Bygone Badass Broads & Books: Emily Roebling, Stewart Gardner, Ida B. Wells, Anne Lister


It’s time for Bygone Badass Broads and Books! If you’re not familiar with the series, every Friday at 1 pm EST, I take to my Twitter and wax poetic about the story of a forgotten badass woman from history and why you should know about her.

Today, I am delighted to be sharing a wrap up of the women I talked about this month as well as some book recommendations to go with them!

Emily Roebling (1943-1903)

Emily Roebling was the chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge and manager of the project for its fourteen years of construction. Read more about her story here.

the evolution of calpurnia tate jacqueline kellyThe Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Release date: May 12 2009
A girl with the same love of science and determination to make her place as Emily Roebling, Calpurnia is a budding naturalist who, with the help of her grandfather, takes on gender prejudice in the turn of the century and the wonder of the natural world.

a higher geometry sharelle byars moranvilleHigher Geometry by Sharelle Byars Moranville
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Release date: May 2 2006
A young mathematician fights the same gender bias in the 1950s that Emily faced as a woman engineer in the 1800s with spunk and panache as she decides what is more important in her life–her budding career as a mathematician, or her relationship with her boyfriend?

the broken lands kate milfordThe Broken Lands by Kate Milford
Publisher: Clarion Books
Release date: September 4 2012
A historical fantasy set around Emily’s masterpiece, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the gritty shine of turn of the century Coney Island. As the Brooklyn Bridge is being constructed, forces of evil begin to conspire to use it as a gateway into our world, leaving card sharp Sam and firecracker prodigy Jin to save Manhattan.

like no other una lamarcheLike No Other by Una LaMarche
Publisher: Razorbill
Release date: July 24 2014
Perhaps the Brooklyniest book of all the books, a love letter to the home of Emily’s famous bridge. When two teens with worlds between them but only a street separating their front doors come together, can their love survive against their wildly different pasts and cultures?

Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1919)

Isabella Stewart Gardner was an ecstatically alive art collector who left a Venetian palace in the center of Boston to share her collection with the people. Read more about her story here.

moxie and the art of rule breaking erin dionneMoxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne
Publisher: Dial Books
Release date: July 11 2013
This is too Gardner Museum-y to resist! Moxie is a girl on a quest through Boston to recover the paintings stolen from the Gardner museum, which her grandfather may or may not have had something to do with….

A Mad Wicked Folly sharon biggs wallerA Mad Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller
Publisher: Viking Children’s Books
Release date: January 23 2014
An outspoken, unconventional Victorian woman–much like our Isabella–helms this novel about art and women’s suffrage, two things which Isabella was passionate about. Plus, lots of artists and genuflection to the pre-Raphelites.

wonderstruck brian selznickWonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release date: September 13 2011
Most of this book takes place inside a museum, and since Isabella’s great passion in her life was her museum, I think this is a book she’d approve of – though it’s hard to think of any place more magical and curiosity-inducing than the Gardner Palace.

wanderlost jen maloneWanderlost by Jen Malone
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: May 31 2016
This sweet, fluffy contemporary romance about a young girl who gets roped into a summer job leading a bus tour of senior citizens across Europe (even though all she wants to do is stay home) is a love letter to traveling, adventure, and stepping outside your comfort zone. Isabella’s great love of Europe would have probably also made her a great lover of this book.

the thief lord cornelia funkeThe Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
Publisher: Turtleback Books
Release date: May 1 2010
Isabella’s favorite city in the world – and the place she modeled her museum after – was Venice, and this was the book that first made me fall in love with Venice. Though this book straddles the fine line between MG and YA, the gang of street kids living in an abandoned movie theater amid the sinking city of Venice brings the city to vivid life in the same way Isabella’s palace does.

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931)

Ida B. Wells was a journalist and activist who campaigned against racial injustice in turn of the century America. Read more about her story here.

the steep and thorny way cat wintersThe Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release date: March 8 2016
A biracial girl solves her father’s murder in turn of the century Oregon, staring racism and lynchings and the threat of the KKK fearlessly in the face just like Ida did. Bonus points for being a Hamlet retelling.

no cover yetDread Nation by Justina Ireland
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release date: 2018
So technically this book is not out yet and I have not read it, but since Justina pitched her heroine as Ida B. Wells-esque, I had to include it!


brown girl dreaming jacquline woodsonBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Release date: August 28 2014
A gorgeous memoir in verse that I think Ida would recommend to young women of color.


lies we tell ourselves robin talleyLies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release date: September 30 2014
This book is chock full of journalism and intersectionality, two things that drove Ida’s life and work. As integration comes to Virginia, two young women–one black and one white–come to grips with their own identity, and their love for each other, as the first six black students enter the school.

see no color shannon gibneySee No Color by Shannon Gibney
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Release date: November 1 2015
A biracial girl evaluating her place in the world, with a passion for baseball that would have matched Ida’s for journalism and justice.


Anne Lister (1791-1840)

Anne Lister was a business owner, world traveler, and “the first modern lesbian” who never hid her sexuality in Victorian England. Read more about her story here.

wildthorn jane eaglandWildthorn by Jane Eagland
Publisher: Harcourt Brace and Company
Release date: September 6 2010
Louisa Cosgrove is locked in an insane asylum…and not just because she and her cousin Grace had a bit of a hook up. I mean, Victorian lesbians! Do I need to say anything more? (No, says Anne Lister, running to her local library for this).

silhouette of a sparrow molly beth griffinSilhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin
Publisher: Milkweed Editions
Release date: September 11 2012
A really sweet, quiet queer love story set in the 1920s in a seaside town. I loved this book because it’s such a different look at both the roaring 20s and historical lesbians. Though Anne’s life was never quiet and rarely sweet, I think she would have shipped it.

of fire and stars audrey coulthurstOf Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Release date: November 22 2016
Methinks Anne would approve of this high fantasy romance between a princess and a rogueish horse trainer, coupled with revolution, politics, and court intrigue. Oh, and also a little bit of magic.

if you could be mine sara farizanIf You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Release date: August 20 2013
Anne faced impossible odds for finding love as a lesbian in Victorian England, a situation sort of similar to this story of two girls falling in love in modern Iran. A great non-western queer narrative.

the disreputable history of frankie landau banks e lockhartThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by e. lockhart
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release date: March 6 2008
A feminist boarding school book since right up Anne’s street. Frankie is determined to take down sexism at her exclusive private school, even if it means confronting ex boyfriends and prank wars. Okay, maybe especially if it means those things.

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About Author

Mackenzi Lee

Mackenzi Lee is a reader, writer, bookseller, unapologetic fangirl, and fast talker. She holds an MFA from Simmons College is the author of THIS MONSTROUS THING, a steampunk reaimgining of Frankenstein, and the forthcoming THE GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE, both from HarperCollins. She loves Diet Coke, sweater weather, and Star Wars. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. She currently calls Boston home.

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