To celebrate Women’s History Month in March (and International Women’s Day on March 8) we dipped into the history books to remember the most courageous, gnarly, and overall badass women to ever exist. While a 2018 study showed that females are more resilient than men, you need not look any farther for evidence than this list.
From an 86-year-old who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro to a 15-century ninja to a UFC legend to a mathematician to Oprah (of course), here are 23 women who inspire us to do badass shit.
Althea Gibson was Venus and Serena Williams before there were Venus and Serena Williams. The first major African-American female tennis player, Gibson was an unstoppable force who dominated the sport. She was the first Black player to compete at Wimbledon and the first African American to win a Grand Slam title. Still hungry? Gibson went on to be the first African-American woman to compete in the pro women’s golf tour.
Iconic media executive and talk show host Oprah Winfrey grew up in poverty with an unmarried teenage mother in Mississippi and went on to build one of the largest entertainment empires the world has ever seen. An inductee to the National Women’s Hall of Fame, Oprah was North America’s first Black multi-billionaire, held the highest-rated television program for well over a decade, and is considered one of the most influential women on the planet.
Buffalo Calf Road Woman
Nicknamed “Brave Woman,” Buffalo Calf Road Woman was a 19th-century Cheyenne warrior who strategically fought and rallied others at the Battle of the Rosebud and the Battle of Little Big Horn. While little is known about her life, she is considered one of the most heroic fighters in American history.
Tamar the Great of Georgia
Then 18-year-old Tamar was crowned co-ruler of the Georgian kingdom in an epically cool move by her father, and began her 29-year reign in 1184. Tamar’s intense drive to build a strong and successful kingdom was evident to daddy. She went on to take the moniker of “king” and command a gang of intense medieval knights before building one of the most unstoppable armies in history.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The second female justice to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, RBG is a notorious gender-rights badass. She was one of only nine female students during her time at Harvard, became the lead counsel for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, and can be credited with building a better legal foundation of women’s equality. Watch the 2018 RBG documentary ASAP.
The daughter of a 15th-century ninja, Mochizuki Chiyome was a Japanese noblewoman who spent her time writing poetry and recruiting women to form a ladies-only ninja group that served the Takeda clan. By pretending to conform to ordinary female stereotypes, her ninjas could travel anywhere and take down rivals.
Talk about female fighters — Olympic, UFC, and WWE athlete Ronda Rousey couldn’t speak until the age of six but grew up to be the first American woman to earn an Olympic medal in judo, the first female UFC fighter, and the first woman to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. She also achieved the fastest UFC title fight by submission. In her own words, offered to one opponent, “Don’t cry.”
Irom Chanu Sharmila
For more than 16 years, Irom Chano Sharmila fasted in protest of India’s Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gave the government power to search, arrest, and abuse anyone who acted suspiciously against the state. Sharmila became an icon of resistance, constantly imprisoned and re-released during her extensive hunger strike. She’s been nicknamed the “Iron Lady.”
You may recognize Serbian mathematician Mileva Marić from her former last name, Einstein-Maric. Mileva was the first wife of Albert Einstein and many believe his most profound discoveries (hello, Theory of Relativity) and scientific productivity should be at the least co-credited to Mileva, who was the only woman at Zürich’s Polytechnic School alongside Albert at the time. Despite her brilliance, gender inequalities kept Mileva out of scientific textbooks.
Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is emerging as one of the world’s most celebrated artists. Growing up with polio, Kahlo led a terribly painful life, which she channeled into her self-portraits and surrealist paintings, making her a feminist icon and inspiration for self-expression.
Ida B. Wells
African-American journalist Ida B. Wells was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, battling sexism, racism, and the threat of extreme violence. Born into slavery, Wells’ journalistic skills (she’s considered the first female journalist) opened up the world to the inhumane conditions of the South, particularly the lynching of African Americans. Having traveled abroad, she was also busy on the ground floor boycotting and filing lawsuits to fight injustice.
Former NASA astronaut and biochemistry researcher Peggy Whitson holds the record for most days — a mind-boggling 665 days, to be exact —spent in space by an American. (There’s a Russian dude who spent eight more days up there than she did.)
Born in roughly 615 BC, Sappho is perceived as one of the greatest lyrical poets of ancient Greece. She may have run a school for unmarried young women and was nicknamed the “Tenth Muse” by Plato. Her emotional and beautiful prose style has been a source of inspiration, and imitation for male and female writers throughout history.
A modern lyricist and Civil Right activist, Aretha Franklin was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after a career that produced 18 Grammys, 75 million record sales worldwide, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a top spot on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
At 86 years old, Russian-born Angela Vorobeva became the oldest woman to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. Word is that she spent an hour at the summit celebrating, then went about her business (like a BAMF).
The video game industry is flooded with dudes trying to Warcraft for a living. Meanwhile, 30-year-old Kat Gunn (known online as “Mystik”) is the highest-earning female gamer in the world and winner of WCG Ultimate Gamer.
An immigrant from England to the colony of Maryland, Margaret Brent showed great courage by being the first woman to ask for the right to vote. And she asked for two votes instead of one — ballsy — but only because she wanted one for herself, being a landowner, and another for Lord Baltimore, as she was his attorney.
The Queen of the Underground Railroad and the “Moses for her people,” Harriet Tubman was a slave who became a spy, scout, guerrilla soldier, nurse, and leader of the Underground Railroad, helping other slaves escape. She had a bounty on her head, once suffered a broken skull, and we feel is one of the strongest people to have ever existed.
You might have seen Misty Copeland in Under Armour ads, but the American ballet dancer is more than physically strong. Growing up with a single mother, Copeland’s determination drove her to become the first African-American female principal ballerina in the American Ballet Theater. She is an outspoken advocate for diversity and the support of young girls.
The Mirabal Sisters
When the Dominican Republic was run by dictator Rafael Trujillo, the fearless efforts of three ordinary sisters, Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa Mirabal, helped expose the corruption and brutality of Trujillo’s regime. The sisters were assassinated; however, their deaths led to Trujillo’s own assassination six months later. The United Nations General Assembly designated November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in honor of the Mirabals.
The woman who discovered radioactivity, Marie Curie is the first person to ever win two Nobel Prizes, and she also discovered the elements polonium and radium. Her parents were poor school teachers and she grew up with no formal higher education. The girl just liked reading on her own (hint hint)
Maud Stevens Wagner
Tattoo history would not be complete without the badass Maud Stevens Wagner. Originally a contortionist in a circus, Wagner became the first known female tattooist in the U.S. She got started by agreeing to go on a date with a man she met in exchange for tattoo lessons. She also had many tattoos in an era where many (men and women) wouldn’t have fathomed it. Rebel level: 100.
Supermodel, singer, actress, Grace Jones is not only an ’80s icon but an all-around badass woman who influenced the countercultures of art and sexuality at the time. Listen to her music, pin up her posters, and “create oneself.”
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