History is full of awesome people. You can easily get lost in the fascinating details of someone else’ life. Today, I would like to share with you the story of five awesome women from times gone by. Some of these women you may have heard of, others may be completely novel. Sit back and enjoy:
- Bunny Yeager
Linnea ‘Bunny’ Yeager start as a pageant queen in Miami after moving to Florida at age 17. Not only was Bunny highly photogenic, she also proved to be a talented seamstress as she designed many of the outfits that she modelled. Her fashion proved so popular that Yeager is often credited with popularizing the bikini in America.
Yeager moved into photography in order to save on printing costs. She sold her first cover shot in 1954 and soon became a skilled photography, noted for her use of fill flash. 1954 was also the year that Yeager met Bettie Page, the Queen of Pinup. During their short collaboration, Yeager took over a 1000 photos of Page, including the famous cheetah shoot and the January 1955 centrefold for Playboy. Yeager’s most iconic work might be the still images of Ursula Andress emerging from the ocean onto a Jamaican beach for 1962’s Dr. No.
However, Yeager’s style was very tasteful and as men’s magazines, such as Playboy, became more visually graphic, Yeager stopped photographing for such publications.
Yeager died in 2014 but she is remembered as one of the most influential photographers of the 20th Century. It is safe to say that her books and works inspired and influenced generations of photographers.
- Elizabeth Stokes
In recent years, women’s MMA and professional fighting disciplines in general have seen a surge in popularity due to figures such as Ronda Rousey. However, there is a long history of women kicking ass. Elizabeth Stokes first came to prominence in 1722, when she began advertising her bare-knuckle boxing matches in newspaper. Later that year’s she took on Hannah Hyfield of Newgate in a three guinea prize fight. The fight was interesting as each fighter held a half-crown in their fist and the loser would be the first person to drop a coin. Elizabeth won and picked up as a regular feature in the venue of a proprietor, James Figg. By 1728, Elizabeth had married Figg’s biggest rival, James Stokes and moved two miles east to fight in his venue.
While many female fighters of the time were held in disrepute and tended to nothing more prostitutes trying to earn a little more, Elizabeth Stokes gained some mainstream fame and was even mentioned in print by a number of London newspapers.
Unfortunately, records from the time were mostly superficial official records and so I was unable to find much else about Elizabeth Stokes. However, in the male dominated world of the Georgian Era, it’s awesome to find a woman kicking ass in such a public way.
- Leonarda Emilia
From female fighters to, well, more female fighters. I will admit up front that it has been incredibly hard to find a lot of information about this woman and she may be nothing more than an exaggerated folk story but I’d like to share it anyway.
In 1861, the French invaded Mexico. A young girl, Leonarda Emilia, from Querétaro in Northern Mexico fell in love with a French soldier who was stationed nearby. Unfortunately for their little love story, the French lost the war in 1867 and Leonarda’s lover was sentenced to death by firing squad.
Heartbroken, Emilia decided to avenge her deceased lover. She took on the name ‘La Carambada’ and became an outlaw. She utilised her equestrian, firearms and machete skills and began robbing the rich. Her signature was to bare her breast to her victim, just to add the insult that they had been robbed by a woman. There are also claims that Emilia gained her revenge by poisoning the provincial governor and nation’s president, both of whom ignored her pleas for clemency in the case of her French lover.
Despite the lack of evidence, we know that La Carambada’s adventures came to an end in 1873, where she was shot and arrested. She confessed her story to a priest on her deathbed and died in police custody.
- Nakano Takeko
Nakano Takeko is one of the better known Onna-bugeisha, a class of female warriors in feudal Japanese nobility. Takeko was born in 1847 and trained in martial arts, as well as the more traditional disciplines such as literacy. When Takeko was 21, civil war broke out across Japan and Takeko sided with the Tokugawa shogunate, who sought to divert political power away from the imperial court.
Takeko first saw action at the Battle of Aizu in the autumn of 1868, where she led an ad hoc group of female combatants. As the battle grew fiercer, Takeko took more and more power, showing her skills as a fierce fighter and determined leader. However, her life was cut short as she was fatally shot while leading a charge at Imperial regiment. In one last act of defiance, Takeko asked her sister to behead her so it could not be taken as a trophy by the enemy.
War is a terrible, terrible thing. That said, it can sometimes be the place where someone shows their true worth. Such is the case of Nakano Takeko.
- Marie Stopes
My final entry is Marie Stopes (1880-1958). After earning a BSc in botany and geology from University College, Stopes became the youngest person to earn a DSc two year later. She followed this up with a PhD in paleobotany from the University of Munich in 1904. She went on to become the first female academic at the University of Manchester.
Stopes’ research was initially focused around proving Eduard Suess’ proposed existence of Pangaea. She was aided by Robert Falcon Scott, who promised to bring back supporting evidence from his expedition to the South Pole. Fossilised evidence that support Stopes’ work did return, even if Scott himself did not.
Stope’s interest in coal, which she pursued after her work on Pangaea, secured her a research commission from the British government during the First World War. However, after her paper, Monograph on the constitution of coal, was published, Stopes reduced her scholarly work. She had a new field of interest- birth control.
Stopes and her husband set up Britain’s first family planning clinic in 1921. The clinic was free and offered married women information and access to birth control and reproductive advice but it did not offer abortion services as abortion was something Stopes was opposed to.
Stopes helped pave the way for impartial family planning and reproductive health services in the United Kingdom. While her attitudes appear to have been fuelled by a strong belief in eugenics, do not let that cloud your judgement of what she has done for this country.
As I said in my intro, history is full of awesome women and fantastic stories. Feel free to share some of your favourites in the comments!