Biographies to Checkout for Women’s History Month: Rosemary and Goddess of Anarchy

6 Mar

For Women’s History Month I decided to review two biographies of women whose importance is frequently neglected. Rosemary Kennedy and Lucy Parsons have only recently been given comprehensive biographies. Although they remain somewhat obscure figures in American history, they have impacted modern life much more than many people realize. These are just two of the many excellent biographies that the Hoboken Library has in its collection.

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter
by Kate Clifford Larson
The Kennedy’s are one of the most documented families in American history, but for decades, the public knew little about the eldest Kennedy sister, Rosemary. Unlike her highly ambitious siblings who were being groomed by their parents for elite society, Rosemary struggled with basic skills and had trouble socializing. Had she been born today, Rosemary’s could have lived a comfortable life, but because she was born into a family with impossibly high standards during a time when people with intellectual disabilities were poorly understand, Rosemary was subjected to a series of cruel treatments, the most horrific being a prefrontal lobotomy she was given at 23-years-old that left her severely disabled and isolated from the public for the rest of her life.

Despite the barbaric way in which she was treated, Rosemary’s life had a great impact on the outside world. Eunice Kennedy Shriver was so horrified by what had happened to her sister that she dedicated her life to advocating for people with disabilities and helped begin the Special Olympics. While in the Senate, Ted Kennedy cosponsored the Americans with Disabilities Act, which he dedicated to his sister who he had barely gotten to know but whose life deeply affected him. What makes Kate Larson’s Rosemary such an excellent read is that it is not just a biography of Rosemary Kennedy; it is also the story of the fight for a more humane society for people with disabilities.

You can borrow Rosemary as an ebook or digital audiobook from eLibraryNJ, eBCCLS and Hoopla.

Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical
by Jacqueline Jones
Goddess of Anarchy
During her life, Lucy Parsons was one of the most well-known speakers on America’s public lecture circuit and at times, the most prominent African American woman in such a position. However, Lucy Parsons has remained an obscure historical figure who has not had a strong biography until Pulitzer Prize nominee Jacqueline Jones uncovered newly discovered documents about her early life. With this new insight in Goddess of Anarchy, Jones illustrates the life of a fearless speaker and activist with a very complex legacy.

Parsons identified as an anarchist, communist, and revolutionary. She was a fierce advocate for the downtrodden and oppressed and was involved in many volatile labor struggles. Her controversial statements and writings led her to spend many nights in jail, but she amazingly lived to be 89-years-old and spent her entire life trying to advance her revolutionary beliefs. At a time when black women were mostly shut out of intellectual life, Parsons’ ability to inspire a crowd was incredibly admirable.

Parson leaves behind a difficult political and racial legacy. Although she was born into slavery, she lied about her background and claimed to be Mexican and Native American. Spending much of her life in Chicago, she identified with city’s white working class immigrants and was accused of downplaying issues of discrimination against African Americans during the time of Jim Crow. There are also questions about whether her violent rhetoric hurt the progress of the causes she believed in. Regardless of what the reader conclude about Parsons, she is a fascinating figure whose role in women’s history in worth exploring.

You can borrow Goddess of Anarchy from eBCCLS as an ebook.

Looking for books for the younger members of your family?  You can get some great suggestions for biographies for children in our previous blog post: Well Behaved Women Don’t Make History.  For more books for adults and some also appropriate for teens we have Heroines You Should Know.  What are some of your favorite biographies about women who have changed history for adults or kids? Share them in our comments!

Written by:
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

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