Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous

Khalid Elhassan - August 27, 2019

History has an unfortunate tendency to gloss over the accomplishments and deeds of women. Which is a shame on many levels, not least of them being how such oversight skips over some truly fascination stories. Following are twenty things about fascinating women from history, who should probably be way better known than they are.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Eta Wrobel. Jewish Partisans

20. Eta Wrobel Escaped From a Nazi Concentration Camp, Then Helped Organize a Resistance Group

Eta Wrobel was born in 1918 in Lokov, Poland, into a large Jewish family of ten children. Her father taught his offspring to help others, no matter the circumstances, and Eta took that to heart. When the Nazis conquered Poland, things got horrifically bad for Poland’s Jews, but Eta, who described herself as a “born a fighter“, was determined to do what she could to resist. So she began forging false identity papers for Jews, until 1942, when Eta’s ghetto was liquidated, and she and her family were packed off to concentration camps. Fortunately, she and her father managed to escape en route, and fled into the woods near Lokov. Unfortunately, she was the only one of ten siblings to survive the Holocaust.

Eta helped organize a Jewish partisan group of about 80 people, and took the fight to the Nazis. They harried the occupiers by ambushing supply convoys, mining roads, and conducting hit and run raids. It was a harsh existence, without adequate shelter, supplies, or medical care. On one occasion, she was shot in the leg, but the sole doctor around was busy with somebody more seriously injured. So Eta extracted the bullet herself, digging it out of her leg with a knife, then sterilizing the wound with vodka. When the Nazis retreated in 1944, Eta was asked to become mayor of her town. She got married later that year, and moved to the US in 1947, where she raised a family. Looking back at her partisan years, Eta reasoned that: “The biggest resistance that we could have done to the Germans was to survive“.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Belva Ann Lockwood in 1915. Library of Congress

19. Belva Ann Lockwood Fought to Become America’s First Female Lawyer to Argue Before the Supreme Court

Belva Ann Lockwood (1830 – 1917) was an early women’s rights advocate, who became the first female attorney to argue a case before the US Supreme Court. Widowed in her early 20s and left in dire straits to raise a daughter by herself, Lockwood decided to better her lot through higher education. That was highly unusual back then, and her decision was opposed by family and friends, but Lockwood persisted, and persuaded the administrators of Genesee College in New York to admit her. She graduated with honors in 1857, then got a job as a school headmistress. However, upon discovering that she was paid only half of what her male counterparts’ salary, she decided to become a lawyer and work for herself.

Lockwood moved to Washington, DC, after the Civil War, and attended into George Washington University Law School. However, although she completed the coursework in 1873, the school refused to give her a degree because of her gender. So she appealed to president Grant, and he made the school give her the degree, which allowed her to join the District of Colombia Bar. When Lockwood applied to the US Supreme Court Bar, she was turned down on gender grounds. So she spent years lobbying Congress for an anti-discrimination bill to allow all qualified female lawyers to practice in federal courts. The bill finally passed and became law in 1879. Lockwood then went back to the Supreme Court, and was finally sworn into its bar. The following year, she became the first woman to argue a case before the highest court in the land.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Roza Shanina. Imgur

18. Roza Shanina Shot Dead Dozens of Nazis

Roza Georgiyevna Shanina was born in a Russian village near the Arctic Circle in 1924, one of six children born to a milkmaid mother and a logger father. Determined to better herself, at age 14, against her parents’ wishes, she walked about 120 miles through the Taiga to the nearest rail station. There, she caught a train to the nearest city, Arkhangelsk, so she could attend college. She graduated in 1942, as the Soviet Union was reeling from the recent Nazi onslaught. She tried to enlist, but was repeatedly rejected, before the authorities finally relented in 1943, and allowed her to join a sniper school.

She was assigned to a sniper platoon in the spring of 1944, and early that April, she killed her first German. That first dead Nazi unnerved her, but before long, she was knocking off Germans with as much detachment as if they had been tin cans on a fence. During a five stretch, Roza shot dead 13 Germans while under near constant artillery and machinegun fire, for which she was decorated with the Order of Glory for bravery. By that summer, as her body count climbed, Roza Shanina had become a national heroine, with her photo featured on the front pages of Soviet newspapers. By the end of August, 1944, she had killed 42 Nazis. She was killed in East Prussia in January of 1945, while trying to shield a wounded comrade with her body. By then, she had been credited with 59 confirmed kills.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Caterina Sforza. National Geographic

17. Heavily Pregnant Caterina Sforza Led Troops in Seizing Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo

Caterina Sforza was born circa 1462, the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Milan. She grew into a strong and vibrant woman who combined the sword, sex, and diplomacy, to secure her power. Those traits led many to describe her as a “Renaissance virago” – a domineering, violent, and bad tempered woman. It was not intended as a compliment, but considering that the Italy of her day was an era of incessant warfare, intrigues, and assassinations, being a virago was an asset, not a liability.

Her husband, Gioralmo Rialro, was thrust into prominence when his uncle became Pope Sixtus IV. When Sixtus died in 1484, Rome was gripped by anarchy, as the deceased pope’s enemies turned on his supporters and relatives. Caterina’s residence was looted by a mob, so she rounded up some fighters, and despite being seven months pregnant, led them in seizing the city’s most strategic location, the fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo. From that strongpoint, she menaced the Vatican, until the College of Cardinals finally convinced her husband to get her to leave the fortress, in exchange for a hefty payment as compensation for the damage to her residence.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
The Rocca di Ravaldino fortress, from atop whose walls Caterina Sforza dared her enemies to harm her captive children. Forli Today

16. Caterina Sforza Was Ice Cold In the Face of Threats

Caterina Sforza and her husband Gioralmo Riarlo left Rome for their holdings in Forli, which became her base of operations. Gioralmo was assassinated in 1488 by a rival family, the Orsis, and Caterina and her children were captured. The killers’ conquest of Forli was incomplete, however, as a nearby fortress, the Rocca di Ravaldino, still held out. So the Orsis released Caterina to talk the fortress into surrender, while keeping her children hostage to ensure her compliance. Once free and in the unconquered fortress, however, Caterina turned on the Orsis, vowing vengeance upon them.

When the Orsis threatened to kill her kids, she stood atop the Rocca di Ravaldino’s walls, bared her privates, and pointing to her vagina told them: “Go ahead! Hang them in front of me if you want! Here, I have what is need to make others!” The shocked Orsis were intimidated, and refrained from harming the captive children. Caterina gathered her forces, and with the help of her relatives, was eventually able to crush the Orsis, free her children, and regain control of Forli.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Caterina Sforza, as depicted by Gina McKee in the Showtime series ‘The Borgias’. Pintrest

15. Caterina Sforza Became a Thorn in the Side of Pope Borgia

After regaining power in Forli, Caterina Sforza fell passionately in love with a younger man, Giacomo Feo, and secretly married him. In her passion, she removed her elder son Ottaviano from power, and awarded his positions to her new hubby. Ottaviano’s partisans disapproved of the new arrangement, and in 1495, they assassinated Giacomo Feo. Caterina responded by having the assassins massacred, along with their entire families. Her next enemies would prove the toughest of all: the Borgia clan, perhaps the most corrupt papal family, ever.

When Pope Alexander VI Borgia set out to enlarge the Papal States, Caterina’s lands were on his list. Sforza fortified herself in Forli and personally led a fierce defense against the Borgia forces, refusing all peace offers, even at the cost of her children’s lives. However, her enemies’ artillery finally breached the fortress’ walls, and the Borgia forces stormed in. Caterina continued her resistance, engaging in hand to hand fighting, until she was finally overcome and captured. She was taken to Rome, and after a stint of imprisonment, was finally exiled to live out her remaining days in Florence.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Tomoe Gozen. Tofugu

14. Japan’s Greatest Female Samurai

Japan’s most famous female samurai is Tomoe Gozen (circa 1157 – 1247). A fearsome warrior, Tomoe was famous for her courage, physical strength, and skill with a variety of weapons. Back then, it was not unusual for Japanese women of the samurai class receive military training, such as swordsmanship, archery, and the use of polearms. It was defensive training, however, for the women to protect themselves and their households in the absence of their menfolk. Tomoe however wanted to test herself in battle, so she sought an active career as a warrior, and was accepted into the service of a general named Minamoto Yoshinaka.

By 1184, Tomoe’s fighting skills and battlefield performance had made her famous. Her greatest exploit came that year, at the battle of Awazu, when she was part of a small force of 300 samurai that was set upon by a vastly superior army of around 6000. Tomoe fought with extreme courage and skill against overwhelming odds, but eventually, her force was whittled down from 300 to only Tomoe, her commanding general, Yoshinaka, and five other warriors. With the end drawing near, Yoshinaka ordered her to leave the battlefield, as it would be shameful for him to die alongside a woman. Reluctantly, she obeyed, beheading one more enemy warrior on her way out. Thereafter, she fades from history.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
The Trung Sisters. Nguyen Dong

13. Vietnam’s Warrior Princesses Led a Mostly Female Army to Liberate Their Country

Sisters Trung Nhi and Trung Trac (circa 12 AD – 43 AD) are Vietnam’s national heroines, having led an uprising in 40 AD against Chinese domination of their country. Trung Trac, the older sister, was married to a Vietnamese nobleman who defied a particularly oppressive Chinese governor, and was executed for his troubles. So his widow rallied and organized other Vietnamese nobles to resist the Chinese. With the help of her sister Trung Nhi, Trung Trac launched a rebellion near modern Hanoi, that soon became a wildly popular uprising that encompassed the bulk of Vietnam. Unique among armed rebellions, the Trung sisters’ armies were made mostly of women. With those predominately female armies, the sisters seized numerous Chinese forts and citadels. Within a few months, the Chinese were chased out of Vietnam, and Trung Trac was proclaimed queen.

The sisters led armies against the Chinese attempt to reconquer Vietnam, and despite being greatly outnumbered, they kept out the invaders for three years. Eventually, however, the Chinese concentrated an overwhelming force, and in 43 AD, the Trung sisters were finally defeated in battle, captured, and beheaded. The Chinese then reasserted their control over Vietnam, but although the Trung sisters’ independent was short lived, they succeeded in planting the seeds of Vietnamese national identity. Vietnamese historians assert that if the Trung sisters had not rebelled, Vietnam would have been wholly absorbed and dissolved into China, and there would be no Vietnam.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Fu Hao. GB Times

12. China’s Warrior Queen

Fu Hao (died circa 1200 BC) was one of the Shang emperor’s numerous wives, but she was not just a wife a mother. She was also a formidable general who led armies into battle, as well as a priestess and politicians. Indeed, she was so remarkable that she became the leading figure in China during her lifetime. She arrived in court as one of emperor Wu Ding’s 64 wives – marriage being a means by which the Shang emperors cemented the allegiance of neighboring tribes. Fu Hao stood out, however, having exhibited remarkable intelligence, as well as military aptitude. She soon became the emperor’s favorite wife, and his most trusted confidant. She also commanded Shang armies – leading a force of 13,000 men, which was huge for that era, and the largest ever assembled under any one Shang general.

With that force, Fu Hao successfully expanded and pacified the Shang borders, defeating and subduing restive tribes, and bringing them into the Chinese fold. One of her earliest victories came against an obstinate tribe that had troubled the Shang for generations. Fu Hao decisively defeated them, and ended their menace once and for all. She led numerous other military campaigns to consolidate Shang rule, and is credited with successfully carrying off the earliest large scale ambush in Chinese history. She predeceased her husband, who built her a lavish tomb that was discovered, intact, by archaeologists in the 1970s. It contained a treasure trove of jade and bronze, and a wide variety of weaponry, including great battle axes, which were apparently her favorite battlefield instruments.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Grainne Mhaol statue. Wikimedia

11. Irish Heroine Grainne Mhaol Got Her Start In the Wilds of Connacht

Grainne Mhaol (circa 1530 – circa 1603) was an Irish heroine who fought the English on land and preyed upon their shipping at sea. Her English foes vilified her as “a woman who hath imprudently passed the part of womanhood“, and she was mostly ignored by contemporary chroniclers. Yet, her memory lived on in native folklore, and nationalists would later lionize her as an icon of the Irish fight for freedom and struggle against foreign domination.

Back then, there were two Irelands, with distinct cultures. There was the English enclave of Dublin and its surroundings, and there was the hinterland, inhabited by the native Irish and the Gaelicized Old English, whom the English viewed as uncivilized and wild, given to raid and strife and interminable violence. Mhaol was born and raised in Connacht in western Ireland, and belonged to the “wild Irish” hinterland, which consisted of various autonomous territories. Its rulers and inhabitants frequently feuded, raided each other, rustled cattle, captured and lost castles and strongholds, and otherwise fought for advantage and dominance. All were part of a clientele system, in which the weak aligned with the strong, offering tribute in exchange for protection.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
One of Grainne Mhaol’s strongholds. National Library of Ireland

10. The Dark Lady of Doona

Grainne’s Mahaol family were Irish nobility with clients of their own, who looked to them for protection. Simultaneously, they were clients of another, even more powerful family. They traded produce and raw materials for luxury good, fished, ferried passengers, levied tolls on shipping passing through their waters, and engaged in opportunistic piracy. For protection, the Mhaols built a row of castles facing the sea. Grainne was married in 1546, and bore three children before her husband was killed in an ambush in 1565. The era’s misogynistic laws prevented women from inheriting their husbands’ properties, so Grainne settled on Clare Island, and made it her stronghold and base of operations. To support herself, she turned to piracy

Grainne started off with three galleys and some smaller boats, with which she preyed on shipping and raided coastal targets. While seething over the laws that deprived her of her husband’s property, and building up her pirate fleet, she consoled herself by taking as a lover a shipwrecked sailor. When her lover was killed by a rival family, the MacMahons, history got its first glimpse of Grainne Mhaol’s ferocity, To avenge her lover, she attacked Doona castle, where her lover’s murderers were holed up, and killed them. That earned her the nickname: “Dark Lady of Doona“.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Grainne Mhaol meeting queen Elizabeth I. Wikimedia

9. Mhaol’s Murderous Rampage

Grainne Mhaol remarried in 1566, but she was still livid at her sailor lover’s murder. So she had another go at the MacMahons in Doona Castle, and seized it by surprising the garrison while they were praying. Around that time, she also went after a thief who stole something from her, then fled to a church for sanctuary. So she surrounded the church and decided to wait him out, offering him the choice of starvation of surrender. He chose a third option, by digging a tunnel and escaping. In the meantime, her piratical activities expanded, until Grainne became Ireland’s sea mistress, and a pirate queen who controlled the waters around Connacht with an iron fist. She preyed on shipping and coastal communities along Ireland’s western coast, as well as on eastern settlements on the Irish Sea. While expanding her control, Grainne personally led a raid on a seaside stronghold known as Cocks Castle. To commemorate her courage in capturing it, it became known thereafter as Hens Castle.

After defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588, the English were able to focus on consolidating their grip on Ireland, and fighting Irish piracy and pirates such as Grainne Mhaol. To resist that English expansion, Grainney allied with Irish lords rebelling against the English. However, in 1593, the English captured her sons and brother, so Grainne sailed to England, to petition Queen Elizabeth I for their release. She met the English Queen at Greenwich Castle, where Grainne reportedly refused to bow, on the grounds that she did not recognize Elizabeth as Queen of Ireland. Elizabeth extracted Grainne’s promise to cease assisting Irish rebels. Elizabeth did not live up to her part of the bargain, however, so Grainne resumed her support of the rebels, and reportedly died in one of her castles in 1603.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Dolores Hart. Comet Over Hollywood

8. The Starlet Who Gave Up Fame and Fortune to Become a Nun

Dolores Hart was one of Hollywood’s most envied rising starlets of the late 1950s and early 1960s – a captivating actress heralded as the next Gene Kelly. In 1961, she was the top billing actress in MGM’s highest earning movie of the year, Where the Boys Are. By the early 1960s, Dolores was an established leading lady, starring across the likes of Montgomery Cliff, George Hamilton, Robert Wagner, and Stephen Boyd. Despite the success, however, her heart was heavy. Among other things, separating from colleagues after months of intense work on film sets reminded her too much of the breakup of her own family, and filled her with heartache. As she would later tell a magazine: “Before I was twenty, I learned that being in movies did not bring me the ultimate joy I expected“.

So she did something about it. Dolores had often retreated to the countryside on her days off, and a friend recommended that she try the guest house of a Connecticut convent, the Abbey of Regina Laudis. There, Dolores found a peace of mind and a sense of community and continuity that appealed to her. A few years later, she was engaged to be married, but changed her mind about the wedding, and decided to become a Bride of Christ instead. After finishing Come Fly With Me in 1963, Dolores turned her back on Hollywood, and entered a convent. In 1970, she took her final vows to become a nun. Today, Mother Dolores works and lives in the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Cornwall’s rocky coast. The Cornwall Guide

7. Cornwall’s Pirate Queen

Mary Wolverston, better known as Lady Killigrew (circa 1525 – circa 1587), was an English gentlewoman who led a double life as a pirate. She preyed on passing near Cornwall’s rocky coast – a region that had long been a home to smugglers, wreckers, and pirates. Back then, piracy was something of an English pastime, often abetted or outright encouraged by the authorities. Particularly during the Elizabethan era’s wars against Catholic Spain, when the line between English pirates and the English navy was often indistinguishable. It could even be said that piracy was in Mary’s blood, as her father, Phillip Wolverton, Lord of Wolverton Hall, had been a gentleman pirate for years.

She was married and widowed at a young age, and was then remarried to Sir John IV Killigrew, becoming Lady Killigrew. Like her father, Mary’s second husband also dabbled in piracy. However, unlike her father, who had retired, Sir John Killigrew was still an active pirate. In of itself, that was not too problematic, as the Elizabethan authorities encouraged piracy on the high seas, as a form of economic warfare against the country’s enemies. So long as it was conducted far away and in a manner that allowed the English government plausible deniability, priacy was not much of a problem. However, Lady Killigrew and her husband did not prey solely upon enemy shipping in the high seas, but also engaged in piracy in English waters, against foreign and English ships.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Queen Elizabeth I, who accepted a lavish bribe to pardon Mary Wolverston, Lady Killigrew. Royal Museums Greenwich

6. Recklessness Finally Did in Lady Killigrew

The downfall of Mary Wolverton, Lady Killigrew, came in 1583, when a Spanish ship, the Marie of San Sebastian, docked at Arwenack near her castle. Hearing that the ship carried treasure, Lady Killigrew entertained the captain and crew at her castle, and had them visit her estates inland. During their absence, she led a raiding party that seized the Spanish ship, killing all who resisted, before absconding with the cargo. When captain and crew returned to Arwenack and discovered what had happened, they complained to the local authorities. However, the local judge was Lady Killigrew’s son, so the complaint went nowhere. Enraged, the Spaniards went to London, where they enlisted the Spanish ambassador’s help.

Lady Killigrew’s latest foray proved too reckless for the authorities in London. Instead of a discrete piracy carried out far away, she had carried out a brazen act of piracy in English waters, that threatened to cause a diplomatic crisis. So officials were sent from London to investigate. When it was discovered that Lady Killigrew’s son, the judge, had tampered with the local investigation, she and her chief accomplices were arrested. Some of the stolen goods from the Marie of San Sebastian were discovered in her house, so receiving and fencing stolen goods was added to her charges. She was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Two of her accomplices were executed, but Lady Killigrew received a commutation from Queen Elizabeth, and was later released from prison after her son doled out lavish bribes.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Sichelgaita. Historia Regni

5. The Warrior Noblewoman Who Terrified the Mediterranean

Sichelgaita of Salerno (circa 1040 – 1090), a six foot Amazon, was a Lombard warrior princess and the hereditary duchess of Apulia in southern Italy. Born into the ruling family of the Duchy of Salerno, she exhibited a passion for swordsmanship and horseback riding from an early age. After her father, the duke, was murdered in a palace coup, Sichelgaita helped her brother regain the duchy, and she regained her place as the duchy’s most privileged woman. Brother and sister then had to deal with encroachment from Normans to their south, who had settled in Italy following a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In 1058, Sichelgaita met the Normans’ leader, Robert Guiscard, a Norman adventurer who sought to turn southern Italy and Sicily into a Norman domain. It was love at first sight.

Impressed by the six foot Amazon who went into battle, armed and armored at his side, Guiscard divorced his wife and married Sichelgaita. For the next 18 years, she was Guiscard’s constant companion, on and off the battlefield, helping consolidate his and her family’s hold on southern Italy. In 1076, clad in shining armor and mounted astride a stallion, she rode up to the walls of Salerno, which was ruled by her own brother, and demanded the city’s submission. When her brother refused, Sichelgaita and Guiscard put the city under siege, and starved her brother into surrender. She then took command of the city, and sent her brother into exile.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Sichelgaita and Robert Guiscard. Wikimedia

4. Sichelgaita Led Warriors Into Combat

Sichelgaita and Guiscard schemed to take over the Byzantine Empire by marrying one of their children into the imperial household, but a palace coup in Constantinople ruined those plans. So the power couple decided to take over Byzantium the hard way, by conquering it. In October of 1081, Sichelgaita led an advance force, which encountered a powerful Byzantine army. Sichelgaita determined to attack and keep the Byzantines pinned in place until Guiscard arrived with reinforcements, but her men wavered. As described by near contemporaries: “Directly Sichelgaita … saw these soldiers running away. She looked fiercely after them and in a very powerful voice called out to them … “How far will ye flee? Stand and fight like men!” And when she saw that they continued to run, she grasped a long spear and at full gallop rushed after the fugitives; and on seeing this they recovered themselves and returned to the fight.

She was badly wounded, but held part of the battlefield until reinforcements arrived to turn the tide and win the hard-fought engagement. Notwithstanding the victory, the plans for conquering Byzantium had to be discarded because of developments back in Italy, when a conflict broke out between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor. In 1084, the power couple resumed the attempted conquest of Byzantium. They won some initial victories, including a ferocious naval battle against a combined Venetian-Byzantine, which secyred them the islands of Cefalonia and Corfu. However, Guiscard took ill and died soon thereafter in 1085, and the campaign in Greece fizzled out. Sichelgaita retired to Salerno, where she died five years later, in 1090.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Teuta ordering the seizure of Rome’s envoys. Art

3. The Illyrian Queen Who Gave the Romans a Run For Their Money

When the Romans became a sea power following their victory over Carthage in the First Punic War (264 – 241 BC), their newly woman dominance was challenged by the Illyrians across the Adriatic Sea from the Italian Peninsula. Most notably by the Illyrian Ardiaei tribe, and their queen Teuta (reigned 231 – 227 BC). She had inherited the Ardiaei kingdom following the death of her husband in 231 BC, and continued his expansionist policies, pushing her realm’s borders deeper into the Balkans, while encouraging and supporting her subjects’ piratical activities. The conflict with Rome began when some of her pirates seized and plundered Roman vessels.

The merchants complained to the Roman Senate, which tried diplomacy at first, sending a pair of envoys to Teuta’s court. She argued that piracy was legal among the Illyrians, and that her government had no right to interfere with the private enterprise of its citizens. When the envoys retorted that Rome would have to make her change Illyrian laws, Teuta stopped feeling diplomatic, and had one of the Roman envoys killed, and the other imprisoned. Rome declared war in 229 BC, and sent a fleet of 200 warships to harry the Illyrians at sea, while an army of 20,000 infantry and cavalry crossed the Adriatic to devastate their lands. Teuta put up a fierce fight, but in the end, her tribal kingdom was no match for Rome. She was forced to surrender in 227 BC, and signed a humiliating peace treaty. Teuta was allowed to keep her throne, but as a Roman vassal, paying annual tribute, and ruling over a shrunken realm, stripped of much of its territory.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Frances Glessner-Lee at work on the Nutshell Collection. National Library of Medicine

2. The Socialite Who Pioneered Modern CSI

Chicago society dame Frances Glessner Lee (1878 – 1962) had an unusual hobby for women of her era: solving crimes and helping advance the science of forensics. She developed a training system for homicide detectives, parts of which are still in use today. She is considered the godmother of forensic science. The daughter of an industrialist who became fabulously wealthy from investing in International Harvester, Frances got hooked on Sherlock Holmes stories as a young girl. She dreamt of growing up to become a crime solver, and wanted to go to college, but her family would not allow her. She was also discouraged from pursuing her interests in forensic pathology. However, her dream refused to die, and after the deaths of her father and then her brother, she inherited the International Harvester fortune at age 52. Now a millionaire heiress and society dame, Frances could do whatever she wanted.

She did not splurge on lavish parties for debutants, tycoons, and other society types. Instead, she made a sizeable endowment to the recently established Harvard Department of Legal Medicine – the country’s first such institution. She also hosted week-long seminars for homicide detectives, prosecutors, and other investigators, to train them on crime investigation techniques. Her methodology, Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths, consisted of 20 true crime scene dioramas, that she personally reproduced in painstaking detail on dollhouse scale. Her dioramas were complete with working doors, windows, lights, and minute details all the way down to tiny food cans and miniature mousetraps. Students were given 90 minutes to study the scene, then try and solve the crime based on their observations. For her efforts, she was made an honorary captain in the New Hampshire State Police. 18 of her dioramas are still used for training.

Amazing Women Who Should Be Way More Famous
Sybil Ludington statue. Cerkl

1. Sybil Ludington’s Wild Midnight Ride

Paul Revere cemented his place in history with an 18 mile midnight ride in April of 1775, to alert the Patriots of the approaching British. In 1777, Sybil Ludington (1761 – 1839) made a 40 mile midnight ride to warn the Patriots of approaching British troops – over twice as long as Revere’s ride, and when she was only 16. Sybil’s father, Henry Ludington, was a New York militia officer, and later an aide to George Washington. On the night of April 26th, 1777, word reached the Ludington household that New York’s governor, general William Tryon, was about to attack nearby Danbury, Connecticut, where the supplies and munitions for the entire region’s militia were stored. Sybil volunteered (or was ordered by her father – accounts differ) to deliver the order for an immediate militia muster, and to rouse the countryside.

She rode her horse, Star, throughout a rainy night on a 40 mile careen around the region. Sybil traveled over unfamiliar roads, prodding the horse with a stick that she also used to knock on doors, and that came in handy to beat back a highwayman who tried to waylay her in the dark. By the time Sybil returned home, exhausted and soaked to the bone, most of the region’s 400 militia were ready to march to Danbury. They managed to beat governor Tryon and his men, forcing the British to retreat. Sybil was praised by her neighbors, and even by George Washington. Unfortunately for her, no world class poet took an interest in her exploits that night – or perhaps none could find anything good to rhyme with “Ludington”. Either way, Sybil never garnered as much attention as Revere, and her heroics were largely forgotten.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

ABC News – Leaving Hollywood For a Higher Calling

Ancient Origins – Tomoe Gozen: A Fearsome Japanese Female Samurai of the 12th Century

The Archive, Mar 27, 2019 – 30 Important Women in History You May Not Have Heard Of

Cracked – 31 Women Who Deserve to be Way More Famous

Encyclopedia Britannica – Belva Ann Lockwood

Encyclopedia Britannica – Teuta, Queen of Illyria

Find a Grave – Sergeant Roza Georgiyevna Shanina

Chinafetching dot com- Fu Hao: China‘s First Female General

History Ireland, March/ April 2005, Volume 13 – Grainne Mhaol, Pirate Queen of Connacht: Behind the Legend

Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation – Eta Wrobel

National Geographic History Magazine, March 15th, 2019 – This Renaissance Warrior Woman Defied Power Popes to Defend Her Land

National Public Radio, November 18th, 2017 – The Tiny, Murderous World of Frances Glessner Lee

Pirate Empire, The – Lady Pirate, Mary/ Elizabeth Killigrew

ThoughtCo – The Trung Sisters

Wikipedia – Sikelgaita

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