Penn Libraries News

Featured Books and DVDs: Women’s History Month

Learn more about female politicians, rock stars, and other significant figures who haven’t been fully recognized in history classes with these stories.

A wood bookshelf is filled with a variety of DVDs and books standing upright. DVDs area to the left of a divider. Visible titles include Barbara Rubin, Every Secret Thing, Booksmart, Harriet, Chantal Akerman Collection, Eve's Bayou, Incognito, Party Girl, Tender Fictions, Learning to Drive, Girl from God's Country, Certain Women, Finding Kukan, and Smithereens. To the right of the divider are books. Visible titles include Black Chameleon, Agent of Change, She's a Rebel, Manifesta, and Oh My Mother.

The idea that “the personal is political” was popularized in the women’s movement of the 1970s, but the slogan still resonates today – something you can clearly see in this month’s featured books and DVDs for Women’s History Month. Some topics covered in this month’s picks may not seem political on the surface, but the experiences individuals have when dancing, adventuring outdoors, and parenting can become feminist issues when examined through the lens of gender. Learn more about female politicians, rock stars, and other significant figures who haven’t been fully recognized in history classes with these stories. You can find the selections highlighted below, and many more, on display on the first floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, next to New Books.

Note: The descriptions below are collected from publishers and edited for brevity and clarity.


Speaking While Female: 75 Extraordinary Speeches by American Women by Dana Rubin
Women have not been silent in U.S. history, but you’d hardly know it from the history books. Speaking While Female challenges long-held notions by showing that in every period, at every historic juncture, women have contributed decisively to American ideals, institutions, and culture by stepping up and delivering powerful speeches, sermons, lectures, and testimony. This monumental collection assembles speeches by 75 American women, some whose names are recognized and others who are barely known.

Nobody Ever Asked Me about the Girls: Women, Music and Fame by Lisa Robinson
Over four decades, Lisa Robinson has made a name for herself as a celebrated journalist in a business long known for its boys’ club mentality. But to Robinson, the female performers who sat down with her, most often at the peak of their careers, were the true revelations. Based on conversations with more than 40 female artists – from Tina Turner and Stevie Nicks to Jennifer Lopez and Adele – the interviews offer candid portraits of how these women―regardless of genre or decade―deal with image, abuse, love, motherhood, family, sex, drugs, business, and age.

The Only Woman by Immy Humes
This photo book is a compelling gallery of women who made their way into a man's world, shown through group portraits each featuring a lone woman. An original approach to gender equality, this striking pictorial statement brings to light the compelling and undeniable phenomenon of “the only woman”: across time and cultures, groups of artists, activists, scientists, servants, movie stars, or metal workers have often included exactly and only one woman. Covering examples from nearly 20 countries, from the advent of photography until the present day, author Immy Humes reveals and reframes how women and men have related socially in surprising and poignant ways.

Been Outside: Adventures of Black Women, Nonbinary, and Gender Nonconforming People in Nature edited by Amber Wendler and Shaz Zamore
Encompassing identity, inspiration, ancestry, and stewardship, the essays and poems by leading Black women and nonbinary scientists in Been Outside explore how experiences in the natural world and life sciences shape the self. These writers and researchers contemplate the moments that sparked their love of nature, as well as the ways time in the field and outdoor adventures have enhanced or expanded their perspectives about what is possible. These stories from 22 writers showcase the challenges and joys of carving out your own path through the natural world — and will inspire anyone seeking to craft their own outdoor life.

Oh My Mother!: A Memoir in Nine Adventures by Connie Wang
In each essay of this hilarious, heartfelt, and pitch-perfectly honest memoir, journalist Connie Wang explores her complicated relationship to her stubborn and charismatic mother, Qing Li. In telling these stories about the places they’ve gone and the things they’ve done, Wang reveals another story: the true story of two women who finally learned that once we are comfortable with the feeling of not belonging—once we can reject the need to belong to any place, community, census, designation, or nation—we can experience something almost like freedom.


Susan Seidelman established her distinctive vision of New York City with this debut feature, the lo-fi original for her vibrant portraits of women reinventing themselves. After escaping New Jersey, the quintessentially punk Wren —a spark plug in fishnets—moves to the city with the mission of becoming famous. Shot on 16 mm film that captures the grit and glam of downtown in the 1980s, with an alternately moody and frenetic soundtrack by the Feelies and others, Smithereens—the first American independent film to compete for the Palme d’Or—is an unfaded snapshot of a bygone era.

Finding Kukan
In the late 1930s China is in dire straits. The country will collapse under Japan’s military juggernaut if it doesn’t get outside help. Chinese American firebrand Li Ling-Ai jolts Americans into action with a new medium — 16mm Kodachrome color film. She hires photojournalist Rey Scott to travel to China and capture a citizen’s perspective of the war-torn country, including the massive bombing of the wartime capital Chungking (now Chongqing). Their landmark film Kukan receives one of the first Academy Awards for a feature documentary in 1942. Why have we never heard of Li Ling-Ai, and why have all copies of Kukan disappeared? Filmmaker Robin Lung goes on a 7‑year quest to find the answers.

Black Feminist
Black Feminist is a feature-length documentary film surrounding the double-edged sword of racial and gender oppression that Black women face in America. This documentary is told through interviews from scholars, lecturers, writers, business owners, veterans, comedians and authors. In addition to information interviews, this documentary is narrated by storybook character LaToya Johnson, played by Nadirah Lugg.

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché
Pamela B. Green's energetic film about pioneer filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché is both a tribute and a detective story, tracing the circumstances by which this extraordinary artist faded from memory and the path toward her reclamation. Narrated by Jodie Foster, the project was launched with a crowdfunding campaign.

Dance, Girl, Dance
Dorothy Arzner, the sole woman to work as a director in the Hollywood studio system of the 1930s and early ’40s, brings a subversive feminist sensibility to this juicily entertaining backstage melodrama. A behind-the-footlights look at friendship, jealousy, and ambition in the ruthless world of show business, Dance, Girl, Dance follows the intertwining fates of two chorus girls: a starry-eyed dancer who dreams of making it as a ballerina, and the brassy gold digger who becomes her rival both on the stage and in love. The rare Hollywood picture of the era to deal seriously with issues of female artistic struggle and self-actualization, Arzner’s film is a rich, fascinating statement from an auteur decades ahead of her time.