Rare Books for Women’s History Month

Courtesy of Wikiart

Woman Reading in a Garden (1903) by Henri Matisse.

It’s Women’s History Month, which means many antiquarian booksellers have issued catalogues and lists highlighting rare books by and about women. I’m surveying here a handful that caught my attention.

Stuart Bennett Rare Books & Manuscripts issued a printed catalogue of Fifty Books By and About Women of the British Isles…1651-1851, among them Austen, Behn, and Wollstonecraft, but there are also some wonderful lesser-knowns. I was enthralled by item 38, The Female Amazon (1786), an account of a female thief named Miss Fanny Davies. The engraved frontispiece is hilarious, showing the victim accosting Fanny in prison, saying “Where is my Money & Notes you Jade?” Item 42, Miscellaneous Poems upon Several Occasions (1698) by an anonymous W. E. is striking for its poem, “On a Gentleman Who Wish’d himself My Cat.”

Courtesy of Blackwell's Rare Books

Blackwell’s Rare Books presented a list of fifty items for International Women’s Day on March 8, the very first of which was bound to take everyone’s notice: a hand-colored engraving of “A French Midwife who murdered her Husband,” ca. 1687-88. It was also exciting to see a collection of Margaret Drabble’s presentation first editions (pictured at left). Woolf, Pym, Spark all delightfully here as well.  

Pankhurst and Plath are among the women featured in Heywood Hill’s shortlist, but the real surprise is the fact that crime writer and poet Dorothy Sayers wrote a promotional pamphlet on mustard in 1926! 

Whitmore Rare Books prefaces its list with this important note: “The diversity and importance of women’s history can never be contained in a single month … Nonetheless, we were excited to take on the challenging task of compiling a condensed list of material that represents some of the (often lesser celebrated) historical women whose contributions inspired us, pushed us to grow, or offered us new perspective.” My personal favorite among those listed is Anna Katherine Green’s first edition of Miss Hurd: An Enigma (1894). Green is considered the mother of American detective fiction; as the catalogue entry states, “Green helped define a new genre and created space for female writers within it.”

At Raptis Rare Books, the selection of Women’s History Month material showcases queens, first ladies, and heroines; the signed first edition of Amelia Earhart’s The Fun of It (1932), in its original dust jacket, is a highlight.

Also worth noting in this context is that the Ephemera Society’s virtual fair, being held this weekend, includes a virtual conference titled “Women Challenging Expectations” to be held in eight sessions March 18-19. Register here.