On August 26, 1920, the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution went into effect, giving women the right to vote (though some would argue that it actually was taken by women voters). First introduced to Congress in 1878, it took nearly a half century for the women's suffrage movement to get the sucker down on paper.
In anticipation of tomorrow's Women's Equality Day—legislated by Congress in 1971 to commemorate the certification of the nineteenth amendment—we're celebrating some of history's feistiest and most influential female writers.
1. Erica Jong
Our favorite Jong quote: "You see a lot of smart guys with dumb women, but you hardly ever see a smart woman with a dumb guy."
Required reading: Fear of Flying
Jong's iconic novel Fear of Flying firmly established her as one of her generation's foremost voices on sex and feminism.
Our favorite Steinem quote: "Now, we are becoming the men we wanted to marry."
Required reading: Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions
Steinem's Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, a collection of her most provocative essays, showcases her trademark wit and humor. ("If Men Could Menstruate" and her famed underground exposé "I Was a Playboy Bunny" are particular standouts.)
Our favorite de Beauvoir quote: "To be free is not to have the power to do anything you like; it is to be able to surpass the given toward an open future."
Required reading: The Ethics of Ambiguity
Best known for her landmark work, The Second Sex, de Beauvoir's The Ethics of Ambiguity is not to be overlooked. Here, she grapples with male contemporaries Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty as she explores the idea of existence and prescribes a guide to personal freedom.
Our favorite Brown quote: No contest. "Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere."
Required reading: Sex and the Single Girl
Sex and the Single Girl, the spirited manifesto by Cosmopolitan's long-reigning editor in chief, puts women—and what they want—first.
5. Alice Walker
Our favorite Walker quote: "The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any."
Required reading: In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens
An early collection of her nonfiction work, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens is a moving manifesto of Walker as a young artist.
Our favorite McCarthy quote: "I'm afraid I'm not sufficiently inhibited about the things that other women are inhibited about for me."
Required reading: The Group
Before there was Sex and the City, there was Mary McCarthy's The Group. This frank and controversial novel centers on eight women from Vassar who share intensely real experiences of womanhood, from child rearing to sexual awakenings.
Our favorite Shulman quote: "We reject the notion that the work that brings in money is more valuable. The ability to earn more money is a privilege which must not be compounded by enabling the larger earner to buy out of his/her duties and put the burden either on the partner who earns less or on another person hired from outside."
Required reading: A Marriage Agreement and Other Essays
Shulman's essay collection A Marriage Agreement and Other Essays spans four decades of feminism, illustrating how each generation, in Shulman's words, "can do no more than add its bit to the endless river of consciousness and change."
8. Fay Weldon
Our favorite Weldon quote: "Nothing happens, and nothing happens, and then everything happens."
Required reading: Female Friends
A smart novel representing the struggles of three women making their way through a world run by men, Female Friends speaks to just how far we've come.
9. Dalma Heyn
Our favorite Heyn quote: "If she can annihilate her self altogether and still manage to seem contented, then she has achieved the additionally heroic feat of holding on to her femininity—that elusive quality women are always in danger of losing whenever their selves threaten to burst through all the constraints."
Required reading: The Erotic Silence of the American Wife
Wonderfully shocking, The Erotic Silence of the American Wife is a groundbreaking book in the quest to better understand marriage—and its unspoken effects on women's and men's relationships.
10. Pearl S. Buck
Our favorite Buck quote: "Let woman out of the home, let man into it, should be the aim of education. The home needs man, and the world outside needs woman."
Required reading: Imperial Woman
Imperial Woman tells the full story of Tzu Hsi, a legendary female leader of the Forbidden City who gains enormous power even under harsh gender expectations.
Our favorite Levine quote: "The best thing a man can do for his health is to be married to a woman. One of the best things a woman can do for her health is to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends."
Required reading: You Gotta Have Girlfriends
You Gotta Have Girlfriends is Levine's exploration and exaltation of the friendships we form with the women in our lives and the benefit of those friendships to our emotional and physical health.
12. Ruth Gruber
Our favorite Gruber quote: "You should have dreams, you should have visions. Never let any obstacle stop you."
Required reading: Ahead of Time
Gruber's memoir Ahead of Time recounts her experiences as a young journalist at the start of what became a trailblazing and remarkable career in a completely male-dominated profession.
13. Erma Bombeck
Our favorite Bombeck quote: Where to start? There are so many to choose from. But it's hard to beat this one: "A friend never defends a husband who gets his wife an electric skillet for her birthday."
Required reading: Motherhood
Motherhood is Bombeck's hilarious and caring exploration of the world's most demanding job and stands as a testament to the strength of mothers everywhere.