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10 Badass Rebel Women in History

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Spencer Sher
Rules are meant to be broken! For this list, we’ll be looking at women who defied convention and rebelled against the norms of their times, often helping to bring about social change in the process. Our list includes Anne Bonny, Rosa Parks, Nancy Wake, Boudica, Alice Paul, and more! Join MsMojo as we count down our picks for the 10 Badass Rebel Women in History.
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10 Badass Rebel Women in History


Rules are meant to be broken! Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the 10 Badass Rebel Women in History.

For this list, we’ll be looking at women who defied convention and rebelled against the norms of their times, often helping to bring about social change in the process.

#10: Anne Bonny


One of the most famous pirates in history, Anne Bonny plundered her way through the Caribbean alongside Captain John “Calico Jack” Rackham in the 18th century. Bonny’s first husband James had been a pirate himself, but became a pirate informant in Nassau - where Bonny fell for Rackham. With their affair discovered, the two stole a sloop and put together a crew. Bonny was an accomplished fighter, and story has it that she and fellow female pirate Mary Read led the charge during the crew’s last stand against privateers. In prison, Bonny had some choice parting words for Rackham: “Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang'd like a dog." Bonny herself avoided the rope and disappeared - leaving her final years shrouded in mystery.

#9: Lady Hester Stanhope


Born to a well-to-do family in 18th century England, Lady Hester Stanhope disregarded convention in more ways than one. Instead of living off her family’s wealth, and seeking a husband of equal status, she devoted her life to travel and adventure. She journeyed extensively in the Middle East, often in men’s clothing, and led an archeological expedition to uncover lost treasure. While she never did find gold, she did unearth a marble statue – which she promptly destroyed, wanting to prove that she hadn’t come to the Holy Land to pillage relics for England. She would remain in the region until her death, welcoming visitors and taking in refugees.

#8: Rosa Parks


Few historical figures are as universally revered as Rosa Parks. In 1955 she refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger, later remarking, “I would have to know for once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen." Her act of defiance and subsequent arrest led to the Montgomery bus boycott, which lasted over a year and ultimately caused the US Supreme Court to declare Alabama bus segregation laws unconstitutional. Dubbed “the first lady of civil rights”, Rosa Parks’ decision to resist a racist establishment became a watershed moment for the country, and is regarded as one of the sparks for the civil rights movement.

#7: Ida B. Wells-Barnett


Born into slavery, Ida B. Wells’ life was one long, uphill climb. But she would go on to become one of the most influential African-American women of her time. A journalist, activist and teacher, Wells rose to prominence in the late 19th century for investigating and reporting on the illegal lynching of black men in the Southern United States. She published her findings in her newspaper “The Free Speech and Headlight”, but in response, a mob burnt down the paper’s office, forcing her to relocate from Memphis to Chicago. She continued to campaign against lynching, and in 1909 helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - a civil rights organization that still exists to this day.

#6: Nancy Wake


Secret agent, saboteur, resistance fighter: Nancy Wake was all three. When the Nazis invaded France in WWII, Wake was instrumental in getting people out of the country, and later served as a courier for the French Resistance. Wanted by the Gestapo, who nicknamed her “The White Mouse”, she fled France in 1943, but parachuted back in a year later to lead a group of over 7,000 resistance fighters. Wake wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty in the line of duty, once killing a sentry with her bare hands. She led her fighters to numerous victories, even defeating a German army 22,000 strong. In fact, Wake survived the war, and went on to publish a bestselling autobiography about her experiences.

#5: Margaret Sanger


Margaret Sanger was a birth control advocate and sex educator at a time in which America’s Comstock Laws banned the distribution of “Obscene Literature” and “Articles of Immortal Use” by mail. Despite this, Sanger launched a newsletter, “The Woman Rebel”, to promote contraception. Its slogan? “No Gods, No Masters”. After opening the US’ first birth control clinic in 1916, she was thrown in jail; when a judge promised her a reduced sentence in exchange for respecting the law, she basically told him to shove it. Despite her conviction, the trial was instrumental in raising awareness for her cause. She went on to found what eventually became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and is credited with popularizing the term “birth control”.

#4: Boudica


We’re going way, WAY back for this entry. Boudica lived in the 1st century AD, a time of great upheaval in Ancient Britain. The Roman Empire occupied the region, but had struck a deal with Boudica’s husband King Prasutagus to respect his tribe’s nominal independence. When he died, however, the Romans ignored his will, flogged Boudica, and raped her daughters. In response, the Celtic Queen revolted, sacking cities and driving the Romans out of Londinium - aka London. Her efforts almost pushed the Romans out of Britain; but after regrouping, they managed to retake the city. Boudica killed herself to avoid capture, or died of illness, but anyone brave enough to stand up to the Roman Empire is a badass in our books!

#3: Harriet Tubman


It takes a special kind of person to escape a horrible situation, then willingly return to rescue others. Harriet Tubman was just such a woman. Born in 1822, she escaped from slavery in 1849, determined to have, in her own words, “liberty or death”. But she returned soon afterwards to free the rest of her family. Using the Underground Railroad - a network of safe houses and secret roads - she helped dozens of slaves escape to the Northern US and Canada - earning her the nickname “Moses”. When the Civil War broke out, she worked for the Union Army as cook, nurse, spy and scout, and later devoted herself to the women’s suffrage movement. Talk about a life lived to the fullest!

#2: Alice Paul


A disciple of Emmeline Pankhurst, who worked tirelessly to win British women the right to vote, Alice Paul helped American women do the same. In 1916 the suffragist formed the National Woman’s Party, campaigning for an amendment to the constitution that would guarantee women voting rights. The following year she and a group known as the “Silent Sentinels” started picketing outside the White House, to protest President Woodrow Wilson’s refusal to support the amendment. They were yelled at, beaten, and many arrested. Paul herself was sent to a prison psychiatric ward, where she was force fed raw eggs through a feeding tube. Once released, she fought on, and in 1920, at last saw American women given the vote.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are some honorable mentions:

Sojourner Truth

Artemisia Gentileschi

The Mirabal Sisters

Sophie Scholl

Raden Ajeng Kartini

#1: Joan of Arc


A legendary leader, whose life at times seems more historical fiction than fact, Joan of Arc defied social norms to become one of history’s unlikeliest heroes. Born to French peasants in the 15th century, she managed to convince King Charles VII that she should lead the French army, claiming that she’d been sent by a higher power. While initially, nobles and military commanders scoffed at her counsel, her leadership brought an end to the siege of Orléans - turning the tide of the Hundred Years’ War. Sadly, the following year, she was captured by the English, who charged her with heresy, witchcraft, and cross-dressing, and burnt her at the stake. Today, she’s revered as a saint, and remains an iconic symbol of courage and audacity.
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