American Women's History

Top Book Picks

Poster: Votes for women, 1911-1913.
From a poster: Votes for women, 1911-1913. Artist: Boye, Bertha Margaret (1883-1930). Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

A selection of the best overview books on the history of women in America. These books cover many historical periods in American history, looking at women's roles. Each book has strengths and weaknesses, depending on the purpose for which you're choosing it, and a wise choice may be one narrative history and one book of primary source documents.

by Gail Collins, 2004, 2007.  The author takes the reader on a journey of American lives, including many different subcultures and different times.  She looks at how women were perceived (often as the lesser sex, incompetent to serve in roles reserved for men) and how women transcended those expectations.  This is not a "great woman" book, but a book about what life was like for women in normal times and in times of crisis and change.

By Sara Evans, reprint 1997. Evans' treatment of American women's history remains among the best. That it is short makes it usable as a good introduction to the subject; that also means that depth is missing. Usable for high school or college as well as by the average reader who's looking to tie all of American women's history together.

Edited by Vicki L. Ruiz and Ellen Carol DuBois, this collection reflects trends in women's history to include a multicultural perspective. Just as American history is often mainly a white man's history, so some women's histories are mostly oriented to the story of middle- and upper-class white women. This anthology is an excellent corrective, a good supplement to books included in this list.

Edited by Linda K. Kerber and Jane Sherron De Hart, 1999 edition. This collection just keeps getting better and better with each edition. Includes essays or book excerpts from many women's historians on specific issues or periods plus supportive primary source documents. Excellent as a text in a women's history or American history course or for a reader wanting to know more of "her story."

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Root of Bitterness: Documents of the Social History of American Women

Edited by Nancy F. Cott et al, 1996 edition. To teach American women's history through primary source documents, or to supplement a narrative history or simply to add women's history to a standard American history course, this collection is an excellent choice. Individuals looking to hear the voices of women in different periods will also find this book interesting and valuable.
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No Small Courage: A History of Women in the United States

Edited by Nancy F. Cott, 2000. A survey anthology with essays by university historians, each covering a different period. This would be a reasonable choice for an overview course or supplement in a general American history course, especially if supplemented with a primary source document anthology.
By Carol Hymowitz and Michaele Weissman, 1990 reissue. This history is suitable for high school, a freshman college course or, perhaps, for a middle school curriculum. Individual readers looking for a basic introduction will also find it valuable.
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Women and Power in American History, Volume I

By Kathryn Kish Sklar, 2001 edition. An overview of gender politics in American history, this anthology required two volumes to get it all in. It's therefore not as concise as some of the other recommendations in the list, but has more depth. The breadth, however, is a bit more narrow as the issue of power is central to the collection's organization.
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Women and The American Experience, A Concise History

A common text in high school and college courses, I haven't seen it myself so I can't say much about it. The topics covered look exhaustive, and the "suggested readings and sources" are likely to be helpful resources for further research into particular topics.
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U.S. History As Women's History: New Feminist Essays

Not really an overview of American women's history per se, but more an update on what the historians of women's story are thinking and writing about. Topics covered include periods of history from colonial times through the 1990s. Will be most useful as a supplement to a general overview, or for someone who has already read widely in women's history.
Edited by Mary Beth Norton. You've studied women's history in America -- now you'd like to explore the issues in the field even more. This book will inspire your thinking and update you on what's going on in the field, at the same time it adds to your knowledge of general American women's history.
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When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women 1960 - Present

by Gail Collins, 2010. Collins adds to her previous history by covering the last 50 years.  Well-written and fact-filled, with most of its focus on the 1960s, those who lived through the history will find it an interesting perspective on their own experiences, and those who are younger will find it essential background to where women are today and the questions that still challenge feminism.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "American Women's History." ThoughtCo, Mar. 25, 2017, thoughtco.com/american-womens-history-3529151. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2017, March 25). American Women's History. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/american-womens-history-3529151 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "American Women's History." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/american-womens-history-3529151 (accessed September 23, 2017).