeth de Valois, who would become the Queen of Spain. In 1558, Catherine’s son Francis married Mary, Queen of Scots. Catherine, Elisabeth, and Mary had to learn to rule 16th-century Europe in a time of expanding empires, religious discord, and populist revolt. While they held the highest level of power, they also had to deal with misogyny and remained at the mercy of the state.

The Book Girls Say…

`To look at female leaders even earlier in time, check out When Women Ruled the World about six female pharaohs, from Hatshepsut to Cleopatra.

Bookish Broads book cover

Book Summary

Throughout history, female authors have broken countless barriers. And their pens, typewriters, and keyboards have given readers a unique opportunity to step into someone else’s struggles.

From Jane Austen to Agatha Christie and Maya Angelou to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, this book includes 50 different mini-biographies of talented writers who overcame different forms of oppression to share their work.

The Book Girls Say…

This one is best enjoyed in print so you can see the illustrations that accompany each author’s story. It’s a great one to leave on the coffee table to read one story at a time rather than reading it straight through like a typical book.

Lighting the Fires of Freedom book cover

Book Summary

While many men played essential roles at the forefront of the civil rights movement, many brave women took on vital roles behind the scenes. Their quiet work led to significant contributions, but few know their names.

To write this book, the author met with nine spectacular women, several now in their 90s, to gather and document their previously untold stories in the form of first-person essays. The author left the stories in the direct words of the featured women, which means you lose a little of the flow that comes with great editing, but you gain a more personal feel and history told directly from those who lived it. 

The Book Girls Say…

For a look at an amazing woman who broke through racial barriers to start her own business in 1906, try Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker. She became a millionaire and focused on philanthropy, working to advance equal rights before the civil rights movement. Self Made is also an excellent 4 episode mini-series on Netflix starring Octavia Spencer.

Broad Band book cover

Book Summary

From Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Bryon, who turned numbers into the first program for a mechanical computer in 1842, to Stacy Horn, who ran one of the first social networks from her NYC apartment in the 1980s, women have been the unsung heroes of the internet. 

The author walks through these women and many others whose contributions over the last 180 years continue to touch our daily life each day. 

The Book Girls Say…

We’re especially grateful for the innovators in this book as their work helps us connect with all of you! If you enjoy reading about the foundations of our current technology, you may also be interested in Proving Ground: The Untold Story of the Six Women Who Programmed the World’s First Modern Computer.

Secret History of Home Economics book cover

Book Summary

Over the years, home economics has gotten a bad rap, and some may associate the term with a time when women were told their place was in the home. But this stigma overlooks the true origins of the field of home economics. This book examines and uncovers the roots while exploring whether it remains relevant today.

This field of study was first developed in the late 19th century by a female chemist named Ellen Swallow Richards. The first woman to attend MIT, she defined her life’s work as “Chemistry in Relation to Household Economy,” and she was fascinated by chemistry’s application to everyday problems, such as water sanitation and testing wallpaper for arsenic. 

The concept of home economics has evolved greatly in the past century and a half, sometimes following trends in American culture and other times helping to shape them.

The Book Girls Say…

This is a great pick if you enjoyed Lessons in Chemistry and would like a non-fiction companion book that explores using science at home.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

19 Great Books Like Lessons in Chemistry

Excellent Daughters book cover

Book Summary

The author wrote this non-fiction book after spending more than a decade living in and reporting on women’s lives in the Arab world. During that time, she has observed dramatic changes. 

Just a decade ago, girls went straight from childhood to marriage. Now, young women are experiencing adolescence in a new way, and young Arab women outnumber male students in universities. They are more frequently delaying marriage to pursue independence and career goals. But those changes have not come about quickly, and the fight for freedom and equality is still ongoing. This book examines the role of women in multiple Arab countries over the past two decades.

The Book Girls Say…

If you are interested in learning more about women in Arab countries, consider Manal Al-Sharif’s memoir Daring to Drive. Raised in a modest family in Saudi Arabia, Manal was a religious radical in her adolescence. In her twenties, she worked as a computer security engineer – one of the few women at the company – and it was here that she experienced contradictions that became harder and harder to ignore, leading her to become an “accidental activist.” She provides an intimate look at women’s lives in Saudi Arabia and how she became a leader in fighting for women’s right to drive.

Sisters in Law book cover

Book Summary

In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor broke one of the highest glass ceilings in the United States when Ronald Reagan appointed her as the first female member of the Supreme Court. Twelve years later, in 1993, the second woman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was appointed by Bill Clinton. 

Despite coming from different regions, religions, and political outlooks, these trailblazing women had a special relationship and worked together in ways that benefited all American women. Sisters in Law tells stories of the changing law and culture during their time on the bench, along with personal anecdotes from their friendship.

The Book Girls Say…

If you’d like to learn more about these two remarkable women, you can read their individual biographies, including First: Sandra Day O’Connor by Evan Thomas, My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Fly Girls book cover

Book Summary

In the 1920s & 1930s, the treacherous sport of air racing was extremely popular and, as you would expect, dominated by men. Female pilots existed but were met with ridicule instead of praise. 

However, once five unlikely women banded together, they reached new heights in the sport. Among the five women, you’ll find Amelia Earhart, who wasn’t a stranger to breaking glass ceilings. She wasn’t the best in racing, but along with Florence Klingensmith, Louise Thaden, Ruth Elder, and Ruth Nichols, she fought for the chance to race against the men.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 02/20/2024
Radium Girls book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

92% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

The newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty and the wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of World War I.

Across the US, hundreds of girls toiled in the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covered their bodies from head to toe; they lit up the night like industrious fireflies.

With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” are the luckiest alive — until they begin to fall mysteriously ill. This shocking non-fiction book explores the radium craze and its lasting aftermath.

The Book Girls Say…

We have both read this book, and both highly recommend it! It is heartbreaking and, at times, hard to read because of the terrible illnesses that the women suffer. Still, it’s a riveting account of a little-known and important piece of American history.

Queens of Animation book cover

Book Summary

In the beginning, Disney Studios was a stereotypical boys’ club. However, a group of women quietly created some of the artwork and storylines that have become classics. They had to endure abuses well beyond the typical workplace sexism of the time. They persevered and fought for their own recognition and for female characters to be depicted positively. 

The book begins in 1936 with the earliest female employees and follows all the way through the 2010s and the making of Frozen, which was the first female-directed full-length film from Disney.

Wake book cover

Book Summary

This non-fiction graphic novel tells the previously buried stories of women who planned and led revolts on both slave ships and once they arrived across Colonial America. The author, Dr. Rebecca Hall is a descendent of slaves who decided to look deeper into her history. 

As she researched, she continued to find stories of brave women. Through extensive research, the adult recreates the journey of two women who led revolts in colonial New York. At the same time, she shares how these stories have shaped her own life as an attorney and historian.

Three Mothers book cover

Book Summary

Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin are common names from the Civil Rights movement, but what about Alberta King, Louise Little, and Berdis Baldwin? These three women are the mothers who raised extraordinary sons.

All three black women grew up in the period of Jim Crow laws and experienced many trials and indignities of prejudices against them. Despite this hard life, each woman raised their sons to become leaders in the dream of achieving justice and dignity for all.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 02/20/2024

More Books about Women in History

If you’re looking for more Women’s History Month stories, including memoirs, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction options, we always include as many strong female leads as we can on each of our book lists, whether it’s books set in different decades or books set around the world. Additionally, our Books Like City of Girls, Books for Fans of the Nightingale, and WW2 Resistance Worker book recommendations are especially heavy on amazing woman characters.


Comments on: Books About Women in History: Non-Fiction for Women's History Month

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  1. Tammy Howell says:

    I am reading Breaking Through: My Life in Science by Katalin Kariko. 10 out of 10 stars!! She is an engaging writer. Learning about how she grew up behind the Iron Curtain in Hungary and her struggles to be accepted as a woman scientist in the United States is a fascinating and relevant read. Katalin is still alive, so I don’t know if this qualifies as history, but I had to recommend it somewhere.

  2. I loved The Astronauts Wives Club. As a fan of The Right Stuff, it was wonderful to read about the wives of the Mercury Seven and how they handled the pressure of having husbands who pioneered space travel.

  3. Kathy Coaker says:

    What a great list! I have read several but plenty more to add to the TBR list!

  4. Candace Morton says:

    Hidden Figures and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks were both fantastic books. Thank you for putting this list together. Several of these will go on my TBR list.

  5. I just finished {The Women with Silver Wings}. Very good. Another one that made me simultaneously thrilled and angry. {Radium Girls} and the cruelty involved made me sick to my stomach. Very good, very difficult read.

  6. Sisters in Laws is a fascinating book about Sandra Day O’Conner and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I remember when each woman taking the Oath and literally crying. This book is very enlightening about not only these two remarkable women, but how the Supreme Court works in American government. Definitely highly recommend.

  7. I’ve read several books on this list, and they’ve all been fascinating histories that have stuck with me. Another one in this vein that I enjoyed is: The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars, by Dava Sobel. After reading Code Girls, I read The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone to learn even more. Thanks for putting this list together! I can’t wait to check out more of them.

  8. Stephanie K Moore says:

    I also highly recommend Hidden Figures. Better than the movie (which had a character who was actually a composite of several women). Plus more depth!

  9. Stephanie K Moore says:

    I highly recommend Code Girls! It gets a little technical with the encryption/decryption stuff, but extra fun for me – one of the math teachers at my high school (75-77) is mentioned as being a Code Girl!

    1. Melissa George says:

      Wow, that’s so cool!