Must-read books for Women’s History Month, from PA Humanities staff & board

March 22, 2023

It’s Women’s History Month, and to help celebrate we asked our staff and board members to share some of their book recommendations. Their selections include everything from classic literature to post-apocalyptic fiction, poetry to biography and more. Why not check one out the next time you’re at your local library?

Kim Koller-Jones, Board of Directors


Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

One of my favorite books is Jane Eyre, perhaps because I admire  the title character’s strength of character and individualism. I think of it as an eventual love story as Jane must first overcome a lifetime of challenges to discover what love is (and isn’t). It’s not a glamorous story, and therefore one I find more relatable to my own early circumstances. It was loosely based on the author’s own experiences.

Maureen McGuigan, Board of Directors


The Hidden Lamp, Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women, Zenshin Florence Caplow and Reigetsu Susan Moon

This book is definitely in my tool box of books for facing challenges, inspiration and wisdom. The 100 short koans, stories and reflections, many published for the first time, are told by women from the time of the Buddha to today. The pieces are fresh, relevant and thought provoking. They are gems you can return to again and again.

Parable of the Sower, Octavia E. Butler

I find myself talking a lot about this book lately, as it pertains to what we are facing now from the effects of climate change. Parable of the Sower written in 1993 portrays a dystopian world dealing with effects of global warming including inequities that surface. Octavia was a woman ahead of her time. She was a Black science fiction writer at a time when it was predominantly a genre led by white men and she explored topics such as climate change when there was little mainstream discussion of it.

Collected Poems of Anne Sexton, Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton got me through high school. As a woman writer in the 1960’s, she faced many challenges in terms of her roles and identity, and writing became therapeutic for her. Anne’s frank confessional poems on mental health, combatting traditional gender roles and her willingness to discuss uncomfortable topics especially relating to women spoke to me as a young woman in a visceral way. While some of her personal story is problematic today, I believe her poetry remains relevant and powerful.

Leah Spangler, Board of Directors


The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan

I am currently reading The Feminine Mystique. It is a fascinating look at what happened to women in the 1950s and 60s. I am only a couple of chapters in, but it is a book that is worth revisiting.

Laurie Zierer, Executive Director


My Life on the Road, by Gloria Steinem

I can remember when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s seeing Gloria Steinem always marching or speaking for women’s rights with her iconic look and style. The year I was born she went undercover as a journalist at a Playboy Club in New York City to expose what it was like to work there. When I was old enough, I got sunglasses and bell bottoms like she had. I imagined writing and leading a life of radical adventure. I recommend her recent book “My Life on the Road.” She says, “Taking to the Road — by which I mean letting the road take you — changed who I thought I was.” That philosophy continues to be an inspiration. Life is messy and our journeys take us into reality of what it means to be human, as she says “out of our heads and into our hearts.”

Dawn Frisby Byers, Senior Director of Content & Engagement

Frisby Byers

The Woman Next Door, by Yewande Onoroso

Set in contemporary South Africa, two women (one Black, one white) keep up a decades long feud, until an incident brings them together. They discover they are more alike than different. It’s the humanities in action!

Looking For Lorraine, by Imani Perry

A thoughtful biography of playwright Lorraine Hansberry, whose “A Raisin in the Sun” is considered an American masterpiece. Hansberry died at 34, but left a huge legacy.

Celeste Vargo, Grants & Accounting Administrator


The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life and Legacy of Frances Perkins, Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Minimum Wage by Kristin Downey. 

Inspiring story of a remarkable woman and the things she achieved as Secretary of Labor, things that we take for granted today.  Before I read this book, I had never heard of her and never knew there was a woman in FDR’s cabinet. 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

An extraordinary story about one woman’s treatment by the medical community and the struggle by her family to find out how it happened and why. It still makes my blood boil when I think about it. 

Taylor Tolton-Kain, Program & Communications Coordinator


Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto, by Tricia Hersey

Hersey is the founder of the Nap Ministry. She’s a great follow on Instagram and is constantly encouraging people, especially women, to stop falling for grind culture and start valuing rest and restoration. I speak to this a lot in my restorative yoga classes.

Ken Dinitz, Director of Development


Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E. Butler

The best book I’ve read in a while is this one that I just completed a few months ago. It is the sequel to the “Parable of the Sower,” and is an inspiration for anyone who wants to build a better world. Particularly hopeful in forecasting the fall of leaders who misuse religion to support authoritarianism. And its main protagonist is a powerful Black woman.

Karen Price, Content Writer & Storyteller


A Woman of No Importance, by Sonia Purnell

Sonia Purnell tells the story of Virginia Hall, an American woman with a physical disability who became a key spy for England in occupied France during World War II and helped build and run an intricate Resistance network. She used people’s eagerness to underestimate her against them during the war, but unfortunately was largely dismissed back home in the U.S. by her male colleagues when she tried to continue her career as one of the first women to work for the CIA. The book came out in 2019, and prior to that, her story was largely untold and her extraordinary bravery, persistence and accomplishments unknown.

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