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10 Inspirational Women who Broke the Rules

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Helen Keller in The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

Image credit: Ratna Sagar P. Limited

One of the most inspirational autobiographies ever written, The story of My Life represents a timeless tribute to human courage and will power. Having lost her vision and hearing in infancy, Miss Keller describes in vivid details her struggle to overcome her disabilities. The story is enhanced by Helen's letters to her friends and relatives as well as third party accounts. The author redefines perception of the physical world in an effortlessly poetic way remaining "serene and happy in the shadow cast by deprivation.”

Anne Frank in The Diary of a Young Girl

Image credit: Bantam Publisher

Written during the World War II by a Jewish girl who spends her last years in hiding from Nazi persecution, this remarkable memoir blends together the atrocious details associated with war as well as the emotional turmoil of adolescence. For Anne, her diary represents an outlet in which she could commit her innermost thoughts - the guardian of her secrets. Discovered by accident, the diary was not intended for general public, which added authenticity and uniqueness to the story. This compelling and deeply-moving account is a reminder of the high price mankind was forced to pay for its freedom.

Esther Summerson in Bleak House by Charles Dickens

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In true Dickensian style, a complex plot incorporates murder, comedy, mystery and romance challenging reader’s perception of beauty, nobility and power. Having survived an orphan-like childhood and serious illness, Esther Summerson is yet to experience her first love, devotion and kindness in a seemingly uncaring world. An investigation, led by inspector Bucket, the first detective to appear in fiction, uncovers the truth about Esther’s mother and her tragic life. A tale of redemption creates a sense of triumph of a young woman over an oppressive social system.

Anne Shirley in Anne’s House of Dreams by Lucy Maud Montgomery

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The fifth novel in “Anne of Green Gables” series follows the story about a red-haired orphan who is about to marry her childhood sweetheart Gilbert Blythe. The happy couple start their new life together on the misty shores of Four Winds Harbour where Anne embarks on emotional rollercoaster experiencing the joy of motherhood and the pain of losing a child. Montgomery masterfully depicts happiness and great tragedy in the early years of marriage enriching the novel with unique characters: Captain Jim with his sad stories of the sea and tragically beautiful Leslie Moore.

Harriet Jacobs in Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Image credit: Simon and Schuster

Published in 1861, the autobiography portrays the turbulent life of an enslaved black girl and her fight for survival. Having been subjected to sexual exploitation by her master, Harriet Jacobs puts a stop to cruelty and escapes North Carolina.The author describes with brutal honesty the horrid incidents involving callous attitude of white men toward slaves, where instinct-driven behaviour overrides any sense of humanity. Despite the painful memories and long 7 years spent hiding in a cramped attic, Harriet’s manages to build life for herself as a free woman.

Emma Lou Brown in The Blacker the Berry… by Wallace Thurman

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Best known for its controversial nature, this quintessential work of the Harlem Renaissance openly criticises the prejudice within the African American community. Set in Idaho, the novel follows the life of Emma Lou Brown, who faces hostility and humiliation from her fairer-skinned friends. The bigotry takes its toll on her love life and relationships crushing her dreams and illusions. Thurman was the first writer to address the issues related to skin color by presenting colorism as shameful and self-defeatist in the hope of breaking down barriers and stereotypes.

Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly in The Remarkable Story of the Friendship Between a First Lady and a Former Slave by Jennifer Fleischner

Image credit: Broadway Books Publisher

An exceptional double biography tells a story of an unlikely friendship between a privileged white woman and her black dressmaker in 19th century America. Having bought her own freedom, a former slave Elizabeth Keckly is determined to make a life for herself in New York. Elizabeth’s hard work and talent earn her the reputation of being a “high society” seamstress bringing her to the White House. Over the years, The First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln seeks support and advice from Lizzy, who becomes her confidante and the only true friend during dark times. The author offers an intimate glimpse into the ambiguous nature of the Civil War as well as the mesmerising unity of races after the abolition.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

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Set in the 1830s England, this gothic romance novel has delighted generations of readers with its portrayal of a woman’s quest for independence. Upon the graduation from a strict charity school for orphans, Jane secures the position of a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she encounters its enigmatic and misogynistic master with a dark past. An advocate for gender equality, Jane Eyre tears apart all misconceptions that Mr Rochester so proudly manifest. Jane’s refreshing honesty, integrity and sharp mind bewitch Edward as he accepts Jane as an emotional and intellectual equal. But will the secret hidden in the depths of Thornfield Estate threaten their chance for happiness?

Amelia Earhart in The Sound of Wings: The Life of Amelia Earhart by Mary S. Lovell

Image credit: Abacus Publisher

The mysterious disappearance of Amelia Earhart during her attempted flight around the world in 1937 shook the nation sparking countless rumours and conspiracy theories. The Sound of Wings tells the story of a famous dare-devil pilot through the collection of documents, letters and interviews with family and fellow aviators. In this well-researched account of Earhart’s life, Mary S. Lovell explores the drama behind the American icon of perseverance and determination, emphasising Amelia's relationship with her husband, a vivacious publicist, who both promoted and exploited her dreams.

Alice Paul in A Woman's Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot by Mary Walton

Image credit: Sewall-Belmont House and Museum

At the turn of the 20th century the Progressive movement gained the momentum challenging society’s views on traditional woman’s role. The suffragettes’ battle for equal rights inspired thousands of reform activists in the Western world. And Alice Paul was no exception! This powerful biography of a woman on her crusade for a federal equal rights amendment is studded with protests, brutality, picketing the White House, imprisonment and hunger strikes. This truly inspirational story embodies the dedication humility and sacrifice of American suffragettes in their pursuit of justice.

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