I have a lot of respect for the women that paved the way for the rest of us. Here are five women who defied cultural norms and expectations to do incredible things.
Hatshepsut (1508 BCE -1458 BCE)
Hatshepsut was the daughter of Pharaoh Thutmose I, and became Queen of ancient Egypt when she married her half-brother, Thutmose II. When her husband died, she became regent of Egypt, and later, co-ruler with her stepson, Thutmose III. In reality, she controlled most of Egypt from that point until her death (she is thought to have died from bone cancer), a reign of over twenty years, making her the first female Pharaoh and the longest-ruling woman in Egypt’s history.
As a ruler, Hatshepsut ordered the building of several impressive monuments–most importantly the temple at Deir el-Bahri, where her stepson, Thutmose III, was later buried. She had a peaceful reign by emphasizing trade instead of war–trading many wealthy items with a nation known as Punt (possibly Eritrea?) and has been called one of the most successful pharaohs in Egypt’s history.
Sources: Biography.com, History.com, Wikipedia
Tomoe Gozen (1157? – 1257 AD)
Born in the late twelfth century, Tomoe Gozen is one of the very rare examples of women warriors in Japanese history. She was described as being very beautiful, in addition to being intelligent, proficient with a bow and arrow, and, oh yeah, “as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot.” (The Tale of the Heike)
Tomoe married a man that she fought next to–Minamoto Yoshinaka, who desired to become the leader of their clan. Her husband’s struggle for power led to Tomoe going to battle many times–and it is rumored that she decapitated at least one man every time she fought. In fact, in 1184 at the Battle of Awazu, she purportedly beheaded Honda no Moroshige of Musashi.
She’s rumored to have died in battle next to her husband, or to have survived the battlefield to live out her final days as a nun. Either way, she’s a samurai bad ass.
Sources: Wikipedia, Mchistorical, Bellaonline
Aphra Behn (1640?-1689)
Aphra Behn was a playwright, poet, and fictionist in an age where women just didn’t do that kind of thing. She was married by 1664, but separated (or widowed) soon after, leaving her to care for herself.
In fact, as she was a self-sufficient woman, she was often condemned for having loose morals. She supported the Royalists during the English Civil Wars, and was actually employed by King Charles II in his secret service during the war. It was after the war that she began to support herself through her writing. She wrote mainly drama at first, her tragicomedies and comedies taking the Restoration stage by storm. Her work “The Emperor of the Moon” eventually paved the way for pantomime.
It was during the 17th century that the literary form of the novel began to take shape, and Behn’s fiction Oroonoko, which deals with themes of gender, racism, and slavery, is commonly considered by literature experts to be one of the cornerstones of what is now the world’s largest and most commercial genre of literature.
She is buried at Westminster Abbey in London, along with many other English literary giants.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica, University of Oxford
There is scarcely a person alive who doesn’t know who Marie Curie is, and if you’re unfamiliar with the name, you are probably familiar with her work. Namely, the two elements on the periodic table that she and her husband discovered and named: Polonium and radium.
- Other awesome things about Marie Curie:
- Won 2 Nobel prizes (1903 in physics, 1911 in chemistry)
- coined the term “radioactivity”
- conducted the first studies on using radioactive isotopes to combat tumor and tumor growth
- worked in the field in France during WWI so that wounded soldiers would have access to x-ray technology (she was never officially recognised by the French government for her efforts during the War)
- her notes and papers from the 19th century are too radioactive to touch; all of them are kept in lead-lined boxes
- Prolonged exposure to radiation left her many illnesses, ultimately leading to her death, but she continued her research anyway.
- Her daughter, Irene, also won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1935)
Maria Bochkareva (1889-1920)
Maria Bochkareva was a woman from the lower class who decided to join the armed forces after two of her marriages didn’t work out. She’d previously worked as a servant in a brothel before opening a butcher’s shop with her second husband. When he was sent away for robbery, she followed him until World War I began in 1914, at which point she joined the 25th Tomsk Reserve Battalion, where she faced mockery and sexual harassment.
Until she bayoneted a German.
She stayed with that battalion for three years, being wounded twice and yet receiving three honours for bravery. At this point, she decided to form her own battalion, comprised entirely of women, and call it the First Russian Women’s Battalion of Death. I assume this is because she wanted all men to run away screaming from her and her soldiers.
In fact, of the 2000 women who signed up for her battalion, only 300 made it through the training. Her unit was at the front of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. She was eventually sentenced to death by the Bolsheviks, until a soldier she’d rescued in 1915 stayed her execution and sent her to America, where she met with President Wilson and asked him to intervene in Russia. She left America for England in 1918, where she met with King George V and asked a similar request.
She returned to Russia in 1918, attempted to form a new medical unit, but was captured by the Bolsheviks. She survived four months of interrogation (and we assume, torture) at their hands until her execution in 1920. A Russian film was released this year based on her life’s story.
Sources: Wikipedia, History blog
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