Main Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World

Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World

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Aphra Behn, first female professional writer. Sojourner Truth, activist and abolitionist. Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer. Marie Curie, first woman to win the Nobel Prize. Joan Jett, godmother of punk. The 100 revolutionary women highlighted in this gorgeously illustrated book were bad in the best sense of the word: they challenged the status quo and changed the rules for all who followed. From pirates to artists, warriors, daredevils, scientists, activists, and spies, the accomplishments of these incredible women vary as much as the eras and places in which they effected change. Featuring bold watercolor portraits and illuminating essays by Ann Shen, Bad Girls Throughout History is a distinctive, worthy tribute.
Chronicle Books
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[image: For girls of all ages who dare to be bad, and for the people who stand behind us when we are . . . especially my mom Alice and my husband Ryan.]

[image: bibliography]


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Copyright © 2016 by Ann Shen.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Shen, Ann, author. 
Title: Bad girls throughout history / Ann Shen.
Description: San Francisco : Chronicle Books, 2016. | Includes bibliographical references.
Identifiers: LCCN 2015048600 | ISBN 9781452153933 (hardback) 
ISBN 9781452157023 (epub, mobi) 
Subjects: LCSH: Women—History. | Women—Biography. | BISAC: ART / Popular Culture. 
Classification: LCC HQ1123 .S525 2016 | DDC 920.72—dc23 LC record available at

Designed by Jennifer Tolo Pierce

Chronicle Books LLC
680 Second Street
San Francisco, California 94107

[image: Lilith]

It all began with Lilith, the lesser-known first wife of Adam who was kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Adam insisted she lie beneath him, but she wanted to lie next to him and be equal. Because she refused to be subservient to Adam, Lilith left the Garden of Eden and became associated with the archangel Samael. We know of Lilith because she is represented as a demon in many religious mysticism texts; she is never mentioned in the Bible. It doesn’t get much more badass than getting rejected from the Bible, does it?

[image: Kicked out of paradise for demanding equality]

[image: Tomyris]

Tomyris (sixth century B.C.E.) was a widowed queen who ruled over a nomadic Eastern Iranian tribe called the Massagetae. They were a warrior tribe notable for their battle skills and cannibalistic tendencies (they had an honored ritual of sacrificing their elderly and eating them in a stew). The tribe occupied what became modern-day Iran, and in 529 B.C.E. they were the next targets in Cyrus the Great’s Persian empire expansion. At first, Cyrus proposed to Tomyris in a thinly veiled attempt to seize her land. She rejected him, and he declared war. Cyrus set up a trap by sending his weakest soldiers to lay out a fancy banquet, luring the Massagetae warriors into drinking themselves into a stupor. Led by Tomyris’s son Spargapises, the Massagetae troops took the bait—hook, line, and sinker—and were slaughtered in their wine-fueled haze by Cyrus’s soldiers. Spargapises managed to avoid being killed, but Tomyris was pissed. She sent Cyrus a warning message to release her son and leave their lands, which Cyrus ignored. After he was captured, Spargapises killed himself, which further fueled Tomyris’s rage. She retaliated in a fiery rampage that resulted in Cyrus’s decapitation and crucifixion. Legend says that she stuffed his head into a wine bag full of human blood and laughed, “I warned you that I would quench your thirst for blood, and so I shall.”

[image: Fearless warrior queen]

[image: Cleopatra]

The last pharaoh of ancient Egypt, Cleopatra VII (69-30 B.C.E.) was crowned at eighteen and became a ruler legendary for her intellect and beauty. Characterized as a cunning seductress who secured lovers (including Julius Caesar and Mark Antony) to ensure her political power, Cleopatra quickly overthrew all other claimants to the throne in a time when it was customary for siblings to marry and co-rule. It was rumored that the twenty-two-year-old Cleopatra had herself wrapped in a rug and smuggled into Caesar’s bedroom after he was appointed dictator of Rome, to win his allegiance for the Egyptian civil war. It worked: the fifty-two-year-old Roman ruler fell for her and she was appointed sole ruler of Egypt after he defeated the pharaoh. When Antony summoned her after Caesar’s assassination, she floated down the river to him in a gilded ship filled with flowers and servants, presenting herself in the likeness of the goddess Venus. Legend has it he was captivated as soon as he saw her. Now there’s a woman who knew the importance of branding.

Cleopatra held Egypt together in a time of political turmoil. She was the last ruler during Egypt’s defiance of the Roman Empire’s expansion, she spoke Egyptian in a time when all other rulers spoke only Greek, and she successfully claimed she was the reincarnation of the goddess Isis. Her life ended as dramatically as she lived it, in a double suicide with Mark Antony—he by his own sword, upon hearing a false rumor of her death; she by inviting a poisonous asp bite while in captivity after the Roman Octavius successfully defeated Egypt.

[image: Queen of the nile]

[image: Boudica]

Boudica was a British queen of the Iceni tribe during the golden age of the Roman Empire in 60 C.E. After the death of her husband, King Prasutagus, the alliance between the Roman Empire and the British island tribe fell apart and the Romans moved in, pillaging the island. Boudica was flogged and her two daughters were raped; this drove her to a bloody rampage for revenge. She rallied more than two hundred thousand from the British tribes to battle the Roman forces. Brutal tactics—decapitating and mounting enemies’ heads onto their chariots—became a hallmark of her army. Boudica’s forces left an estimated eighty thousand dead in its wake and burned three major cities to the ground—including what is now London. After Rome got over its disbelief that a woman could lead such a rebellion, their soldiers took down her mob, yet Boudica disappeared, never to be heard from again.

[image: Burned it to the ground]

[image: Empress Wu Zetian]

Empress Wu Zetian (624–705) rose to become the first and only female Emperor of China after joining the palace at the age of fourteen as a junior concubine to Tang emperor Taizong. Known for her ruthless political ambition, Zetian was said to have begun her ascent by murdering her infant daughter and charging the crime to the existing empress—who was then executed by dismemberment and drowned in a vat of wine (no, Zetian was not messing around). She eradicated most of the opposing old aristocratic guard and at least fifteen claimants to the throne by forcing them to fall on their own swords in front of her as punishment for treason.

First acting as the empress dowager when her own son ascended to the throne, Zetian threw out the title (and her son) and declared herself the sole Empress of China, founding her own dynasty (Zhou) at the age of sixty-five. Despite literally dismembering her challengers, Zetian gained the loyalty of the men she recruited by expanding the imperial service test to include men of diverse backgrounds, so they were promoted for their talents instead of by birthright. Her power grab was met without resistance, and during her short rule of fifteen years China expanded both globally and socially in a positive manner. Since the level of her power and ambition was unseen in women of the time, it’s possible that the claims of her ruthlessness are greatly exaggerated—then again, who isn’t afraid of a powerful woman who knows what she wants?

[image: The one and only Empress of China]

[image: Lady Godiva]

Lady Godiva (1040–1067) was an eleventh-century English noblewoman who ponied up for her people, literally. Born into a wealthy family, she was one of the few female landowners of her time. Godiva married the Earl of Mercia, Leofric, who was not a very nice lord over the tenants of their land. When Leofric levied an additional tax on the people of Coventry just to pay for the king’s guard, Godiva pleaded with him to lift the debt. He challenged her that if she rode through the town naked, he would cancel the tax. So she mounted a white horse and rode through the town with only her long golden hair as a cover, to save the people of Coventry. Legend has it Leofric then lifted all the taxes. Once again, a woman’s courage saves the day.

[image: Rode horseback covered only in her hair]

[image: Khutulun]

Great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan, Khutulun (1260–1306) became a legend among the nomadic Mongol people as an undefeated wrestler of suitors. Khutulun was also known for her impressive athleticism in horsemanship, archery, and wrestling. At the time, women in Mongolian culture were trained to participate in battles on the field; archery on horseback was their combat style of choice. As a princess, Khutulun challenged every suitor to a bet of one hundred horses on a wrestling match, promising to marry the man who could defeat her. No man ever did, and it’s rumored that she collected a coterie of ten thousand horses along the way. Because of her athletic talent and political savvy, her tribe believed that she was blessed by the heavens, so she rode into battle alongside her father, Khaidu, and they never lost. She finally married a follower of her father’s, a man of her choosing, and when Khaidu passed on, he named her as his successor over her fourteen older brothers.

[image: The Wrestler Princess]

[image: Jeanne de Belleville]

Pirates are made in different ways, but the path to piracy of Jeanne de Belleville (1300–1356) was a classic tale of revenge-driven fury. Born a noblewoman and coming into power at the dawn of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, Jeanne and her wealthy Breton husband, Olivier de Clisson IV, had five children at their home in western France. When the war came, Clisson was accused of supporting the English (not an unfounded accusation, since he easily surrendered the town of Nantes), and King Philip VI of France had him beheaded in public, shaming the family. Enraged, Jeanne turned on the French monarchy. She took her two sons, sold all of her land, and bought three warships that she painted black and outfitted with red sails, forming her Black Fleet. She built up a loyal force; with them, she attacked the French military by land and then by sea in the English Channel. Jeanne was known for personally decapitating any French nobility they captured at sea. The legend goes that for thirteen years she sailed the seas on the wind of revenge, her red sails bringing fear to the hearts of any Frenchman.

[image: The Lioness of Brittany]

[image: Joan of Arc]

Born during the middle of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, Joan of Arc (1412–1431) was an illiterate peasant girl from a small French village. England was winning the war at the time, occupying most of France through an alliance with Burgundy. At thirteen, Joan experienced visions of saints in her father’s garden. The saints told her to help the French drive out the English and instate the rightful French heir, Charles VII, to the throne in the coronation town of Reims, which was currently under English siege. Three years passed before Joan finally persuaded a relative to take her to the nearest military commander, Robert de Baudricourt, to petition for a visit to the royal French court. It took several months of persistence and convincing two soldiers of her visions—she predicted a military reversal in an area far from where they were, days before messengers delivered a report of the action—before Baudricourt took her to Charles VII.

By then, the French military was in such poor shape that Charles VII was willing to give a sixteen-year-old girl the reins to ride with the military, taking her predictions as direct messages from God. With her guidance, the commanders finally turned the tide when they won back the city of Orléans. She joined the French military, dressed in men’s clothes to prevent harassment (men’s dress at the time had twenty fastenings that attached everything from top to boots), and they steadily took back their country, including Reims, where Charles VII was finally crowned. Joan and her family were ennobled as a reward for her courage. However, a year later Joan was captured by the English during battle and tried for heresy and cross-dressing. She was convicted by a biased jury and burned at the stake at the age of nineteen. The Hundred Years’ War continued for twenty- two years after her death, but the French prevailed after the turning point her military tactics created. Posthumously, Joan was retried and found innocent after the war ended. She became a heroic symbol of France and was canonized in 1920.

[image: Called by God to Save France]

[image: Grace O’Malley]

A chieftain of the Irish O’Malley clan, Grace O’Malley (ca. 1530–ca. 1603) inherited the family piracy business and a fortune from her parents and her first husband. Scores of Irishmen joined her ranks to evade the growing English inroads into Irish territory. Her strengths as a sea captain were speed and agility as well as a talent for disappearing into the mist, thanks to her intimate knowledge of the Irish coast. Legend has it that she married her second husband, “Iron Richard” Burke, only to expand her property. He lived in Rockfleet Castle, in an area full of sheltered harbors—perfect for pirates. At the time, marriages could be easily annulled before the first anniversary, so one day when he returned to the castle from a trip, he found all the gates locked and O’Malley calling down to him, “Richard Burke, I dismiss you.” She kept the castle.

Another O’Malley legend claims that she attempted to visit the eighth Baron Howth at his home, Howth Castle, but was turned away because the family was at dinner. Offended, O’Malley retaliated by abducting the heir. Lord Howth negotiated his return by offering O’Malley a permanent extra setting at the table just for her; this is still honored today. O’Malley was so respected and feared in the British Isles that she was even granted a request to visit Queen Elizabeth I to petition for the release of her two sons and half-brother from the clutches of an English lord. After they were freed, the lord was removed from his post. That’s some serious pirate clout.

[image: The Pirate Queen]

[image: Queen Elizabeth I]

Crowned queen of England at the age of twenty-five, Elizabeth I (1533–1603) had one of the longest reigns in history. She never married, earning the nickname the Virgin Queen, and she brought great unity and prosperity to an England and Ireland divided after the bloody reign of her father, Henry VIII. Queen Elizabeth I was the second modern female monarch of England, after her sister, Bloody Mary, who ruled for a brief and turbulent five years.

Famously intelligent, cunning, and hot-tempered, Elizabeth quickly established herself as a courageous queen. She decided to never marry, on the grounds that God had given her alone the divine right to rule; thus she never divided her power. She solidified her father’s establishment of England as a Protestant country and became public enemy number one to the Pope and the Catholic Church. With this new, more progressive perspective on religion, Elizabeth was able to rule over the dawn of the English Renaissance and bring about a cultural revival of arts and literature that nurtured writers such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe.

Elizabeth made England the leading world power when she defeated the Spanish Armada and ousted the French from Scotland. England became a leader of world trade through her aggressive tactics in commissioning adventurers to establish new trade routes. This included engaging Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake, whose explorations led to England’s establishing the American colonies—thus influencing the future of an entire continent. Her era is romanticized as the golden age of England—and she did all of it solo.

[image: Reigned for forty-five years and gave her name to an era]

[image: Artemisia Gentileschi]

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–ca. 1656) was an Italian Baroque painter who made a name for herself by portraying strong mythical females in positions of power—a rare representation for women in the seventeenth century. She was the daughter of an established artist who trained her in the style of post-Renaissance art, dominantly influenced by Caravaggio. At seventeen she debuted her first painting, Susanna and the Elders, depicting the biblical story of a woman tormented by two older men after she rejects their advances, though it was suggested that her father had helped her because of the level of skill the piece demonstrated. Rejected by art academies, Gentileschi was privately tutored by her father’s friend Agostino Tassi, who ended up taking advantage of her. Her father pressed rape charges against Tassi, and a highly publicized seven- month trial followed. This traumatic event is said to have dramatically affected the subjects of Gentileschi’s work. She became known for her fearless and confident painting style, along with portraying courageous, rebellious, and powerful females as protagonists in her paintings. For example, in multiple paintings she depicted the story of Judith violently murdering the Assyrian general Holofernes and saving the Jewish people, and she often used herself as a reference for the portrayal of her heroines. Gentileschi experienced great success with her work in her lifetime and became the first woman accepted into Florence’s Academy of Design (Accademia delle Arti del Disegno).

[image: First Successful professional female Painter]

[image: Aphra Behn]

Aphra Behn (1640–1689) was a British writer of mysterious origin who became the first professional female playwright, poet, and author. Little is known about her background before her 1664 marriage to Johan Behn, who either died or separated from her soon after. She rose to a prominent enough position in the courts to be recruited as a spy for King Charles II in Antwerp during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Her assignment was to get close to a suspected spy in the English service and turn him into a double agent with her wiles. Charles II never paid her for her services or travel expenses abroad, so she did what all freelancers worth their salt do: she found other work. She became a playwright for a few theater companies and produced several popular and profitable plays—a total of over nineteen in her lifetime. Behn also wrote prose that would become the model for the English novel. Her most famous work, Oroonoko, published in 1688, broke cultural barriers by telling the love story of an enslaved African prince and a general’s daughter. Additionally, Behn continued to write poetry that included social commentary on her political beliefs and touched on women’s sexuality—both audacious topics for a writer, much less a female writer, to cover in her era. Behn’s literary achievements created a seat for women at the writers’ table, and she’s famously remembered in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own for doing so: “All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn . . . for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.”

[image: First professional female writer]

[image: Catherine the Great]

Catherine the Great (1729–1796) became the longest-ruling empress of Russia through a series of lucky coincidences, but she grew into a legendary ruler through her own actions. Born a German princess, Catherine was recruited by the reigning Russian Empress Elizabeth to be a wife for her nephew and heir- apparent, Peter III. The marriage was an unhappy one, and when it was Peter’s turn to rule, he was so cruel and unpopular that Catherine had no trouble leading a bloodless coup that instated her as the sole ruler of Russia. (Well, a little blood was shed after Peter was murdered by one of her lover’s brothers, but it’s unknown whether she had any role in that.)

A confident and charming ruler, Catherine was credited with modernizing her country by ushering in the Russian Enlightenment. She expanded Russia’s borders with aggressive military force. Additionally, she reeled back the Orthodox Church’s power in the state and passed an act that allowed religious freedom. Catherine was a strong supporter of the arts and education, and she established the first state-funded schools for girls. The empress never remarried, and she was as famous for her many lovers as she was for her power, with at least twenty- two documented affairs. Never one to hold a grudge, she often rewarded her men with power and jewels before sending them off to bring her the next one; she even made one of them king of Poland.

[image: Queen B of Russia]

[image: Abigail Adams]

The second First Lady of the United States, Abigail Adams (1744–1818) was a true equal to her husband, John Adams. Denied a formal education because of her sickly childhood, Adams was educated by her mother and became well-versed in poetry, politics, and philosophy—unusual for a woman at the time. She was the first First Lady to reside in the President’s House in Washington, D.C. (before the White House was built), and there she held down the fort, raising six children and sheltering wounded soldiers from the Revolutionary War. Legend has it that she melted down her silverware to make bullets for the troops. John and Abigail were true loves and partners; she read all of his speeches and formal documents before he delivered them. Since he often traveled for work, they wrote more than a thousand letters to each other during the lifetime of their relationship. All of these letters demonstrated the ideals that Abigail impressed upon John—she was a devout feminist before the word even existed, strongly urging John to always “remember the ladies” in the development of the new country. Additionally, she was strongly against slavery, believing it would threaten the very core of the democracy that was being established. She was so politically active that people often referred to her as “Mrs. President.”

[image: Mrs. President]

[image: Marie Antoinette]

Born an Austrian princess in a turbulent time, Marie Antoinette (1755–1792) was married to Louis XVI of France at the age of fourteen to end hostilities between Austria and France. When she first arrived in France, she was received like a teen idol. Her peaches-and-cream complexion and innovative fashion sense—including wearing a miniature replica of a battleship in her hair at a palace party—earned her the favor of the style-loving French. Politically, Marie Antoinette held little influence over her husband and mainly served as a pawn for her mother, the empress of Austria. So instead she worked her influence to modernize the French court, which garnered great criticism from court elders. For example, when she was painted in a portrait wearing a casual muslin dress, this was viewed as improper for a queen; she also hired a female portrait painter, which was unheard of at the time.

As the French Revolution gained force, Marie Antoinette was scapegoated as “Madame Deficit,” as her extravagant displays of style, for which she was so loved by some, became the personification of aristocratic excess. While we all know her miserable fate, she must be exonerated from ever saying “Let them eat cake”—that statement first appeared in a text by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, describing a Spanish princess long before Marie Antoinette was even born. It should be noted, she was ever the gentlewoman. Her actual last words were “Pardon me sir, I meant not to do it,” after she accidentally stepped on the foot of her executioner.

[image: The fallen teen idol queen]

[image: Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun]

Best known for being Marie Antoinette’s portrait artist, Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1755–1842) was a Parisian painter who left a legacy of over 660 portraits and 200 landscape paintings. She started painting professionally as a teen, but her studio was seized because she was practicing without being a member of any of the académies; at the time, the académies accepted very few women, and her work didn’t fall within their guidelines. Vigée-Lebrun then married a fellow painter and art dealer who provided many valuable contacts for her. In 1781, she caused a public scandal when she painted a self-portrait that showed her teeth in an open-mouthed smile, which was strictly taboo at the time.

As her career grew and she painted more nobility, Vigée-Lebrun was invited to Versailles to paint Marie Antoinette. The queen was so pleased with the artist’s style that she commissioned over thirty portraits. Over the next six years, Vigée-Lebrun helped reinvent the image of Marie Antoinette as a loving maternal figure. With the queen’s help, in 1783 Vigée-Lebrun was finally accepted into the prestigious Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. Her relationship with the queen became problematic after the French Revolution overthrew the monarchy and aristocracy, however, and Vigée-Lebrun fled to Russia with her daughter. There she continued her career of painting aristocrats, including commissions from Catherine the Great, and became a member of the Academy of Fine Arts of Saint Petersburg before finally returning to France, where she continued to paint prominent figures. Many of her paintings are on display at the Louvre, London’s National Gallery, and major museums around the globe. Vigée-Lebrun was able to achieve great popularity and enjoy success with her work in her lifetime, which was rare for any artist at that time, let alone a female artist.

[image: Portrait painter to the aristocratic stars]

[image: Ching Shih]

From prostitute to pirate captain, Ching Shih (1775–1844) lived an extraordinary life that far surpassed expectations for a woman of her time and place. Abducted by pirates from a Canton brothel, Shih married their notorious captain, Cheng I, and oversaw his crew, the Red Flag Fleet, beside him. When he died in a typhoon a few years later, Ching Shih maintained her leadership position and married Cheng I’s right-hand man, Cheung Po Tsai, to cement her authority. Shih commanded over seventy thousand pirates, including many additional small fleets that had joined up with her own. The Red Flag Fleet controlled the Southern China seas and made their profits from merchants paying for safe passage through the lucrative trade route.

Shih ran a tight ship, as she nailed a strict code of conduct to every boat in the fleet. The laws required her approval for all raids, fair distribution of loot, and a no-tolerance policy on rape or even consensual sex between pirates and female captors unless the pirate chose to marry the female prisoner and be faithful to her. Violators of her edicts could be punished by being clapped in irons, flogged, quartered, or beheaded. If anyone was caught trying to desert the fleet, their ears were cut off and passed around to shame them. These surprisingly civil laws kept her fleet in line, and they became the “Terror of South China.” When the Chinese navy attempted to take down the Red Flag Fleet in 1809, Shih sailed straight into their army and swiftly defeated the ships. Their loss was so bad that the leader of the expedition committed suicide when captured. Shih offered the survivors a choice: join her ranks, or be nailed to the boards of the ship by their feet and flogged to death. After nine years of her terror, the Qing emperor decided to offer her an amnesty deal, which she negotiated to allow her tens of thousands of pirates to return to life on land with a tidy sum and without prosecution. At thirty-five, Ching Shih achieved a rare accomplishment in the pirate world: she retired from the life to spend the rest of her days on land running a gambling house and brothel.

[image: Most successful pirate captain of them all]

[image: Jane Austen]

English writer Jane Austen (1775–1817) may have invented the modern romantic comedy. The author of six wildly popular novels, and the cult idol of a devout following who call themselves either “Janeites” or “Austenites,” Austen lived a quiet life and wrote prolifically in a genre that bridged the romantic movement of her time with a fresh perspective of realism. Born into a close-knit upper-class family that had lost most of its wealth, Jane experienced firsthand the social etiquette and expectations placed upon women of the gentry. Though her creative life was steeped in romance, Austen experienced only a short-lived affair with a barrister-to-be who was equally poor and expected to marry up. So she turned to her writing.

With the help of her brother Henry, Jane’s first novel Sense and Sensibility was published when Jane was thirty-six. She chose to publish it anonymously, with the byline “By a Lady.” In fact, all her work was published as “By a Lady” during her lifetime. Royalty and literary scholars alike became big fans of her work, and she sold enough books near the end of her life to support herself, her mother, and her sister. After a brief hiatus, Austen’s books have continuously been in print since 1833. In 1869, her nephew’s publication of A Memoir of Jane Austen finally revealed her as the author of her novels.

Her work remains deeply influential on popular culture, as much as it was when it was first published, and has spawned continuous adaptations, rewrites, and sequels, including the famous modern-day versions of Pride and Prejudice (Bridget Jones’s Diary) and Emma (Clueless). Austen’s stories retain a cult status equal to Shakespeare’s in timelessness and reinvention.

[image: “pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked.”]

[image: Sojourner Truth]

Activist Sojourner Truth (ca. 1797–1883) was born Isabella Baumfree into a family of slaves in New York. She escaped to freedom with her infant daughter a year before the state abolished slavery in 1827, and she became the first African-American woman to win a case against a white man when she sued her former master for selling her five-year-old son. She became a Methodist and adopted the name “Sojourner Truth,” seeing it as a mission statement for her life. The illiterate former slave toured the country, speaking passionately for the political equality of women and the abolition of slavery, including at the 1850 first National Women’s Rights Convention and in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention, where she delivered her famous “Ain’t I a woman?” speech. Her views were revolutionary even for her time, and she became a national figure for civil rights before the Civil War even began. Truth used her influence to help recruit black troops for the Union Army and to work steadily for desegregation immediately after the Emancipation Proclamation, even attempting to ride a whites-only streetcar in Washington in 1865. She was a fervent advocate for the equality of the sexes and was turned away from the polls in 1872 for attempting to vote in the presidential election. Truth passed away in her own home at the age of seventy-six, almost forty years before women would finally be given the vote. More than three thousand people attended her funeral. She left a legacy of defying expectations and gave a voice to the most overlooked populations by representing slaves as a female and women as an African-American.

[image: Ain’t I a woman?]

[image: Anna Atkins]

Anna Atkins (1799–1871) was a British botanist and photographer who self-published the first book of photography, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, in 1844. Atkins was raised by a father who was prominent in the scientific community, connecting her early on with photography inventor William Henry Fox Talbot and cyanotype inventor Sir John Herschel. Benefiting from a more extensive education than that of most women in her era, Atkins applied the skills she learned from Talbot and Herschel and decided to record all the specimens of algae found in the British Isles in a scientific publication. With that, she became the first person to publish photography in the field of scientific research, proving with her skillful compositions that photographs could be both educational and beautiful. Because of this publication, Atkins is arguably also the first female photographer; Talbot’s wife Constance, a contemporary of Atkins, is also often credited with this achievement, but no existing works of either party can conclusively award either one the title.

[image: Published the first book of photography]

[image: Harriet Beecher Stowe]

According to legend, President Abraham Lincoln said to Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896) upon their first meeting, “So, you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” Stowe certainly earned that reputation with her bestselling anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. One of thirteen children born to a famous religious leader, Lyman Beecher, Stowe and her siblings all rose to prominent social reform roles. Seven of her brothers became preachers, one became a famous abolitionist, and one of her sisters cofounded the National Woman Suffrage Association. When she was twenty-one, Harriet moved to Ohio with her father and met her husband-to-be, Calvin Ellis Stowe, a professor and supporter of the Underground Railroad.

After Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, prohibiting anyone from assisting runaway slaves even in free states, Stowe took up her pen at the age of forty and started writing a serial for an anti-slavery newspaper. This serial, though fictional, worked to educate the North on the realities and horrors of slavery and to foster empathy in the South for those forced into slavery. It was published in book form as Uncle Tom’s Cabin two years later and became an instant cultural icon: the year after the book was released, three hundred babies in Boston alone were named Eva (for one of the main characters), and the story was adapted into a play that opened in New York. The Civil War began eight years later. Now that is seriously powerful writing! Throughout her life, Stowe wrote over thirty books on a diverse range of topics and campaigned for the expansion of married women’s rights to control their own finances.

[image: The little woman who started the Civil War]

[image: Ada Lovelace]

Ada Lovelace (1815–1852) is known as the Enchantress of Numbers. The only legitimate child of famed Romantic poet Lord Byron and his wife, Anna Isabella Byron, Ada exhibited extraordinary mathematical talent early in her life. Her talent led to a working relationship with fellow British mathematician Charles Babbage, who invented the first programmable computer, the Analytical Engine. Lovelace’s book of notes on a translation of Italian engineer Luigi Menabrea’s article about the engine included an algorithm that became the world’s first computer program in 1843.

Lovelace was also famous in Victorian society for her family name and scandalous behavior. She was a regular in the court, had many working relationships with men who were not her husband, and had a love for gambling that led her to form a syndicate with male friends that created a mathematical model for winning large bets. Unfortunately, it failed and left her thousands of pounds in debt, forcing her to admit the scheme to her husband, the Earl of Lovelace. On her deathbed, she confessed something to her husband that resulted in his leaving her side just two days before her passing, never to return. What she said is a secret she took to her grave. She also had pacts in place with her friends to burn all of her letters upon her death, so the full details of Lovelace’s fascinating life may never be known.

[image: The Enchantress of Numbers and the world’s first computer programmer]

[image: Maria Mitchell]

Born into a Quaker family based in Nantucket, Massachusetts, the first female American astronomer, Maria Mitchell (1818–1889), was raised in a community that was rare in that it valued equal education for boys and girls. She took her education far, exhibiting early signs of brilliance at the age of twelve when she helped her father calculate the exact time of a solar eclipse. At twenty-seven, she opened her own school and admitted non-white children, despite the segregation of public schools at the time. The next year, Mitchell became the first American woman to discover a comet by telescope, which earned her a gold medal prize from the king of Denmark. The comet was dubbed “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.” She became the first professional female astronomer in the United States and the first female member of many science academies. Mitchell also became the first female professional employed by the U.S. government when she was hired by the Coastal Service to be a celestial observer in 1849. Six years later, she became the first astronomy professor ever at Vassar College. When she discovered that she was getting paid less than many of her younger male coworkers, she demanded a pay increase—and got it. Along with Mitchell’s contributions to the field of astronomy, she was also an active suffragette and abolitionist, boycotting cotton clothing in protest of slavery.

[image: Discovered a comet]

[image: Susan B. Anthony]

Without Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906), the United States might have become a very different place. This extraordinary woman made her living as a speaker at a time when women were not allowed to publicly speak on stage. In fact, her attempts to do so at several teachers’ conventions sparked debate among men that allowing a woman to speak in public would disrupt the very institution of marriage—a fear that Anthony found laughable. The issue of a woman’s speaking was more hotly debated than women’s suffrage, thus proving the power of a woman who speaks her mind.

Anthony was a leader in social reform, contributing significantly to both the abolitionist and the women’s rights movements. As a founder of the Women’s Loyal National League with her best friend and professional partner, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anthony organized a petition drive that brought in four hundred thousand signatures in support of the abolition of slavery—the largest petition drive of the time. She worked with Harriet Tubman on the Underground Railroad, and she was arrested for attempting to vote and later convicted in a widely publicized trial. Her organizational and speaking work both directly led to the passage of two U.S. Constitutional Amendments: the Thirteenth, abolishing slavery, and the Nineteenth, granting women the right to vote. She was also the first woman to appear on a U.S. coin—a one-dollar coin minted in 1979.

[image: Crusaded for women’s right to vote]

[image: Florence Nightingale]

Florence Nightingale (1820–1910) is the founder of modern nursing and compassionate care worldwide. Before she established it, there was no formal education for nursing practices. She found her calling early in life and worked hard to educate herself in the field of nursing, despite being born into a wealthy upper-class family that disapproved of her decision to work. Nightingale came to prominence when she and thirty-eight nurses she had trained were sent to a British base in the Ottoman Empire during the Crimean War. There, horrified by the state of the medical tents and overworked medical staff, she developed a reputation as a compassionate caretaker and a brilliant statistician who observed that the care and sanitation conditions of the patients directly correlated with their mortality rate. It’s recorded that with her intervention, the medical camp mortality rate went from 42 percent to 2 percent. Her pie charts depicting death rates and the spread of disease began the practice of evidence-based medicine; her diagrams were so significant that the British government established a statistical branch of the Army Medical Department a year after her return from Crimea. She spearheaded campaigns for sanitation and care practices in hospitals, with guidelines as basic as establishing hand-washing rules, and she wrote the textbook on modern nursing, Notes on Nursing, that is still used today. Perhaps most significantly, Nightingale established the first formal school of nursing, the Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. She went on to write extensively on her medical knowledge and mentor other nurses who went out and established her methods globally.

[image: The Lady with the lamp]

[image: Anita Garibaldi]

Anita Garibaldi (1821–1849) was the legendary love who shaped the life of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the father of modern Italy. Born to a poor family in Brazil, Anita met the young revolutionary Garibaldi when he came to the country for the Ragamuffin War. A skilled and courageous horsewoman, she taught him the gaucho way of life and joined him on the battlefield. They fought together with many rebel groups across South America, including in the Battle of Curitibanos, where she was captured by their adversaries and told that Giuseppe had died. She searched the battlegrounds, and when she didn’t find his body, she escaped on horseback and crawled through the woods for four days without food or water until she was reunited with the rebels and Giuseppe—all while pregnant with their first child. Together in 1848 they traveled to join the war for a liberated and united state of Italy. Anita passed away a year later during a defeat; when Giuseppe rode out to hail the new king of a united Italy in 1860, he wore Anita’s striped scarf as tribute.

[image: Rode into battle on horseback and pregnant]

[image: Elizabeth Blackwell]

On January 23, 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell (1821–1910) became the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States. Her journey there was nurtured by the liberal ideologies introduced by her father, Samuel Blackwell, who moved the family from the United Kingdom to America and worked with the abolitionists.

Blackwell decided to apply to medical school after hearing a dying friend exclaim that her experience would have been better with a female physician by her side. At the time, the term “female doctor” referred only to abortionists. Her application to Geneva Medical College in upstate New York was so unusual that the administrators put her admission up to a vote by the class of 150 male students. Thinking it was a joke, all of them voted in favor of her admission. When she arrived, her presence had a positive impact on the class, turning boisterous young men into well-mannered gentlemen. After graduation, she traveled throughout the country and Europe to further her education and was often confronted by male physicians who refused to work with her. In response, Blackwell opened her own practice, which employed only female physicians and had an all-female board of trustees. She assisted in the Civil War effort, became good friends with Florence Nightingale, and helped establish a women’s medical school in London to mentor up-and-coming female doctors. Blackwell viewed her work in bringing women into the medical profession as a way of creating social and moral reform, bringing feminine perspectives and strengths to the field.

[image: The United States’ first female doctor]

[image: Harriet Tubman]

Born into slavery, Harriet Tubman (ca. 1822–1913) was easily one of the most courageous people who ever lived. Abused daily by her masters, Tubman became disabled after one threw an iron weight at her head, then left her unconscious and without medical care for two days. She survived, but suffered seizures and narcolepsy for the rest of her life. Tubman escaped slavery in 1849, yet returned to the South at least nineteen times over the next eight years, even with a bounty on her head, to usher over seventy runaway slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad. When the Civil War broke out, Tubman served as a nurse, scout, and spy, even becoming the first American woman to lead an armed assault. She worked with Colonel Montgomery and his troops to raid plantations along the Combahee River, where they rescued over 750 slaves. Tubman received no compensation for her war services and lived in poverty most of her life because she gave so much away.

She managed to buy property in Auburn, New York, where she housed anyone who needed help getting back on their feet. Later in her life she worked alongside Susan B. Anthony and other suffragettes to fight for the vote, even though she had to sell a cow to buy a train ticket to speak at receptions honoring her service. In 1903, she donated her own real estate to a church in Auburn to open a care facility for elderly African-Americans, a place she called home a decade later. She passed away at the age of ninety-one, surrounded by friends; her last words were reportedly, “I go to prepare a place for you.”

[image: Never lost a passenger]

[image: Amalia Eriksson]

Amalia Eriksson (1824–1923) was a Swedish entrepreneur who overcame great personal tragedies, including the death of her entire immediate family due to cholera when she was ten, to invent a treat that continues to be one of the most popular candies today: the peppermint stick. At the age of thirty-one, she moved to Gränna from her hometown to work as a maid. Two years later, she married and had twins; sadly, one was stillborn, and her husband died a week later. Widowed, poor, and now a single parent, Amalia applied for a permit to open a bakery and candy shop in her town. She soon became the first female entrepreneur to successfully open a business in Sweden. The story goes that in 1859, when her daughter Ida was sick with a cold, Amalia bought a bottle of peppermint oil and made her own homemade cough drops. This developed into her secret recipe for a red and white swirled candy she would call polkagris. The polka was a popular dance at the time, and the swirls in the candy reminded Amalia of the dance’s motion; gris is the Swedish word for “pig,” which was then slang for candy. She had great success with her new innovation, and her shop became so popular that it was visited by royalty. Eriksson died a wealthy woman at the age of ninety-nine, and the secret to her polkagris was finally passed on to other candy makers, who continue to manufacture the peppermint stick today.

[image: The Peppermint entrepreneur]

[image: Belva Lockwood]

Born a farmer’s daughter in New York, Belva Lockwood (1830–1917) rose to prominence as the first female lawyer to argue in front of the Supreme Court. When she was widowed at twenty-two and became a single mother, she put herself through college and earned a bachelor’s degree. She opened a co-ed private school—a rare institution in the 1880s—in Washington, D.C., before she turned her focus to the law. Lockwood lobbied for and helped pass an equal pay act for women in federal government. After that, at the age of forty-one, she decided to go to law school; she studied privately until she was accepted to National University Law School. After finishing her coursework, when she was denied a diploma because of her gender, she appealed directly to President Ulysses S. Grant, who helped her secure her degree. Lockwood became the second woman in D.C. to pass the bar; six years she later helped pass legislation that allowed female lawyers to appear before the Supreme Court. She became the first woman to be admitted to the Supreme Court bar and argued many cases for women and minority rights; a victory in one case awarded the Cherokee nation five million dollars. Four years after her entry into the Supreme Court bar, she raised the stakes even more by running as the first female presidential candidate with a full-fledged campaign. She had a glimmer of hope that her bid for presidency would help secure women’s suffrage. Although she garnered just over four thousand votes, she had this to say: “I have not raised the dead, but I have awakened the living . . . the general effect of attempting things beyond us, even though we fail, is to enlarge and liberalize the mind.”

[image: Passed the Bar, and then raised it]

[image: Annie Edson Taylor]

In a time when burly male daredevils were making a living by performing death-defying stunts around the world, a sixty-three-year-old woman dared to join their ranks. Annie Edson Taylor (1839–1910) made her mark in history as the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls—and in a barrel, no less. Widowed at a young age, Taylor wandered North America teaching music and dance while working on ideas to secure her own financial future. On her sixty-third birthday, she packed herself and her lucky heart-shaped pillow into a custom-made barrel lined with a mattress and made that renowned trip over Niagara Falls. Hundreds of bystanders stood by to watch her feat. After the event, Taylor made a short-lived splash speaking about her experience and traveling around with the barrel that had carried her safely over the falls. Her courageous act opened up the daredevil arena to female adventurers.

[image: First Person to Survive a trip over Niagara Falls, at the age of sixty-three]

[image: Fannie Farmer]

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook has been in print since 1896 and is currently in its thirteenth edition. The namesake of the cookbook, Fannie Farmer (1857–1915), was a feisty redhead who had a stroke in her teens that paralyzed her for years, yet she became the woman who revolutionized cooking throughout the United States. At age thirty-one, when she had recovered enough to walk with a limp, Farmer attended the Boston Cooking School, which focused on science-based learning. She excelled there and was hired as principal of the school just two years after her graduation. While principal, she significantly revised the Boston Cooking School Cookbook to standardize exact measurements. Prior to her updates, recipe measurements were approximations like “amount of butter the size of an egg,” and the likelihood of recipe success was disclaimed with “results may vary.”

When she approached a publishing house in 1896 to publish the revised book, they made her front the money for a limited run of three thousand books. This, however, allowed her to keep the copyright. The cookbook (now known as The Fannie Farmer Cookbook) became a huge success, selling over four million copies in her lifetime and remaining in print to this day, well over a hundred years after the first edition. At the age of forty-five, Farmer opened Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery to train housewives and nurses. Through the school, she developed techniques and equipment for serving the sick and disabled. She lectured on her innovations at hospitals, women’s clubs, and even Harvard Medical School. A lifelong hero to the disabled population, Farmer had another paralytic stroke later in life, yet continued to give lectures from her wheelchair—even up to ten days before her death. That is true devotion to a mission.

[image: Got consistent results]

[image: Annie Oakley]

“Little Sure Shot” Annie Oakley (1860–1926) was born in rural Ohio, where her father taught her to shoot small game while her sisters played with dolls. Her skilled marksmanship supported her family after her father’s untimely death when she was ten. At the age of fifteen, she beat touring shooting champion Frank Butler, who was ten years her senior. He fell in love with her immediately, and they married the following year. They traveled together as a performance duo and joined the vaudeville circuit. Her specialties included splitting cards on their edges, snuffing candles, popping corks off bottles, and shooting a cigarette out of her husband’s mouth.

In 1887, Oakley became the first female American international entertainment superstar when she crossed the Atlantic to join Buffalo Bill Cody’s show at the American Exposition in London. She performed for Queen Victoria and Kaiser Wilhelm II—even shooting a cigarette out of the Kaiser’s mouth. During World War I, Oakley offered to train a regiment of women sharpshooters, but the government ignored her. Instead, she set out to assist the war effort by performing at army camps to fund-raise for the Red Cross. Because of her impoverished upbringing, she was extremely frugal with her earnings and generous to charities.

[image: First female sharpshooter]

[image: Edith Wharton]

Author and interior designer Edith Wharton (1862–1937) was born into such an established, old-money New York family that legend has it the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” originally referred to the family of her father, George Frederic Jones. Educated privately by governesses and having toured through Europe for most of her young life, Wharton resisted the traditional female roles of the time: wife and mother. She had a tenuous relationship with a controlling mother—her mom forbade her to read novels until she was married, so Edith would sneak books from her father’s library. Wharton started writing poetry and fiction, including a novella, at the age of eleven. Her first published work appeared when she was fifteen, but it was printed under the name of her father’s friend because her family believed that ladies’ names should appear in newspapers only for birth, marriage, and death announcements.

Wharton married at twenty-three and moved to a country house in the Berkshires named The Mount. There she eschewed the traditional duties of a Victorian wife, instead designing the interior and the landscaping of the grounds, and then publishing her first book, The Decoration of Houses, at the age of thirty-five. With it, Wharton invented the genre of interior design books. She didn’t publish her first literary novel until age forty; she went on to produce fifteen more novels, seven novellas, and eighty-five short stories in addition to books of poetry, design, travel, and literary and cultural critique. Her works, known for their dramatic irony, were nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature three times, and at the age of fifty-eight Wharton became the first woman ever to win the Pulitzer Prize, for her novel The Age of Innocence. Later in her life, Wharton moved to Paris and became an ardent supporter of the French cause during World War I, earning her a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, the country’s highest award.

[image: First woman to win a Pulitzer Prize]

[image: Nellie Bly]

American journalist Nellie Bly (1864–1922) started her journalism career when she wrote a scathing letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch in response to a misogynistic column called “What Girls Are Good For.” The editor was so impressed with her writing that he assigned her a piece for the paper. She soon became a staff member, but rebelled against the puff pieces that women were typically given. Instead, she traveled to Mexico and made herself a foreign correspondent, reporting on the lives and customs of the Mexican people; these articles were published in her first book, Six Months in Mexico. Bly became a household name after she went undercover in a New York insane asylum and wrote an exposé about the inhumane conditions, entitled “Ten Days in a Mad-House.” With her new-won fame, Bly persuaded her boss at the New York World to sponsor her on a trip around the world. She set a record for traveling around the world by completing the journey in seventy-two days, and she did it mostly alone by rail or sea. While on her journey, she visited a leper colony in China and picked up a monkey in Shanghai. Later, she married a millionaire and became an inventor, with two U.S. patents under her belt. All of this before the age of fifty-seven—talk about a go-getter!

[image: Around the world in seventy-two days and undercover journalist]

[image: Beatrix Potter]

The creator of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and many books that followed, Beatrix Potter (1866–1943) was raised in a wealthy, creative family in Victorian England. As was traditional for the time, Potter was privately educated by governesses and exposed to a broad range of subjects in literature, science, history, and the arts. She fell in love with watercolor and nature early on, and started her artistic career with scientific illustrations. She was particularly interested in the study of fungi and mushrooms—mycology—and even went on to submit an illustrated paper with her theory on their germination to a taxonomy and natural history group, the Linnean Society.

After sending letters to her former governess and close friend’s children with little stories like The Tale of Peter Rabbit, she was encouraged to write children’s books. When Potter turned thirty-six, The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published and became an instant success. It’s widely credited as the world’s first picture book for children. Walt Disney even offered to make it into a film, but Potter refused so that she could keep the rights. Potter went on to create spin-off merchandise of her storybook characters and licensed them to her publisher long before merchandising was commonly done in publishing. Potter wrote and published over thirty-three children’s stories in her lifetime, all focused on the celebration of animals and British country life. Along with her publishing work, she maintained her passion for the countryside and used her newly earned wealth to buy farms around Windermere. She became a prize-winning breeder of Herdwick sheep and a land preservationist. Upon her death, she bequeathed her estate to the National Trust, and most of her property became the Lake District National Park in England. Potter planted her own garden in life and happily opened it up to everyone to enjoy long after her death.

[image: Rabbits and squirrels and mice, oh my!]

[image: Madam C.J. Walker]

The first child in her family born into freedom, Madam C.J. Walker (1867–1919) overcame being orphaned and widowed before the age of twenty to become America’s first female self-made millionaire. Her success is even more extraordinary given that it occurred in the face of the worst Jim Crow laws of the time. As a single mother, she worked for $1.50 a day as a laundress and cook so she could send her daughter to school. Lacking access to regular bathing facilities, she started losing a great deal of hair. At the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, she met a woman, Annie Malone, who was selling cosmetic products for African-Americans. Among the products was “The Great Wonderful Hair Grower.” Madam Walker quickly became a client, and then a sales agent for Malone. A year later she relocated to Denver for family and started her own namesake hair product line. There’s debate as to whether Annie Malone or Madam Walker was the first to cross the millionaire line, but there is no arguing that Walker had the advantage of being a marketing genius. She sold “The Walker System” of hair products and with them, the image of a new lifestyle and hair culture. For example, she used black women in the before-and-after photos for her product—prior to her ads, the after photos would show a white woman. Within five years, she expanded her company to include over three thousand sales agents, and her detailed training pamphlets taught them skills to develop a refined personal image. At her business conventions, she gave awards to not only the top sellers but also the saleswomen who gave the most to charity. She became the first large employer of African-American women and was a generous philanthropist during her life and after—she left two-thirds of future net profits of her estate to charity.

[image: First female self-made millionaire]

[image: Marie Curie]

Polish physicist and chemist Marie Curie (1867–1934) was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the first person to win it twice, in two different sciences. She started her studies in an underground “floating university” in Warsaw because Polish colleges were then men-only. Making her way to Paris, Curie earned master’s degrees in physics and mathematics from the Sorbonne, all while subsisting on buttered bread and tea and tutoring at night to pay her way through school. Curie stayed in Paris after she was rejected for work at Krakow University because she was a woman. There she met her perfect match in fellow physicist Frenchman Pierre Curie, and together they furthered her work in radioactivity (a term she coine