Well, less than 100 years after women won the right to vote, one of them is running for the White as the nominee of a major political party. Tonight, Hillary Clinton will accept the nomination for one of the world’s most difficult jobs after being praised last night by the African American incumbent president. We live in astonishing times.

Women have, of course, worked hard inside and outside the American political sphere for a long time. Their astonishing life stories feature the frustrations, humiliations, lack of opportunity, and sexism that would no doubt get a sympathetic nod of the head from Clinton. Those same lives followed long, winding roads to triumph in the noble causes of peace and equality, and in the less-celebrated but equally essential opening of doors in the workplace for themselves and for the generations of women that followed.

gwinnEmily Greene Balch: The Long Road to Internationalism, by Kristen E. Gwinn
A well-known American academic and cofounder of Boston’s first settlement house, Emily Greene Balch was an important Progressive Era reformer and advocate for world peace. Balch served as a professor of economics and sociology at Wellesley College for twenty years until her opposition to World War I resulted with the board of trustees refusing to renew her contract. Afterwards, Balch continued to emphasize the importance of international institutions for preventing and reconciling conflicts. She was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 for her efforts in cofounding and leading the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

This first scholarly biography of Balch traces her work at Wellesley, for the WILPF, and for other peace movements. Kristen E. Gwinn draws on a rich collection of primary sources such as letters, lectures, a draft of Balch’s autobiography, and proceedings of the WILPF and other organizations in which Balch held leadership roles. Gwinn illuminates Balch’s ideas on negotiated peace, internationalism, global citizenship, and diversity while providing pointed insight into her multifaceted career, philosophy, and temperament. Detailing Balch’s academic research on Slavic immigration and her arguments for greater cultural and monetary cohesion in Europe, Gwinn shows how Balch’s scholarship and teaching reflected her philosophical development.

leeFor Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, by Chana Kai Lee
The youngest of twenty children of sharecroppers in rural Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer witnessed first-hand the white cruelty, political exclusion, and relentless economic exploitation that defined black existence in the Delta. In this intimate biography, Chana Kai Lee documents Hamer’s lifelong crusade to empower the poor through collective action, her rise to national prominence as a civil rights activist, and the personal costs of her ongoing struggle to win a political voice and economic self-sufficiency for blacks in the segregated South.

Lee traces Hamer’s early work as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in rural Mississippi, documenting the partial blindness she suffered after being arrested and beaten by local officials for leading a group of blacks to register for the vote. Hamer’s dramatic appearance at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, where she led a group from the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in a bid to unseat the all-white Mississippi delegation, brought both Hamer and the virtual powerlessness of black Mississippians to the nation’s attention; but the convention also marked her first debilitating encounter with the middle class of the national civil rights movement. The definitive biography of one of the most important civil rights activists of the twentieth century, For Freedom’s Sake documents one woman’s lifelong crusade to empower the poor through collective action, her rise to national prominence as a civil rights activist, and the personal costs of her ongoing struggle to win a political voice and economic self-sufficiency for African Americans in the segregated South.

allabackThe First American Women Architects, by Sarah Allaback
By 1920, there were over two hundred women practicing architecture in the United States, actively working on major design and building projects before they were even given the right to vote. These women designed thousands of buildings nationwide: apartments in Kansas City, hotels in the nation’s national parks, churches in Michigan, and mansions on the coast of California, to name a few. In The First American Women Architects, Sarah Allaback chronicles the lives and careers of more than seventy pioneering female architects practicing in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, nearly all of whom have been forgotten until now.

An invaluable reference guide, the volume provides a biographical sketch of each architect’s life, education, and professional career, and a list of known works and sources for further research. Many of these remarkable women have never before appeared in any other history, making The First American Women Architects a unique and invaluable reference for students and scholars interested in women’s history and architecture. As an instructive record of the legacy of women in architectural history, this book will also serve as a stimulating indicator of the broadening potential for women and other minorities within the field of architecture.

birchallOnoto Watanna: The Story of Winnifred Eaton, by Diana Birchall
In 1901, the young Winnifred Eaton arrived in New York City with literary ambitions, journalistic experience, and the manuscript for A Japanese Nightingale, the novel that would sell many thousands of copies and make her famous. Hers is a real Horatio Alger story, with fascinating added dimensions of race and gender.

While commercially successful women writers were uncommon a century ago, Winnifred Eaton (1875-1954) cultivated a particular persona to set herself apart even within this rare breed. Born to a British father and a Chinese mother, Winnifred decided to capitalize on her exotic appearance while protecting herself from Americans’ scorn of Chinese: she “became” Japanese, assuming the pen name Onoto Watanna. While her eldest sister, Edith Maude Eaton (now acknowledged as the mother of Asian American fiction), was writing stories of downtrodden Chinese immigrants under the name Sui Sin Far, Winnifred’s Japanese romance novels and stories became all the rage, thrusting her into the glittering world of New York literati.

Diana Birchall chronicles the sometimes desperate, sometimes canny, always bold life of her “bad grandmother,” about whom she knew almost nothing until her own adulthood. Here are the details of an amazing professional career as a journalist, a bestselling novelist, and a Hollywood scriptwriting protégée of Carl Laemmle at Universal Studios.

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