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NYPL’s Essential Feminist Reading List Celebrates 100 Years Since the 19th Amendment

The New York Public Library’s reading lists acknowledge the shortcomings of the feminist movement and celebrates those who contributed to its diversity.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Independent Woman by Simone de Beauvoir, The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, and Becoming by Michelle Obama (courtesy of the New York Public Library)

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which prohibited the government from denying voting rights on the basis of gender. To commemorate this momentous achievement, the New York Public Library (NYPL) has released its “Essential Reads on Feminism,” a compilation of more than 200 non-fiction and fiction books for adults, teens, and children. The titles bridge the past and present of feminist movements, from Simone de Beauvoir’s The Independent Woman (1949) to Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist: Essays (2014), and from the earliest manifestos for equality to contemporary writings on intersectionality.

The 19th Amendment did not give every woman in the US the right to vote — Black women would have to wait nearly 50 more years to go to the ballots; marginalized communities remain targets of voter suppression to this day. NYPL’s reading list acknowledges the shortcomings of the feminist movement, too commonly hailed as a panacea for all women, and celebrates those who contributed to its diversity. Women, Race & Class (1981) by activist and prison abolitionist Angela Davis; My Beloved World (2013) by Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court; A Colored Woman in a White World​ by Black suffragist Mary Church Terrell (1940); A Voice from the South (1892), a collection of essays by Anna K. Cooper, a formerly enslaved woman, are among the books for adults written by women of color. Their names, though perhaps better known today, have often been omitted from feminist bibliographies. 

The library’s picks for younger audiences are equally concerned with inclusivity. Teens can pick up Amani Al-Khatahtbeh’s memoir Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age (2016), a personal account of growing up as a young Muslim woman after 9/11 or poet, and Civil Rights activist Maya Angelou’s autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969).

Highlights for little ones include Mahogany L. Browne’s illustrated poem Black Girl Magic (2018), an ode to Black girlhood and womanhood, and It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity, written by Theresa Thorn and illustrated by Noah Grigni (2019).

“One hundred years after the 19th Amendment was finally ratified, the fight for gender equality is far from over, and the need for more diverse perspectives and voices is more urgent than ever,” said Susan Kriete, a librarian in the NYPL’s US History, Local History and Genealogy division who helped curate the list. “Our hope is that readers of all backgrounds will discover titles that not only deepen their understanding of the feminist movement but inspire them to help achieve its goals.”

There are hundreds more titles to discover from the “Essential Reads on Feminism reading list,” downloadable as three separate documents on NYPL’s website. All the books on the list are also available to borrow for free on the Library’s e-reading app, SimplyE.

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