When I was younger, I had this People “bookazine” (those super fancy special editions published by People, Time and the like to focus on a specific subject) about famous women in history. It featured the Hollywood legends and award-winning singers that you would expect in that sort of thing, but I loved reading the parts about women like Mata Hari, Marie Curie and the other ladies who took tremendous risks to do things they were told they would never be able to achieve.
This Women’s History Month, I wanted to challenge myself to find more of those kind of superwomen: the ones who dared to dream big and do amazing things, all without tights or a cape.
I have a huge book crush on Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors and Trailblazers Who Changed History (pictured above). Written by Sam Maggs and illustrated by Sophia Foster-Dimino, it shines a light on some pretty amazing women that haven’t received the credit they deserve. The five chapters are broken down by Science, Medicine, Espionage, Innovation and Adventure, and each features five ground-breakers. The chapters also include some bonus quick facts on another five to eight ladies and an interview with a contemporary woman working in that field. Tons of information to take in here, friends. Luckily, Maggs wrote it with a teen audience in mind. It’s thoughtful, yet easy to consume, and the resources in the appendix will send you off looking for new ways to expand your own skill sets (yes, you can go to spy school!).
Before NASA, there was JPL — the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt, you’ll learn about the first round of female “human computers,” or highly skilled mathematicians, hired during WWII to figure out crazy velocity calculations and plot trajectories. These women became the first computer programmers and engineers, kicking open doors for so many ladies in working in STEM now. Holt tracks the program from its inception in the ’40s to the women killin’ it today at NASA.
Margot Lee Shetterly’s book, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, directs a specific focus to the Black women working as human computers for NASA. This is the book that inspired a pretty fantastic movie and it goes deeper into the lives of not just Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughn, but other ceiling-busters like Christine Darden. Darden, by the way, became an aerospace engineer and made significant contributions to the study of sonic booms. No big deal.
Modern Women: 52 Pioneers is a new title by Kira Cochrane and has a broader focus, like my old bookazine. And yes, she does feature some performers, like Katharine Hepburn and Björk. But there are plenty of new-to-me superwomen like suffragette Sophia Duleep Singh, along with contemporary ladies like poet and civil rights activist Audre Lorde and writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Who are your favorite wonder women? Tell us in the comments!
Check out these real life superheroes!Read Wonder Women
Jess is the Clerical Specialist at the Woods Run branch on the North Side. She’s your girl for YA lit, romance novels and knitting.