Did you know that this past Sunday was International Women’s Day? And did you know that March is Women’s History Month? Because I sure didn’t, and I felt so bad about it I decided to do some research on the most undeniably badass ladies throughout history. These women — scientists, writers and warriors alike — rejected the authority of men before “feminism” was even a word. These chicks were hardcore, bad to the bone, and they never let some bloated patriarchy get in their way.
1. Juana Azurduy de Padilla (1781-1862)
Juana dressed in all black until age 17 — not because she was punk, but because she spent her childhood in a convent. But after her behavior proved too rebellious to manage, the other nuns gave Juana the boot. Soon after, she joined the Peruvian resistance force that wished to liberate Alto Peru from Spain. In 1914, when Juana and her family took refuge from the Spanish army in Segura Valley, all four of her children died from illness and dehydration. But even after the tragic loss, and even during her fifth pregnancy, Juana continued to fight as a tough-as-nails guerilla soldier. Eventually she gave birth to her last child on the bank of the Rio Grande while her companions fought off the Spaniards nearby. (As if giving birth wasn’t enough of an ordeal already without bullets flying overhead.)
2. Boudica (A.D. 60)
Boudica’s husband was Prasutagus, the king of a British Celtic tribe known as the Iceni back in 1st century AD. Prasutagus’ dying wish was to have his kingdom join the empire of the Romans, to whom he owed a great debt. Queen Boudica, however, had different plans — and so when the Romans claimed the Iceni were now under their rule, she declared war in response, gathering her charioted army and charging through the paved roads of ancient London. A paragon of female warriors, Boudica was described as both breathtakingly beautiful, with long tawny-colored tresses, and a deadly military leader. The Roman army ultimately proved too overwhelming to defeat, but for centuries legends have heralded Boudica for having the cojones to stand up for her kingdom (er, queendom).
3. Mary “Stagecoach” Fields (c. 1832 – 1914)
This whisky-chugging, cigar-puffing, shotgun-toting former slave was easily the toughest badass in all of Montana during her lifetime. Standing at a whopping six feet tall and weighing around 200 lbs., Mary wasn’t the kind of lady you wanted to mess with — not unless you wanted a pop to the jaw and a flurry of cusses hurled your way. At the ripe age of 60, she was hired by the U.S. Postal Service, becoming the second woman and the first ever black woman to work as a mail carrier. And she never missed a day, or so the story goes.
4. Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986)
The foremother of 20th century feminism, Simone’s writings were the ripple that kicked off the second wave of feminist activity in the West. Always an academic, Simone dabbled in mathematics and literature before studying philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure. It was then that she met her lifelong lover, Jean-Paul Sartre, and was also when her feminist beliefs became deeply intertwined with existentialist thought. Her treatise The Second Sex, the work for which she is most revered, completely transformed the landscape of contemporary feminism. When she wasn’t uprooting the gender paradigm, though, Simone could get down and dirty: throughout her relationship with Sartre, she was known to have taken multiple female lovers.
5. Madame C.J. Walker (1867-1919)
Madame C.J. Walker was Oprah before Oprah was even a fetus. Orphaned at 7, married at 14 and widowed at 20, she worked as a laundress in St. Louis for a while to support her daughter. She had an unfortunate scalp disorder too, which led to her interest in hair care. After remarrying and moving to Denver, C.J. established herself as a hairdresser and developed her own line of cosmetics. Her business savvy and snappy marketing skills took her to the very top of the food chain, and she became the first female self-made millionaire in the entire United States. At the time of her death, she was still the wealthiest black woman in the country — worth the equivalent of $6 million today.
6. Marie Curie (1867-1934)
Working in France alongside her husband Pierre, Marie singlehandedly created the field of atomic physics, discovering two completely new elements and coining the word radioactivity for the very first time. She was the first woman to ever win a Nobel prize, and to this day is the only woman to have earned two in separate categories: physics and chemistry. But her work with radioactive elements took its toll, and throughout her research she suffered horribly from its damaging effects. Her fingers were red and swollen from handling radium and she had burns which ran up the length of her arms, though none of her personal pains were enough to quell her thirst for knowledge. Eventually she died from anemia brought on by exposure to radioactivity. Above all else, Marie was a martyr.
7. Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007)
In 1988, Benazir was elected into office as the first female prime minister of Pakistan — the first female leader of any Muslim nation in the modern era. Having studied at both Harvard and Oxford, she was well-educated and well-mannered, but was notoriously resolute in her beliefs, which earned her a steely nickname: “The Iron Lady.” Her reign was turbulent, to say the least, with many of her own citizens opposed to her rule. Despite accusations of corruption, and even after surviving a coup in 1995, Benazir continued to fight for the social and economic progress of Pakistan until she was killed by a suicide bomber in 2007.
8. Mochizuki Chiyome (16th century)
Historical records don’t say much about Chiyome, and that’s because she was good at her job. The wife of a samurai warlord, Chiyome was approached one day by the leader of the Takeda clan (the uncle of her husband). Her mission: to create a widespread, hidden network of kunoichi, or female ninja, to gather intelligence and carry messages. For years she traveled the countryside, recruiting young prostitutes and girls orphaned by war and training them in the art of the ninja. Disguised as actresses and geisha and shrine maidens, Chiyome’s army of kunoichi used seduction and manipulation to infiltrate villages, castles and clans nationwide. At the organization’s peak, Chiyome had two or three hundred women working under her wing.
9. Marie Marvingt (1875 – 1963)
If a sport existed, Marie played it. And not just played, but excelled — in everything from swimming and horseback riding to rifle shooting and bobsledding. She fenced, she tossed footballs, she boxed; she climbed mountains and swam the entire length of the Seine River through Paris (the first woman to do so, in fact). After being turned away from the 1908 Tour de France because of her gender, she waited until the race was over and cycled the entire track anyway because she just didn’t give a damn. That was the kind of woman Marie was: if you gave her an insurmountable challenge, she would overcome it.
10. Annie Oakley (1860 – 1926)
Little Annie Oakley and her astounding sharpshooting skills took the Midwest by storm when she was just 15. Born dirt-poor, her first major achievement was paying off the mortgage on her mother’s house with the money she made from shooting game. She spent her teenage years traveling as a performer, and crowds everywhere loved her for her marksmanship as much as for her adorable stage presence. She could split a playing card in two and poke both halves full of holes before they even hit the ground. She once, in front of a crowd, shot the ashes off a still-smoldering cigarette. Annie was the best sharpshooter of her time, and though many men challenged her to competitions over the years, they all went home with their asses sorely beaten.