Inspiration: Stories of Women's Accomplishments

By Skokie Staff Adult Services

These books and films celebrate a few women who've made an indelible mark on the world, even if history books have previously failed to name them.

  • The Doctors Blackwell

    2021 by Nimura, Janice P.

    Two pioneering sisters became America's first female doctors and transformed New York's medical establishment by creating a hospital by and for women. "That the Blackwells arrived in the United States during a cholera epidemic and made it their mission to provide medical care to the underserved, while also promoting women’s rights and abolition, brings this narrative hurtling into the 21st century.” (Megan Marshall, author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life) Recommended by Becca and Mary.

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  • Dolores


    Dolores Huerta is among the most important, yet least known, activists in American history. She was a partner in founding the first farm workers' unions with Cesar Chavez, working tirelessly for racial and labor justice, becoming one of the most defiant feminists of the 20th century. This documentary shows the passion Huerta had about the cause, as well as the exorbitant effort and toll the work took on her and her family. Featuring much excellent archival footage. Recommended by Cecilia.

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  • Visionary Women

    2018 by Barnet, Andrea

    The story of four visionaries who profoundly shaped the world we live in today. These women, breaking with convention, showed what one person speaking truth to power can do. Jane Jacobs fought for livable cities and strong communities, Rachel Carson warned us about poisoning the environment, Jane Goodall demonstrated the indelible kinship between humans and animals, and Alice Waters urged us to reconsider what and how we eat. Recommended by Mary.

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  • Ida B. the Queen

    2021 by Duster, Michelle

    Written by her great-granddaughter, this historical portrait covers Wells' early years as a slave, her famous acts of resistance, and her achievements as a journalist and anti-lynching activist. This visually stunning book is "[e]nriched by family history, striking illustrations, and deep knowledge of the ongoing fight for racial justice." (Publishers Weekly) Recommended by Allyson.

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  • Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor

    2012 by Felt, Hali

    A compelling portrait of one of the most interesting "forgotten" women of the 20th century, the scientist who first mapped the ocean floor. Until Marie Tharp's groundbreaking work in the 1950s, the floor of the ocean was a mystery. We knew less about the ocean than we did about outer space. In a time when women in the scientific community were routinely dismissed, Tharp's work changed our understanding of the earth's geologic evolution. Recommended by Lukie.

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  • Hidden Figures

    2016 by Lee Shetterly, Margot

    Before John Glenn orbited the earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as "human computers" used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented Black women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Recommended by Lukie.

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  • DNA: Secret of Photo 51


    Like the women in Hidden Figures, Rosalind Franklin is an unsung and practically unknown hero in the discovery of DNA. We all know Watson and Crick, but most have never heard of Franklin. Because of her gender, she never received the credit she was due. This is a great documentary that begins to reveal how important Franklin's contribution to science really was. Recommended by Cecilia.

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  • Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision


    This documentary reveals the origins of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and tells the story of its 21-year-old creator, a Yale architecture student. Lin's plan was selected from more than 1,000 designs. What began as one of the country's most bitterly disputed monuments became one of the world's most inspirational and frequently visited memorials. Recommended by Lukie.

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  • Women of the Frontier: 16 Tales of Trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble-Rousers

    2013 by Miller, Brandon Marie

    Drawing on journal entries, letters, and song lyrics to evoke the courage and spirit of female pioneers, a collection of portraits traces the lives of such individuals as Margaret Reed of the Donner Party expedition and Carry Nation, the anti-alcohol crusader, to lesser-known figures such as African American pioneer Clara Brown and Native American activist Sarah Winnemucca. Recommended by Lukie.

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  • The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks

    2013 by Theoharis, Jeanne

    "Theoharis has discovered the soul of Rosa Parks (1913–2005), and it's not that of a docile, middle-age seamstress. The author successfully goes 'behind the icon of Rosa Parks to excavate and examine the scope of her political life.'" (Kirkus) Recommended by Chris.

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  • The Secret History of the Mongol Queens

    2010 by Weatherford, J. McIver

    Who knew that Genghis Khan reigned not only by conquest but by using his female relatives to help expand and stabilize the Mongol Empire? The book describes how Khan married off his daughters to rulers of kingdoms along the Silk Road and then sent his new sons-in-law off to war, leaving his daughters to rule. From these daughters and their descendants, including the intriguing Queen Manduhai (whose raiding influenced the decision to build parts of the Great Wall of China), we see the important role these women played in Mongol and world history. Recommended by Lukie.

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  • A Warrior of the People

    2016 by Starita, Joe

    Susan La Flesche received her medical degree in 1889, becoming the first Native American doctor in U.S. history. She earned her degree 31 years before women could vote and 35 years before Native Americans could become citizens in their own country. By age 26, this fragile but indomitable woman became the doctor to her tribe. She effectively became the chief of an entrenched patriarchal tribe; crashed through thick walls of ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice; and spent her life improving the lot of her people. Recommended by Lukie.

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  • With Her Fist Raised

    2021 by Lovett, Laura L.

    Every feminist knows the iconic photograph of Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes raising their fists in interracial solidarity. While readers know Steinem's life inside and out, the story of Hughes, and her accomplishments as an activist, have faded into obscurity. This biography brings attention to her life as cofounder of Ms. Magazine and a trailblazing Black feminist activist whose work made children, race, and welfare rights central to the women's movement. Recommended by Allyson.

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  • Goddess of Anarchy

    2017 by Jones, Jacqueline

    This book recounts the formidable and controversial life of Lucy Parsons, militant writer, orator, and agitator. Born to an enslaved woman in Virginia in 1851 and raised in Texas—where she met her husband, the Haymarket "martyr" Albert Parsons—Lucy was a fearless advocate of First Amendment rights, a champion of the working classes, and one of the most prominent figures of African descent of her era. Recommended by Lukie.

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  • The Beaches of Agnès


    "'I tried to be a joyful feminist, but I was very angry,' said 80-year-old Agnes Varda, reflecting on her life. A collage of memories from her career as photojournalist and filmmaker, the film buzzes with the energy of a woman who combined the personal with the political. To Varda, the freedom of women was a joyful prospect, but she was always painfully aware that the battle for equality was far from over." Inequality of any kind was her subject. Among her many famous admirers were directors Barry Jenkins, Ava DuVernay, and Martin Scorsese. (Dazed, April 2019) Recommended by Chris.

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  • Hedy Lamarr: An Incredible Life

    2018 by Roy, William

    Limited by societal expectations, Lamarr has long been known more as a Hollywood icon and "most beautiful woman in the world," than for her inventive genius. Among her inventions, technology that is used in cell phones today and is the basis for WiFi, GPS, and bluetooth communication systems. She also designed an airplane wing for Howard Hughes. Really. Recommended by Lukie.

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  • Say Her Name

    2020 by Elliott, Zetta

    Inspired by the African American Policy Forum’s #SayHerName campaign, Elliott engages poets from the past two centuries to create a chorus of voices celebrating the creativity, resilience, and courage of Black women, girls, and femmes. Recommended by Becca.

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