‘Feminism is as necessary now as it was for every woman in this book’
When I reflect upon the day when I chose what I would be studying for my A-levels, I remember making my choices without much consideration for what they might lead to after college. Yet, nearly three years on from that day, I can’t remember a life before my deep passion for history, politics or feminism. So when I stumbled across Dame Jenni Murray’s ‘A History of Britain in 21 Women’ in a Waterstones in Leeds, it seemed like the book version of a soulmate. Murray’s book is a personal selection of women from across British history. The book brings to life queens, politicians, scientists, writers, artists and activists, giving us a comprehensive history of Britain from a new perspective.
Having completed my A-levels and undertaken a degree during the Trump presidency, the Brexit crisis, the longest university industrial strike in history and now Covid-19, I genuinely believed that all my views and beliefs stemmed from this politically charged context which surrounds my transition into adulthood. Yet Murray’s book served to both strengthen these views and beliefs and broaden them greatly. The 21 women dominate these pages with their groundbreaking, progressive achievements and make this book almost impossible to put down. I feel there is more to the strong sense of empowerment this book brings than just the successes of its heroines.
Whilst this book truly celebrates the lives of the women who have and continue to pave the way to equality, it does something else too. It recognizes the support systems behind these women and those who helped them cement their place in history: Children. who joined their mothers in their activism; Parents, who defied societal expectations and supported their daughter’s ambitions as well as any son’s; Siblings, who aided their sister in her accomplishments and provided emotional support behind closed doors; Husbands, who wholeheartedly supported their trailblazing wives and provided the financial assistance to help them achieve where it was needed; Friends, who publicly bolstered and supported the works of these women and provided both personal and professional guidance. The inclusion and acknowledgment of these support systems gives a deeply personal insight into the narratives of these women and their achievements.
In short, this book is not only a celebration of some of the greatest women in British history, it is the embodiment of feminist principles and empowers both sexes to not only achieve great things but support each other in the process. Having thought back to when I made those A-level choices, it struck me that Murray’s book would have given me a far greater clarity of understanding about the subjects that shaped my higher education. It would have made that choice one of proud certainty rather than the ‘I think I might be interested in this’ gamble that it was, making this the perfect book for anyone studying, or looking to study, history and politics.
The original title for this article was going to be ‘The book all women studying history and politics should read’ but upon reflection, I feel this book should be read by all, regardless of sex. It not only shines a bright light upon some incredible women across all fields, but it demonstrates the power of support behind a person, and how that support can make someone’s achievements even greater.