Before you read this list, we strongly recommend reading Experimental Wifery’s Guide to the 100 Books Every Woman Should Read.
- Aesop’s Fables by Aesop
- The Republic by Plato
- Anglo-Saxon Poetry translated by S. A. J. Bradley
- Erec and Enide by Chrétien de Troyes
- All’s Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare
- The Real Mother Goose by Blanche Fisher Wright
- Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
- Emma by Jane Austen
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
- Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
- The Goblin Market and Other Poems by Christina Rossetti
- Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy
- The Awakening by Kate Chopin
- Twenty Years at Hull House by Jane Addams
- The Bridge of San Louis Rey by Thornton Wilder
- Essays on Woman by Edith Stein
- Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon
- Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
- The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
- The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
- Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
- Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
Aesop’s Fables by Aesop
The Dr. Seuss of the Middle Ages. According to legend, Aesop was a seventh-century B.C. Greek slave. His animal stories remind us of simple values like modesty, charity, and hard work and provide a great way to pass these values on to our children.
The Republic by Plato
The world’s oldest and most revered work of political philosophy. Unlike most other Ancient Greek philosophers, Plato isn’t a chauvinist. The Republic is an important treatise on how people live together in political community and the role women have to play within that community.
Anglo-Saxon Poetry translated by S. A. J. Bradley
Forget The Canterbury Tales. These seventh-, eighth-, ninth-, and tenth-century poems will change the way you think about “the Dark Ages.” (Check out Tacitus’ Germania for a description of how these early Germanic tribes lived.) Be sure to read Genesis B, Juliana, Elene, and Judith for their depictions of powerful, brave, and affectionate women.
Erec and Enide by Chrétien de Troyes
The most romantic romance. In this late twelfth-century romance, Erec and Enide learn that the quest for happiness doesn’t end the moment you say, “I do.” They embark on a grand journey that becomes, among other things, a beautiful allegory for growth in married life. Together, they learn that happy endings only come to people who continue to work for them every day.
Throughout this land, all the people—the blondes and the brunettes and the redheads—are saying that it is a great shame you have laid down your arms. Your renown has greatly declined.
All’s Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare
A wife struggles to make her husband act like one. Helena’s unwilling husband runs away until she can take his family ring from his finger and bear his child. All’s Well That Ends Well is a comedy about how hard it can be to get others to do the right thing.
The Real Mother Goose by Blanche Fisher Wright
Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
According to a Harvard professor, “at once the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America.” Alexis de Tocqueville travelled from France to the United States in 1831. Over the next nine months he made a thorough study of the religious, political, and economic character of the young nation. For modern readers, his book is both a prescient prediction of our country’s particular weaknesses and a reminder of it particular strengths.
Emma by Jane Austen
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Dickens’ story about the early days of the French Revolution and the English families affected by it comes to a well-known and very moving conclusion. Sydney Carton’s character reminds us how love can truly change lives and what selfless love really looks like.
I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.
Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
Alternately titled Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by the Sieur Louis de Conte. Twain’s fictional account celebrates the life of a woman he greatly admired. Through Twain’s description, Joan of Arc’s character—based partially on his memories of his own daughter at seventeen—stands out as a woman of heroism and bravery.
The Goblin Market and Other Poems by Christina Rossetti
Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy’s last and most transcendent novel. Years ago, Dmitri seduced and impregnated a serving maid. When he finds out that his abandonment led her into a life of poverty and crime, he fights to love her enough to redeem her—and himself.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Thematically similar to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which also appears on the list of 100 Novels Every Woman Should Read, The Awakening tells the story of the stifled housewife Edna Pontellier. Controversial since its publication in 1899 for its frank description of female sexuality, Chopin’s novel nevertheless captures all women’s struggle to reconcile their desires with their responsibilities.
Twenty Years at Hull House by Jane Addams
Hull House was a settlement house founded with the help of Jane Addams in Chicago in 1889. In her book, this public philosopher, sociologist, author, and leader in the fight for women’s suffrage outlines the importance of providing for the poorest of the poor. Addams became a living model for women who wanted to bring positive change to their communities.
Of all the aspects of social misery nothing is so heartbreaking as unemployment.
The Bridge of San Louis Rey by Thornton Wilder
Five people died when a rope bridge in Lima, Peru collapsed while five people were crossing it. The fictional Brother Juniper works for six years to find God’s plan in the tragic accident. A moving consideration of the meaning of suffering and the things that connect us to one another.
Essays on Woman by Edith Stein
Edith Stein converted to Catholicism and became a Carmelite nun. Even so, because she was ethnically Jewish, she was arrested by the Nazis and died in a gas chamber in Aushwitz. Her Essays on Woman celebrate the unique qualities of women and were instrumental to Pope John Paul II’s important letter On the Dignity of Women.
Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon
A semi-fictional account of the remarkable story of Anna Leonowens. King Mongkut invites the recently-widowed Anna to what is now Thailand to teach English and English customs to his wives and children. Rogers and Hammerstein set this enchanting story of courage and curiosity to music in The King and I.
Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
The first feminist mystery novel. Sayer’s ambitious book takes up the conflict between love and independence, the disconnect between principles and personal loyalties, women’s right to academic education—and even throws in criticism of the Nazi doctrine of Kinder, Kirche, Küche.
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
The seminal work of epic fantasy. The Lord of the Rings is a celebration of friendship, hope, and courage—and not just in its male characters. Much like the Anglo-Saxon poetry he so much admired, Tolkien’s fantasy also presents us with some remarkable and truly feminine models like Arwen, Éowyn, and Galadriel.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
The best romance novel for young women. Kit Tyler struggles to find her identity in Puritan Massachusetts. Along the way, she faces the same difficult task as all young adults to determine which traditions of her family and culture she should value and which she should fight against.
The answer is in thy heart, thee can always hear it if thee listens for it.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond also made our list of Ten Great Novels to Help Girls Become Women.
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Touchstone for the environmental movement. Carson outlines the catastrophic affects of pesticides on birds. Despite criticism that she was nothing more than a “hysterical woman” unqualified to write a serious, scientific book, Caron helped bring about the ban on the pesticide DDT in 1972.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
A sensitive chronicle of a young boy’s coming of age in turn-of-the-last-century Georgia. Will Tweedy struggles to define himself under the watchful eye of his charismatic and sometimes over-bearing grandfather. Along the way, he learns that part of growing up is learning to cope with death and loss. Cold Sassy Tree also made our list of Six Novels to Help You Understand Men Better.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Beloved is a haunting novel about the terrible choices women must sometimes make about the happiness and safety of their families. “Beloved” is a baby daughter that the fugitive slave, Sethe, kills to save her from being returned to slavery in pre-Civil War Kentucky.
124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.