I needed seven amazing women for this blog and I knew I MUST turn to Bad Girls Throughout History, 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World, by Ann Shen, a stunning book of 100 Bad Ass Women with the colorful, feminine and oh so powerful images of Ann Shen’s artwork that brings these women to life in the pages. Ms. Shen’s book provides enough information to pique my interest and send me searching for more.
ONE: Khutulun, (1260-1306) was also known as Aigiarne, Aiyurug, Khotol Tsagaan or Ay Yaruz and was the great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan. By 1280 her father, Kaidu became the most powerful ruler in Central Asia. It was reported by Marco Polo she rode into battle with her father and was a superb warrior. She is famous for her wrestling, and any man who wished to marry her had to defeat her in a wrestling match. It is rumored she amassed ten thousand horses from winning competitions and would-be suitors. So prominent has Khutulun been in history, it is believed she is the inspiration for Giacomo Puccini’s opera, Turandot, and is in recent movies and a Netflix series about Marco Polo. How is that for longevity?
TWO: Before the “Pirate Queen”, Grace O’Malley, there was Jeanne de Clisson (1300-1356 or 9), formerly Jeanne de Belleville and Dame de Montaigu. Before she earned the nickname the Lioness of Brittany, she was a French/Breton noblewoman who became a privateer to avenge her husband after he was wrongfully executed for treason by the French King. So outraged was she by the beheading and public display of her husband’s head, she sold his property and belongings, and formed an army to take vengeance. For thirteen years her ships and army pillaged and plundered the French forces by land and sea, leaving one survivor to tell the tale of her attacks. When her ship was sunk, she rowed a small boat back to England with her sons, the youngest dying on the way. After thirteen years she must have felt avenged, remarried and lived quietly. Her adventures have inspired movies and Netflix.
THREE: Annie Edson Taylor (1839-1910) was the first person, man or woman, to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, at the age of sixty-three! Annie had guts, was a fortune hunter, though she never achieved the momentary glory she anticipated; and proved, at least to me, wisdom doesn’t always come with age. In a time where male daredevils risked many stunts for fame and fortune, and some floated in open barrels, dangerously close to Niagara Falls, Annie did it, in an air-tight barrel, that looked rather like a coffin, lined with a mattress and her lucky heart-shaped pillow. Annie was not the first to survive a trip over the falls, no, to prove the viability of the barrel, Annie first sent her cat over. The cat survived. But, dang, Annie. Woman and cat never attempted this or another stunt of this magnitude again. Annie has lived on in popular culture and there is even a musical, The Queen of the Mist, as she and her barrel were known.
FOUR: Aphra Behn (1640-1689) was a British playwright, poet, prose writer (books), translator and one of if not the first English woman to earn her living by writing–breaking cultural barriers and serving as a literary role model for later generations of women writers. Her origins are rather mysterious, but her writing reveals a level of education. Her marriage is also shrouded in mystery. She served as a spy for the King of England during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. But this was not a lucrative position, so she turned to writing. Rather unheard of and not without ridicule and bias as she was a woman. Her prose (book) Oroonoko is considered by some to be the first historical novel. Mrs. Behn was also remembered in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own: “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.” And her clever wit is immortalized on her tombstone: “Here Lies a Proof that Wit can never be Defense enough against Mortality.”
FIVE: Elizabeth Blackwell, (1821-1910), became the first female doctor in the US on January 23, 1849, though not an easy feat for this Bristol, England native. Her parents were Quakers and emigrated to New York when the family lost their profitable sugar refinery. In the US the family members were active abolitionists and discussed women’s rights, slavery and child labor. Seventeen years old when her father died, the family had little money and her mother and sisters all took jobs as teachers. Elizabeth had no interest in becoming a doctor and was rather appalled by the notion, but claimed she turned to medicine after a close friend who was dying suggested she would have been spared her worst suffering if her physician had been a woman. It is said that her application to the Geneva Medical College was considered a joke, and when it was put to a vote by the 150 all-male student body, they all voted “yes,” and therefore she gained admittance, despite the true reluctance of most of the faculty and student body. A doctor, policy changer, and dynamo in making education and a medical education available to women.
SIX: Belva Lockwood (1830-1917) was a farmer’s daughter in New York. At fourteen years of age, she started teaching. At eighteen she married, had a daughter and her husband died. Realizing she needed an education to support herself and her daughter, she went to college – not what widows with children did. Degree earned, she married a much older man, they had another daughter who died before she was two. After completing all the course work for a law degree, she was denied her diploma due to her gender. Determined, she appealed to President Ulysses S. Grant, and got her degree, becoming the second woman in DC to pass the bar, later becoming the first woman to be admitted to the Supreme Court bar, arguing many cases. Belva Lockwood was determined, self-made and fought for her opportunities and the rights of others. Aiming to secure women’s suffrage, she became the first female to run a full-fledged campaign for the presidency of the US. Though she could not vote, nothing in the constitution prevented her from running for office. She only earned a little more than 4000 votes but met her loss by saying: “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.”
SEVEN: Mary Blair (1911–1978) was one of the most influential artists in Walt Disney Animation Studio’s history, as well as having an illustrious career with original watercolors, art work for the Little Golden Books, and ad work. Walt Disney was such a fan, we asked her to return to Disney Studios to design “It’s A Small World” for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. Is it fair to say her style is iconic? She was born in McAlester, Oklahoma, moved to Texas as a small child and later to Morgan Hill, California in her early 20s, graduating from San Jose State and attending the Chouinard Art Institute on a scholarship, meeting her husband there. The depression postponed their dreams of opening their own art studio and they took jobs as animators for movie studios. With some reluctance, she joined Disney. A decade later she went free-lance. She died in Soquel, California in 1978. If you love Disney art like I do, watch the YouTube video.
One of the highlights of delving deeper into these women’s lives, is how much information is available. I have only shared one link for each woman, but it is gratifying to know that their histories are alive and well, they have not been expunged from the record, and we can learn and grow from their courage, initiative, and resourcefulness to fly even higher.
Anne M. Beggs writes adventure romance and family saga set in Medieval Ireland. She is a member of Paper Lantern Writers and Historical Novel Society. For about her books, mounted archery, and horses, please contact her on Facebook or Instagram @annitbella72