Badass Women History Class Totally Failed To Mention


"Anything men can do, women can do better" has been a recurring theme in everything from a Broadway musical to a Gatorade commercial to, well, a bunch of our articles. From pirates to philosophers, there have been women throughout history kicking ass and taking names. So let's learn a few more of their names.

La Maupin Was An Opera-Singing, Swashbuckling, Bisexual Badass

Julie d'Aubigny was taught from a young age by her sword master dad how to ride a horse like a man, fence like a man, and dress up like a man (so as not to raise suspicion). Easily the best of her class, d'Aubigny quickly figured out what she wanted to become when she grew up: a dashing rogue.

Her "lover and a fighter" streak started at 14 with an affair with her dad's boss, the Count d'Armagnac. She then married a knight named Sieur de Maupin before deciding the only thing he was good for was the name she took from him, "La Maupin." She abandoned him to elope with her fencing instructor and swashbuckle her way to Paris, earning a living performing amazing fencing demonstrations. Her skill led to rumors that she was secretly a man (as in, pretending to be a woman pretending to be a man), a rumor she dispelled by tearing off her blouse and flashing her audiences at live shows -- a move that sometimes turned her enemies into lovers.

Badass Women History Class Totally Failed To Mention
Aubrey Beardsley/Library of Congress
Frankly, tearing open that shirt is a pretty impressive feat in itself.

La Maupin was also proudly and openly bisexual -- a pretty bold move in the late 1600s, when women could get into deep shit for deviances like showing their ankles or knowing how to read. In fact, her first real love was a wealthy merchant's daughter, but their relationship was so scandalous that the girl's family shipped her off to become a nun. Undeterred, La Maupin simply infiltrated the convent, dragged a corpse into her girlfriend's bedchamber, and then burned the convent down to create the illusion that they were both killed in the fire. They lived happily ever after ... until La Maupin got bored and dumped her.

La Maupin quickly became famous throughout France, not just because of the swashbuckling, but also her opera performances. She was so talented that she was even invited to perform for King Louis XIV, who was such a fan that he didn't even mind that she dueled three men in a row at his court, even though he had outlawed dueling. She was just that good.

Perhaps the most impressive feat of all is that La Maupin did all this in her early 20s. In her twilight years (by which we mean her 30s), she fell in love with the equally infamous Madame la Marquise de Florensac, a wealthy noblewoman and one of the most beautiful women in France. They were happy for two years before la Marquise died of a fever. After all that fighting, this was a blow La Maupin would never recover from. She retired from the opera and joined a convent for real. She died at 33, having done more in half of a lifetime than most of us ever could with our full lives.

Related: 5 True Stories Behind Iconic Pictures Of Badass Women

Lillian May Armfield Was Sydney's First Female Cop (And Took Down Two Major Crime Bosses)

Lillian Armfield was the perfect nurse -- kind, smart, and always with a hard candy in her pocket. Which was why everyone was surprised when she quit nursing to become part of Australia's first women's police squad as a "special constable." She was "special" in that unlike male constables, she wasn't allowed to have handcuffs, a gun, or even a uniform. It was like being a less formal Paul Blart. So when a crazed drug dealer tried to kill her with a red-hot iron, all she had to beat him back was her trusty handbag. Which worked.

Armfield soon proved that she didn't need a gun or a man to be the best cop in the Sydney PD. At the time, citizens were being terrorized by the Razor Gang Wars. In proper Australian straightforwardness, this was about gangs fighting with straight razors. At the head of the two biggest razor gangs stood two women: Kate Leigh, the Sly Grog Queen, and Tilly Devine, the "Queen of Woolloomooloo." You can laugh if you want, but keep in mind the razors.

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NSW State Reformatory
That's her on the left, the one who looks like a low-ranking Harry Potter villain.

Thanks to Australia's laughable attempt at alcohol prohibition, women like Leigh and Devine rose to the top of the criminal underworld by exploiting a misogynistic loophole. The law stated that no man was allowed to profit from sex work -- and in true Eowyn spirit, they were not men. Untouchable, both queens quickly built empires based on all types of crimes, from prostitution to rum running to racketeering. But this wasn't a case of sisters doin' it for themselves -- Leigh and Devine hated each other's guts, fighting in the streets, snitching to the cops, and launching PR campaigns by bribing newspapers to report on the gang warfare in their favor.

It was too late before the bosses realized that the woman they really should've feared was Special Constable Lillian Armfield. While their gangs tore each other apart in the streets, Armfield was slowly tearing them apart with diligent work, even managing to put Leigh behind bars on drug charges.

But Armfield's most powerful weapon wasn't her badge or her handbag; it was her kindness. Instead of arresting sex workers, most of whom were confused young girls, Armfield showed them compassion, talking to them and helping them quit the life. This left the Razor Queens with no labor force, decimating their "businesses" and ultimately leaving them destitute. Meanwhile, Armfield served with distinction for 30 years and was awarded several medals, an induction into the Victorian Honor Roll of Women, and eventually a service weapon.

Related: 5 Great Women Ignored By History For Absurdly Sexist Reasons

Hypatia Of Alexandria, The Catholic Church's Most Feared Intellectual

If you were a smart kid in the 4th century, there was no place better than Alexandria, and Hypatia was easily the smartest person around. At an age when many of us were still figuring out how to BS our way through college applications, she took over from her father as the head of the famous Platonic School. There she used her incredible (at the time) knowledge of mathematics, physics, and astronomy to do the toughest job a scholar can do: make all this gibberish make sense to students. She wrote ingenious commentaries on mathematics, furthered the understanding of several geometric principles and helped perfect the use of the astrolabe (the GPS of the time). She even figured out a more efficient method for doing long division, and everyone who's ever passed the fourth grade owes her a thank-you note and a fruit basket.

But her greatest intellectual contribution was her teachings on Neoplatonism, a scientific philosophy which held that the secrets of the cosmos could be discovered through studying the patterns in the sky, mathematics, and music. Wisely discerning that a policy of religious tolerance would allow intelligent people to thrive around each other, Hypatia attracted great scholars of all creeds and beliefs to the Platonic School, who wished to study under the "cool teacher."

You know who wasn't a fan? The local Christians. Particularly Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, who directed violent mobs of monks to roam the city attacking anyone who didn't believe in their god. Not knowing how to handle this violent zealot, the Christian governor of Alexandria turned to the highly respected Hypatia to use her scientific philosophy to divine the right course of action. In response, Bishop Cyril applied some Christian science of his own: He accused her of witchcraft.

Louis Figuier
Spoiler alert: It ends exactly like you think it's going to. Also, 19th-century history illustrations were quite racist.

So one day, as Hypatia was riding through town, a group of fanatics mobbed her and (many historians believe under Cyril's orders) stoned her to death, cut out her eyes, and tore her limb from limb before setting her mangled corpse on fire. The Catholic Church later made Cyril a Saint, which is quite the honor in their club. Meanwhile, Alexandria still hasn't recovered from the fallout of Hypatia's death, including the crumbling of the Platonic School, an exodus of her many brilliant students, and the end of the city as one of the world's greatest intellectual hubs. And now all we have left to remember her by is a biopic no one was wild about and a more recent portrayal by Lisa Kudrow.

Related: 31 Amazing Women Who Deserve To Be Way More Famous

Janet Guthrie, The Aerospace Engineer Who Became The First Female NASCAR Driver

Ricky Bobby could learn a thing or two about goin' fast from a gal like Janet Guthrie -- it's all she wanted to do from the time she was young. While most 13-year-olds have a hard time keeping their car un-flipped in Grand Theft Auto, by that age, Guthrie was already flying planes. By the time she was 17, she had earned her pilot's license and was an experienced skydiver.

Luckily for her, she had the smarts to match her guts, and after earning a degree in physics from the University of Michigan in 1960, Guthrie went to work as an aerospace engineer on the precursor to the Apollo program. She then became one of only four women who aced the first NASA trials for astronauts, but she was barred from becoming one because she didn't have a lousy PhD.

If she couldn't jet through space, Guthrie was just going to have to go at high speeds down here on planet Earth. She spent all her money on a Jaguar XK 140 race car (which she slept in to make ends meet) and immediately fell in love with racing, dividing her time between building race car engines at night and studying for a master's degree during the day.

By 1972, Guthrie had graduated to being a full-time driver, having taken two class wins in the infamously hard 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race. It was at that point that she decided she was going to race for NASCAR -- as a woman, in the 1970s. Bear in mind, this is an organization that didn't see any use for women outside of popping champagne bottles until 1971.

Guthrie's biggest worry wasn't whiplash, but backlash. No sponsor was willing to back her (people tend to forget how expensive this sport is to finance), and male drivers refused to race against her, sputtering garbage about "safety concerns." But she proved them all wrong, becoming the first woman to compete in a NASCAR Winston Cup, the Indy 500, and the Daytona 500. She became such an important figure in racing that her helmet and driver suit are in the Smithsonian, and she was inducted into the Women's Sports Hall of Fame. It's entirely possible that if it weren't for Guthrie, we wouldn't have Danica Patrick, and what a travesty that would be.

Related: 5 Reasons Women Will Rule The Future

Madame Ching Was The Most Powerful Pirate In History

Most salty dogs believed that having a woman on your ship meant ill fortune would befall you, and nobody made a better case for that Madame Ching, the Pirate Queen of the Chinese. She'd take your fortune and more if she got anywhere near your ship. Born in 1775, Shih Jang came from a long line of honest, hard-working pirates. While working as a madam on a floating brothel, she drew the attention of Cheng I, dread pirate admiral of the Red Flag Fleet. They soon married, with the newly minted Ching Shih (that's "Madame Ching" to us vermin) coming in as a full partner, running 50% of the fleet. Unsurprisingly, that number soon rose to 100% when her husband went the way of most pirates, sailing directly into a storm and drowning.

Under Madame Ching's leadership, the Red Flag Fleet flourished. With her keen business mind and unparalleled military strategies, she ruled from the Yellow Sea to the Straits of Malacca. Her strategy was simple: They'd plunder entire wealthy towns instead of wasting time robbing merchant ships. Like a salt-brined Robin Hood, she would then redistribute some of that wealth to the impoverished countryside, earning her their loyalty -- and more importantly, a steady supply of recruits, spies, and hideouts.

Via Wikimedia Commons
Plus at least one badass illustration.

And while most pirates wind up with barely enough booty to fill a pair of sweatpants, Madame Ching soon became one of the richest people on the planet. Like any boat owner ends up doing eventually, she poured most of that money into her fleet, which at its height counted over 1,000 ships and 80,000 loyal scum. This allowed her to take on entire nations' navies, squaring off against the Chinese, British, and Portuguese. Once, her scalawags sank 63 Chinese warships in one battle before they got the message and backed off.

What cemented Madame Ching as the greatest pirate CEO of all time was that she got off scot-free. The Chinese government got rid of her the same way Roger Ailes got rid of harassment complaints -- with a hefty settlement. In return for disbanding her fleet and putting a few heads on spikes, Ching and her crew were allowed to retire with a full pardon and all the booty in one piece. She then opened a casino, had grandkids, and eventually died at 69 (nice) in her bed, making her the most successful pirate to have ever walked the planks.

Abraham is a Mexican lawyer when he isn't doing law stuff he writes comedy! You can say hi to him on Twitter here. He also loves to write fictional stories and you would make his day if you followed him on Wattpad here.

For more, check out The Women Men Don't See - People Watching Season 2, Episode 7:

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