7 Historic Heroines You Should Know

1. Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians 

Born circa 870 A.D., Aethelflaed is most known for rule Mercia, a medieval kingdom in the English Midlands, from 911 until her death on June 18, 918. She married the ruling lord of Mercia when she was 16 and took over when her husband died. Notably, she didn’t remarry because 1) her new husband would’ve automatically outranked her and 2) celibate women were seen as more “manly” and thus more powerful. Power moves only. 

She helped unify England by reclaiming land from the Danish Vikings and negotiated peace treaties with Viking leaders settled near her borders. Aethelflaed defied traditions by leading her own troops to battle, can you believe? Medieval women were rarely recorded in written histories, so her presence in several contemporary documents is proof of her importance. 

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2. Lozen

Lozen was born in 1840, and was known as a warrior and prophet of the Chihenne Chiricahua Apache. Her brother Victorio was a prominent chief. The name Lozen is said to be an Apache war title given after stealing horses in a raid and the honorary title protected her sacred birth name. She was a well respected warrior, military strategist, healer, and spiritual leader of her people. In battle, she is said to have been able to predict the direction of the enemy. 

According to some sources, she may have been in a lesbian relationship with her close companion, Dahteste. The couple is well-accepted in the Two Spirit community, which includes LGBTQ+ Native Americans. Lozen and Dahteste were captured and arrested by U.S. forces alongside Apache resistance leader Geronimo in 1886. While Dahteste was eventually released, Lozen died from tuberculosis during her time as a prisoner of war on June 17, 1889 in Mobile, AL. 

3. Catherine the Great

Catherine started out as Sophie Friederike Auguste, a princess of Prussia, essentially a nobody. She married her younger cousin Peter III, moved to Russia with him, and Sophie became known as Grand Duchess Catherine Alekseyevna. The two were married for 18 years, and it  soon turned out her new husband was crazy. Catherine was constantly embarrassed by her husband at court, and it was rumored that she took three different lovers and that none of her children were her husband’s. Take no shit, ladies. 

Catherine made her move when the old empress died suddenly and Peter III was set to ascend the throne of Russia. In the most powerful move of all power moves, she had herself proclaimed empress. Peter III abdicated, and was assassinated 8 days later (apparently not on Catherine’s orders, but definitely carried out by her supporters. Catherine the Great ruled as empress of Russia for 34 years. 

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4. Lise Meitner

Lise was a physicist whose research (alongside Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman) led to the discovery of uranium fission. Born to a Viennese-Jewish family in 1878, she would eventually leave Nazi Germany to live in Sweden in 1938. Some argue that Meitner deserved to be partially credited with the 1944 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, which was awarded to her nephew Otto Frisch. She was invited to work on the Manhattan Project, but rejected the offer because she was opposed to the atomic bomb. 

5. Edmonia Lewis

Edmonia Lewis is known as the first famous sculptor in the fine arts world to be a woman of African American and Native American descent. Orphaned early in childhood, she lived with her aunts and uncles on the Chippewa reservation until she left for school. She went to Oberlin College until leaving abruptly in 1863 after being falsely accused of poisoning her (*cough* white *cough*) roommates and was forced to leave the school. 

After working in Boston for a few years, Edmonia moved to Rome, Italy and things really took off. She began working in a group of female sculptors (we love a girl gang!). Her specialties were busts, usually of abolitionists and patrons, and works inspired by her dual African American and Native American heritage. She stood out at the time because she didn’t employ Italian workers to transfer her plaster casts into white marble due to both lack of money and preservation of originality. Instead, she did it all herself!  

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6. Sayyida Al Hurra, Muslim Pirate Queen

During Isabella and Ferdiand’s religiously motivated Spanish Reconquista, Sayyida Al Hurra and her family were forced to flee from their native Grenada and seek shelter in Morocco. She and her family settled in the city of Tétouan. She married the governor of Tétouan when she was 16, and when he died she took over and became known as the Queen of Tétouan. She then remarried, and made history by forcing her groom, a sultan of Fez, to travel to her for the wedding. This marked the only recorded instance of a Moroccan king marrying outside his kingdom. 

Then, she took to the high seas, joined up with famous pirate Barbarossa, and began exacting revenge on the “Christian enemy” (Spain and Portugal) that forced her from her childhood home. She is recorded in Spanish and Portuguese notes as having taken “much booty and many prisoners”. When her second husband died, she was once again the sole sovereign ruler and continued sailing and being an all-around badass. Her given birth name is unknown, but her title translates to “an independent noble lady.” 

7. Njinga Mbandi, Queen of Ndongo and Matamba

Njinga was a member of the Ndongo royal dynasty. She ruled from 1624 until her death. In contemporary Portuguese records, she is also referred to as Njinga Ana de Sousa. Ndongo and Matamba is part of modern-day Angola. Her brother was king before her and sent her as a diplomat to negotiate with the Portuguese in Luanda. 

Njinga ascended the throne after her brother died and proved herself to be just as good of a queen as she was a diplomat. She was knowledgeable about military strategy, espionage, trade, and religious practices, which helped her resist Portuguese colonization until her death in 1663. During her rule, her kingdom was a haven for refugees of the slave trade and European colonization. 

These are just seven examples of historically badass ladies that I think are incredibly motivational and inspirational. I encourage you to go out and become someone’s hero! 

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