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Senate House Library

Inspiring Women: Senate House Library staff nominate their favourite reads

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As part of the Inspiring Women campaign, we asked the library staff to nominate one book from the library collections which they loved and which they believe to be essential reading. Here are their recommendations! 

Senate House Library is devoting March to raising awareness of the many books, letters, leaflets and other unique items by, for, owned, and about women held by the library. As part of the Inspiring Women campaign, we asked the library staff to nominate one book from the library collections which they loved and which they believe to be essential reading. Here are their recommendations! 

Catriona Cannon, Senate House Librarian and Programme Director, Library Transformation Programme 

Catriona started at SHL in June 2021. The book she is nominating is The Ann Oakley reader: gender, women and social science; written and edited by Ann Oakley (2005). 

“This book brings together extracts from Oakley's books from the early 1970s to 2004 on sex and gender, housework, motherhood, women's health and social science. I first read this book when it was published in 2005 and it opened a whole new world to me - how the techniques of social science can be used to examine the realities of women's lives. I particularly loved the chapters from her book 'The sociology of housework'.  

“The author set up and led the Social Science Research Unit at the Institute of Education, where she worked for 20 years, so there's a nice link with the University of London. A lot of the themes of this book are reflected in the unique holdings of Senate House Library, which is rich in materials relating to the daily lives of women in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Oakley's style makes it very readable, making it a fun read as well as incredibly informative.” 

Lucy Evans, Head of Collections 

Lucy started working at SHL in February 2023. The book she is nominating is Wifedom: Mrs Orwell’s Invisible Life by Anna Funder (2023). 

“This book tells the story of the fascinating life of George Orwell’s first wife, Eileen Blair. The author weaves conventional biography with imagined scenes drawing on letters written between Eileen and a friend.  

“I have nominated this book because I love to know the hidden stories behind author’s lives. In this case I am now rereading Homage to Catalonia to see the gaps where Eileen should be, Orwell mentions “my wife” 37 times but never her name and omits entirely her work for the Independent Labour party which drew the attention of communist spies.” 

Tansy Barton, Academic Librarian (Manuscript and Print Studies) 

Tansy started working at SHL in 2007. The book she is nominating is How many female type designers do you know? I know many and talked to some! by Yulia Popova (2020). 

“The book showcases the work of women in type design and explores the gender imbalances in the industry. This book celebrates the achievements of women in typography, covering historical contributions and recording the voices and work of contemporary women working in type. Particularly interesting is exploration of the disparity between the number of women on type design courses and their under-representation in the associated industries.  

“The book is also beautifully designed and has numerous specimens of type by women from around the world.  It is one of a growing number of books in SHL's collections on women's roles in the production of books, from the physical processes of making books, through illustration and design to editing and publishing.” 

Julio Cazzasa, Collection Development Coordinator 

Julio started working in the University of London Library (now Senate House Library) in May 2001. The book he is nominating is Alicia Moreau de Justo: biografía by Mirta Henauld, published by Centro Editor de América Latina in 1983. 

“The book describes the life of Alicia Moreau de Justo (1885-1986). She is not very much known here and is a bit forgotten in her country (Argentina). She was a pioneering figure in social and political activism. She was born in London to French parents, she moved to Argentina at a young age, where she would later emerge as a leading advocate for women's rights, socialism, and human rights. 

“Moreau de Justo first was a teacher and then pursued a career in medicine, becoming one of the first female physicians in Argentina when she graduates from the University of Buenos Aires in 1914, but her legacy is most strongly tied to her relentless activism. A lifelong socialist, she was involved with the Socialist Party of Argentina and worked tirelessly for labour rights, education reform, women’s reproductive health and social justice.  

“Another point is her struggle for the women rights to vote drafting a legislative proposal in the 1930’s which would be a precedent for the one approved in 1947.  

“I am nominating this book because it serves as a reminder that in what is now referred to as the Big South, people were (and still are) actively advocating for universal rights. She, among others, stands out as an example of how women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were already championing their rights.” 

Karen Attar, Curator of Rare Books and University Art 

Karen started at SHL in 2001. The book she is nominating is Lettre de Consolation a la Reine d'Angleterre sur la Mort du roy son Mary, by Suzanne de Nervèze (1649). 

“This pamphlet is a condolence letter from one woman to another: a rather shadowy French woman writer, unknown except for her works, approximate dates, and the fact that she served the court, to Queen Henrietta Maria of England upon the execution of her husband, Charles I.  

While the pamphlet is far removed from us in terms of its seventeenth-century typography, the grief and feeling contained therein stretch across the centuries. A sense of women’s powerlessness comes across as the writer describes suffering at the hands of scoundrels and barbarians. That queens are people comes through as Suzanne de Nervèze notes the equality of all, monarchs and subjects, in their dependence on God.” 

Andrea Meyer Ludowisy, Academic Research Librarian 

Andrea started at SHL in 2011. The book she is nominating is Maaza Mengiste, The Shadow King (2020). 

“Mengiste’s novel centres on the resistance of Ethiopian women against the Italian fascist army in the mid-1930s. It shines a light on the women soldiers not usually credited in African, or any country’s history. Set during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, the novel draws on Mengiste’s own family history as her grandfather fought against the Italians.  

“Whereas her debut novel Beneath the Lion’s Gaze had told the story of a family, this book shows how one woman inspires others to take up arms. The book is a gripping read and sees itself as a “stunning call for the world to remember all who we’ve lost to senseless battle” and her meticulous research of historical records, news reports and personal accounts transform her fictional characters into a metaphor for the turmoil of war and revolution. Her work relates to the work of SAS in general, but resonates specifically with the current AHRC Project of Professor Charles Burdett which is entitled Uncovering the Afterlife of the Italian Empire.” 

What book relating to the theme of Celebrating Women would YOU recommend from Senate House Library?