Throughout history, women have fought, ruled, plundered, taught, and explored. We’ve all heard the story of Joan of Arc, Mata Hari and Amelia Earhart, but the following lesser-known true stories of women who fought against or amidst impossible odds and held their own in history proves there is more to them than just beauty and elegance when the situation calls for it.
She Fought Fascism
Nancy was the Allies’ most decorated servicewoman of World War II. She was a saboteur, organizer and Resistance fighter who led an army of 7,000 Maquis troops in guerilla warfare against the Nazis. The Gestapo codenamed her “The White Mouse” after she repeatedly eluded capture. Comrade Henri Tardivat regarded Nancy as: “the most feminine woman I know, until the fighting starts. Then, she is like five men.”
She invented Wi-Fi
This Viennese vixen had a two-decade career playing mostly femmes fatales in Hollywood movies in the 1930s. Her prowess, however, goes beyond acting. In between filming and at the height of World War II, she and composer George Antheil came up with the idea of a secret communications system that would encrypt sensitive signals from unwanted interceptors. Patented in 1941, their invention laid the groundwork for the spectrum technology used today in Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and cell phones.
She Flew Fearlessly
Her bravery was apparent early on when Mariya lied about her age so she could join a military flying school and, eventually, the Soviet Air Force. She flew 72 daylight bombing missions. On one of the missions, her plane was hit, but Mariya insisted on continuing to her target and later succeeded in delivering the payload. Chased by multiple German fighters, she refused to abandon the plane and successfully landed on friendly territory. She was awarded the ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ commendation in 1945 and ‘Honored Citizen of Kiev’ in 1995. Regarding her squad, a top German commander wrote, “We simply couldn’t grasp that the Soviet airmen that caused us the greatest trouble were, in fact, women. These women feared nothing.”
She Defied a Monarch
Selflessness is one of Figner’s qualities that will always be remembered. Born into the 19th century Russian middle class, she abandoned her social circle to study medical science abroad and train as a doctor. She returned to find her people suffering greatly under the Tsars and eventually joined the revolution. Vera Figner helped plot the assassination of the monarch but was later betrayed, arrested, imprisoned and exiled.
She Led Asia’s Largest Naval Fleet
Although not much is known about her life before her marriage to Cheng Yi her and inheritance of his powerful pirate fleet in 1801, Ching Shih gained reputation rapidly as the brains behind one of Asia’s largest pirate crews. By 1808, her forces had grown so formidable that the Chinese, British and Portuguese navies took turns confronting her at sea, only to be defeated. Eventually, the Chinese emperor offered stunningly favorable terms in exchange for a truce. Ching Shih retired to Canton to open her own gambling den and died a grandmother at the ripe age of 69.
She Traveled and Founded a Country
Born into a wealthy industrial family in England in 1868, Gertrude graduated from Oxford with the first Modern History degree the university had ever awarded to a woman. She then traveled around the world twice, gaining a reputation as a daring mountaineer and archeologist as well as mastering French, German, Arabic and Persian. After the World War I armistice, she mapped out the borders of what would become Mesopotamia and ultimately Iraq, installed the country’s first king, and supervised whom he appointed to his new government. Until today, “Miss Bell” remains a well-known figure in Iraq, the country she helped found.