Wicked Wednesday: All the Impressive Women

Edith/Maddie here, excited to kick off Women’s History Month with a series of Wicked Wednesdays celebrating the ladies who went before. We’re also going to have a slew of impressive authors who write historical mysteries visiting us on other days.

The Wicked Authors wanted to call this month’s theme, “Badass Bi***es of the Before Times.” One of our faithful readers and frequent commenters found that middle word offensive, and we aim to please. So, Wickeds, today let’s dish on one real-life impressive woman from 1950 or before who is not related to you – some other badass woman you admire. Go!

Jessie: I really admire Victoria Woodhull. She had a varied career as a patent medicine huckster, a psychic medium, a stockbroker (which is a sort of psychic huckster, I suppose) a birth control advocate, a suffragist, and a presidential candidate. She did all of these things in the 1800s, well before women had won the right to vote. If she interests you, I commend to you the book The Scarlet Sisters by Myra MacPherson.

Edith/Maddie: Woodhull sounds amazing, Jessie. I know Amelia Earhart is well-known and widely admired as a female aviation pioneer, but as I researched her over the last year, I learned so much I didn’t know. She was a a true badass advocate of educating girls, of teaching science to women, of women’s rights. She wrote poetry. She worked as a teacher and social worker to immigrant women in Boston. And, sixty years before I arrived in the city, she lived only a mile from my first apartment in the Boston suburb of Medford.

Liz: I recently came across Vera Atkins, a British intelligence officer, while doing some research, and she’s definitely badass! She was born in 1908 and emigrated to Britain in the 1930s. Edith, she was a linguist! She joined the Special Operations Executive Branch of British Military Intelligence, the branch that trained and sent agents overseas. After WWII, she worked on the British War Crimes commission and went on a journey to find 118 missing officers. She tracked all but one and was awarded a medal for those efforts.

Julie: Do you all listen to the podcast The History Chicks? I was driving my niece home from college in December, and we listened to an episode about Sarah Berhardt. I thought I knew about her, but it turns out I didn’t. She was born in 1844, we think. There’s a lot about her life that’s a little hazy. She figured out how to make her way in the world–not easy for a woman back then. Best known as an actor, she did tours in England and the United States that sold out, despite the fact that she performed in French. Mark Twain said of her: “there are bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses – and then there is Sarah Bernhardt.” There are some early movies of her, but she was a stage actor. I wish I could go back in time and see her perform. She was also a very gifted sculptor. This week’s History Chicks episode was about another sculptor, Edmonia Lewis, who was also born in 1844. Well worth the listen to both episodes.

Sherry: Rosa Parks. She had more courage in her little finger than I do in my entire being. Thanks to Julie I know about The History Chicks podcast and the one about Rosa Parks fascinating.

Readers: Who is the badass woman from the past you admire?

28 Thoughts

  1. I’ve always admired Clara Barton, a nurse during the Civil War and Founder of the American Red Cross. She was self-taught. I can’t imagine what it must have been like over 150 years ago and under those conditions and no modern medicine. It takes a strong, determined woman to survive something like that.

  2. I’m going to go with Madam C. J. Walker. She’s recorded as the first self-made female millionaire in America through her cosmetics and hair care products for Black women. She was also a noted activist and philanthropist. Over 100 years later, her products are still available.

  3. Nelly Bly – 1864-1922 She managed to break into journalism and went from women’s writer to investigative journalist, including having herself committed to a what was then called a mental institution to expose the treatment of patients. Oh yes, she also famously competed against fiction in a race around the world.

  4. Hedy Lamarr. Best known for her acting, she was an amazing scientist. We wouldn’t have cell phones, Bluetooth, or so many other wireless technologies without her.

  5. In my post medicated brain from a medical procedure yesterday, I can’t think of a specific badass woman. However, I think that all women that took a stand for justice, succeeded in changings wrongs and basically took a stand for all womankind were badass. Most took abuse and ridicule, but stood their ground. Some didn’t even get the praise for what they did until after they were dead. They had the strength of their conviction and stood up for all women.

    By the way, the “b” word is offensive to me, BUT when I tried to write a review on Barnes & Noble for BATTER OFF DEAD, it kept getting refused for profanity. Shaking my head because I had posted it other places. After reading it several times, it finally hit me – the name of a club in the book had the “B” word in it. Took it out and it went right through. Amazing that one word stopped posting a review.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Thanks, Kay, and I hope your brain clears soon! Funny, my editor had no problem with the Stitch and Bitch Club. I’m sorry it blocked your review!

  6. Harriet Tubman, for sure! She freed herself from enslavement, returned to the south to help hundreds of others escape bondage, then she served as a spy and battlefield leader for the Union army in the Civil War. A truly remarkable hero for the ages.

  7. Wow, so many wonderful women to choose from. I agree with all the above, but the first woman who came to mind was Mary Kingsley. Adapted from Wikipedia: Mary Kingsley was an ethnographer, scientific writer, and explorer born in Cambridge, England and known for her exploration throughout West Africa and the impact that her work had on European perceptions of African cultures. She studied cannibalism and twin killing and was instrumental in stopping the latter practice. Even when she slogged through mud and swamps, she always wore full Victorian dress including high top button boots which she wouldn’t take off for fear of not being able to get them back on. She spent time with the Fang people and traveled though their uncharted territories. In Cameroon, she climbed the active volcano, Mount Cameroon and traversed the 13,250 feet using a route that had never been used by a European.

  8. My Bass ass woman is Barbara Baer Capitman. She founded The Miami Design Preservation League and darned near singlehandedly preserved Florida’s South beach. A little less than fifty years ago the \southern end of Miami was a dingy bunch of deteriorating hotels–awaiting the wrecking ball. Today South Beach glitters as one of America’s most exotic locations. Please read “Saving South Beach” by M. Barron Sofik.

  9. Marie Curie.. She revolutionized radioactivity and won 2 Nobel awards

  10. I had been going to suggest, each of the women previously named (Great Minds, eh?), but since they’ve been taken, I’ll nominate the three women celebrated in the book and movie, Hidden Figures, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan.

    As a very privileged white male, it was astonishing (and appalling) to me what they, both as women and as people of color had to go through (and put up with) just to provide the rest of us with the benefit of their skills and talents. I can tell you quite frankly, that I could NEVER have have assumed the veneer of meekness and deference that was necessary for Black women to survive, let alone succeed and prosper in those days (and honestly, is still true today, thankfully to a lesser degree).

    I think that willingness to do what was necessary to survive in that environment, without regard to the toll that subservience takes on the soul is another real definition of Badassness. (Is that a word? Well, it is now.)

    And it was particularly Badass that once they had made strides for themselves, they risked that to bring their many other women colleagues along with them. Yes, I’d say those women definitely fit the definition.

    By the way, Jessie, are you aware that there was a Broadway musical written about Victoria Woodhull? It was called Onward Victoria. It started off-off-Broadway in 1979 under the title of Unescorted Women, and moved to Broadway in 1980 as Onward Victoria. It’s star was Jill Eikenberry (best known for LA Law).

    There was an Original Cast Recording released by Original Cast Records. While I’ve never heard the score, it was notable for one song (sung by Victoria) celebrating the . . . um . . . endowment of Henry Ward Beecher. I looked it up on the web and found that copies of the recording (on vinyl) can be found and purchased. If you’re interested, here’s the link: https://www.discogs.com/release/3348182-Charlotte-Anker-Irene-Rosenberg-Keith-Herrmann-Onward-Victoria

    It had 23 previews and closed (unsurprisingly) on its opening night, December 14, 1980.

    Full disclosure, while I was aware of its existence, most of these facts about Onward Victoria came from Wikipedia.

  11. There are so many historical and contemporary stories written about amazing women who have made a difference in their communities, country and the world. And, I do appreciate them each one, but the women who made an impact on my life were my teachers who from kindergarten to graduate school taught and encouraged me. Most of them worked for very little pay and gave so much of themselves to their jobs. So many unheralded lives that helped shape my life and others like me. The list of those women would stretch a mile or more long. I am so thankful for the women who put a hand out to help me up without any thought of glory for themselves. They all were as Mr. Rogers said, “the helpers.”

    1. I agree completely, Judy! While not all of my female teachers were stellar (we won’t mention Mrs. Zvara in fifth grade, who fell asleep with equal ease during our oral book reports and our televised Spanish classes…), many were, and I owe them a lot.

  12. I always admired Joan D’arc or Joan of Arc. Her faith and belief was incredible. Her strength and conviction are unsurpassed. She led an entire army and lived in the most horrible conditions alongside her soldiers and in prison. Even when burned at the stake she didn’t give in to save herself. Now that is badass.

  13. Florence Nightengale, Eilzabeth Blackwell, Jacqueline Kennedy, Michelle Obama, Dr. Biden and my Mom.

  14. I wish I had read this yesterday but my answer is definitely Margaret Chase Smith. She stood up to a political bully who was targeting people so he could make a large name for himself. He became a spectacle, and it took a courageous female senator to call him out and to finally start the wall to crumble under him. We need more like her today and we need them in a hurry.

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