5 Books That Celebrate Wisconsin Women and Women’s History Month

By Kristina Gómez

Kristina Gómez, community engagement librarian at the Madison Public Library’s Central Library, shares her favorite book picks that celebrate Wisconsin women’s accomplishments and Women’s History Month.

“All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler” by Rebecca Donner

This tome offers an expansive yet intimate look at Mildred Harnack, the only known American who was a leader in the German resistance against the Nazi regime. Born and raised in Milwaukee and a graduate of UW–Madison, Harnack was a leading figure in the resistance. She recruited Germans to the cause, plotted acts of sabotage, helped Jews escape and couriered top-secret intelligence to the Allies. After her capture, Harnack was sentenced to six years at a prison camp by a Nazi military court, but German dictator Adolf Hitler overruled the decision and ordered her execution. Harnack’s great-great-niece Rebecca Donner deftly reconstructs her remarkable story through historical records and family archives, ensuring Harnack’s incredible story of moral courage has its rightful place in history.

“Half in Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Nellie Y. McKay” by Shanna Greene Benjamin

Dr. Nellie Y. McKay dedicated her professional life to creating space for Black literature and Black scholars in academia — a groundbreaking endeavor during her time as a faculty member at UW–Madison. Dr. McKay was co-editor of the very first Norton Anthology of African American Literature, widely credited with codifying the black American literary canon for the first time. “Half in Shadow” explores Dr. McKay’s legacy and impact while attempting to reconcile her public and hidden private life. Interspersed with autobiographical vignettes, author Shanna Greene Benjamin highlights the difficult choices Black women continue to face in academia.

“Making a Difference: My Fight for Native Rights and Social Justice by Ada Deer” with Theda Perdue

An inspiring memoir of a life dedicated to service, “Making a Difference” is Ada Deer’s journey of firsts: the first woman to head the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, the first Native American woman from Wisconsin to run for U.S. Congress and the first woman to chair the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin. Deer’s childhood experiences spent on the Menominee Reservation serve as an anchor and guide through her life, inspiring her to challenge injustice, champion quality education and advocate on behalf of Native communities. “Making a Difference” is a personal and honest reflection of her life’s work.

“Somos Latinas: Voices of Wisconsin Latina Activists” by Andrea-Teresa Arenas and Eloisa Gómez

“Somos Latinas” is a celebratory collection of interviews and personal stories from Wisconsin Latinx community leaders. Activists, educators, health care workers and organizers share challenges and successes in the push for progress on behalf of their communities. The voices in this anthology represent a diverse cross-section of Latin American countries and the state of Wisconsin, and their stories create a rich community history often left untold.

“Tomboyland Essays” by Melissa Faliveno

“Tomboyland” is Melissa Faliveno’s stunning debut essay collection exploring gender, identity, community and what it means to leave and return home. Lyrical, sharp and humorous, Faliveno’s essays take us from Barneveld to Mount Horeb through Madison to Brooklyn, in stories that interconnect in surprising ways. Faliveno called “Tomboyland” a “love song to the place that made me,” and it is a beautiful, honest and refreshing tale of a Wisconsin girlhood and beyond.

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