Who is the most amazing woman who ever lived.
September 5, 2013 5:39 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for the female equivalent to Tycho Brahe, someone who's life was full of both achievement and adventure. A woman who has a list of great deeds (such as discovering a supernova) and also great stories (like getting a moose drunk, or losing their nose in a duel over maths) Is there such a woman (Well, I know there must have been, but more accurately has history recorded such a woman)
posted by Just this guy, y'know to Grab Bag (73 answers total) 255 users marked this as a favorite
Nancy Wake was a pretty bad mofo, though maybe more James Bond than Tycho Brahe.
posted by abcde at 5:49 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'll nominate Julie d'Aubigny.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:49 AM on September 5, 2013 [8 favorites]

Madame Curie probably fits the bill pretty easily.
posted by JJ86 at 5:51 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Ada Lovelace had a fairly salacious adult life.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:53 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ada Lovelace. The world's first programmer - the Enchantress of Numbers - friend to Charles Babbage, Charles Dickens and Michael Faraday. Plenty of scandals and affairs.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:53 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Emilie du Chatelet? Mathematician, card shark, fencer, lover to Voltaire.
posted by stuck on an island at 5:56 AM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

Coco Chanel, ideologically loathesome though she was, lived a simply incredible life - she rose from poverty and abandonment (in an abusive religious institution!) through being basically a courtesan (ie, she was a mistress but she was the kind who went into society, not the kind you kept in a secret apartment, so she had to be socially adroit) through basically starting a whole new kind of clothing business and adopting plebian materials (like wool knit, which was NOT something you'd ever wear in a classy setting) through so much else, the war, a come back....She had adventures.

But surely Harriet Tubman must be one of the most amazing women history has ever recorded. Her story is a sadder one - a grave injury in childhood that hurt her all her life, death in poverty - but as you know, she helped slaves escape, and she also co- led a successful military raid which freed many more. She was a suffragist and an outspoken woman all her life.

There are tons of others, but I am really sleepy and my brain is failing me.
posted by Frowner at 6:01 AM on September 5, 2013 [11 favorites]

A little less well-known perhaps, but the war correspondent Sigrid Schultz is on my list of bad-ass adventurers with big accomplishments (without any added spice of scandal or sexual intrigue.) She was just a hard-working and incredibly brave journalist who covered the Spanish Civil War, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, and every theatre of war in Europe.
posted by three blind mice at 6:03 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd nominate Ching Shih:

...a prominent pirate in middle Qing China, who terrorized the China Sea in the early 19th century. She commanded over 300 junks manned by 20,000 to 40,000 pirates another estimate has Cheng's fleet at 1800 and crew at about 80,000 — men, women, and even children. She challenged the empires of the time, such as the British, Portuguese and the Qing dynasty. Undefeated, she would become one of China and Asia's strongest pirates, and one of world history's most powerful pirates. She was also one of the few pirate captains to retire from piracy.
posted by jquinby at 6:09 AM on September 5, 2013 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Nancy Wake. - The White Mouse. Nurse. Journalist. WW2 badass spy. Leading figure in the French resistance. Politician.
On the night of 29–30 April 1944, Wake was parachuted into the Auvergne, becoming a liaison between London and the local maquis group headed by Captain Henri Tardivat in the Forest of Tronçais. Upon discovering her tangled in a tree, Captain Tardivat greeted her remarking, "I hope that all the trees in France bear such beautiful fruit this year," to which she replied, "Don't give me that French shit.”

On one occasion, the supply drops were threatened by the destruction of radio codes. Wake embarked on a marathon bike ride, cycling about 500 km in 72 hours (crossing several German checkpoints) in order to find an operator to radio Britain and request new codes.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:09 AM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

Helen Keller had a pretty amazing life, born blind and deaf and largely known just for that (due to the movie The Miracle Worker), but went on to be highly influential in early-20th Century radical politics - pacifism, socialism, women's suffrage, etc.
posted by entropone at 6:13 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

She wasn't much of a partier, but I always thought it was pretty badass that Agatha Christie wrote some of the best-selling novels in the English language while excavating ancient Mesopotamian cities. This after she possibly faked her own death and before she was Damed.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:13 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Florence Nightingale and Amelia Earhart and Elizabeth Blackwell all accomplished big things.
posted by Dansaman at 6:13 AM on September 5, 2013

Best answer: Actress Hedy Lamarr "invented an early technique for spread spectrum communications and frequency hopping, necessary for wireless communication from the pre-computer age to the present day."
posted by jbickers at 6:15 AM on September 5, 2013 [15 favorites]

Oh, how about Eartha Kitt? Of course, she was the Catwoman, but she also actually told the president during a White House visit that she was against the Viet Nam war and weathered the ensuing publicity storm. She was generally involved in Civil Rights, youth and GLBT activism and also had some pretty self-actualized things to say about gender and relationships.

Also Josephine Baker. She was so neat! She started out in the US doing comic dance and became this incredible sensation in France, she helped the Resistance very actively, she was involved in civil rights, she had a pet leopard, she adopted a bunch of children and - this I had no idea about! - was apparently invited to step into a leadership role in the civil rights movement after MLK's assassination...but felt that the risk was too great. Plus, of course, glamor and lovers and so on.
posted by Frowner at 6:15 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Helena Blavatsky. Blurb from a recent biography: Pioneer. Visionary. Provocateur. Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky—mystic, occult writer, child of Russian aristocrats, spiritual seeker who traveled five continents, and founder (with Henry Steel Olcott) of the Theosophical Society—is still being hailed as an icon and scorned as a fraud more than 120 years after her death.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:17 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Han Su Yin, also. The Wikipedia article is kind of crap [well, really it just doesn't get at how interesting she was], you really need to read her memoirs - but she was a Chinese and Flemish doctor, author and political agitator who was really enmeshed in Chinese events before, during and after the revolution. She was married to a Nationalist army officer but due to her disillusionment with the Nationalists and her general political tendency she became a critical supporter of the communists. She did a lot of doctoring under difficult conditions, helped found Nanyang University, was generally a beautiful and magnetic woman, lived in China through some difficult post-revolutionary times in the seventies....Because of her status and her dual nationality, she had a lot of freedom to travel within and outside China when few people could, and she also had more freedom to write. I really like her work because she is one of the few writers who has published extensively in English who has this sort of realist, China-centered view of the Chinese revolution - her writing really centers Chinese concerns rather than Cold War ideological struggle, so she has a really interesting perspective.
posted by Frowner at 6:22 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's such a pity because I do think so many of these women are lost to history, or are just women who aren't publicly known and you have to meet personally to hear about them. In particular, so many women of my grandparents' generation did BADASS things during WWII, just stunning, stunning things, and so many of them are just OUR GRANDMOTHERS. Like the war nurses who were teen girls, 18, 19 years of age, who plugged up spurting arteries and carried around severed limbs without a blink... like the British girls who called the shots for anti-aircraft gunners... like Sophie Scholl, a Lutheran college student executed at the age of 21 by guillotine by the Nazis for co-founding the White Rose resistance movement... her last words were "How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?"... like my friend's grandmother, a Jew who snuck out of a destabilizing Middle Eastern country by crossing the border hidden by blankets in the bottom of a wagon pulled by a donkey... like the Russian "night witches" - female aviators bombing the Nazis from their wood and canvas planes(!!!)... like one of my two biggest personal heroes of humanity, Irena Sendlerowa, a gentile who repeatedly snuck in and out the Warsaw ghetto until she had smuggled out over 2,500 Jewish children, was captured by the Nazis, tortured and sentenced to death, but managed to survive and lived the bulk of her life in anonymity in communist Poland... and Irena said something true, that the Jewish parents and grandparents were the real heroes. We'll just never know about all of them and what they did because so many of them were wiped out.
posted by cairdeas at 6:24 AM on September 5, 2013 [25 favorites]

posted by leotrotsky at 6:26 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

The amazing life of Mata Hari: "Margaretha Geertruida "M'greet" Zelle MacLeod (7 August 1876 – 15 October 1917), better known by the stage name Mata Hari, was a Dutch exotic dancer, courtesan, and convicted spy who was executed by firing squad in France under charges of espionage for Germany during World War I." Infamous rather than great, but wow, what adventure!
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:31 AM on September 5, 2013

Julia Child was a cook, author, businesswoman, a Pioneer TV personality, lovely woman and a spy
posted by Gungho at 6:34 AM on September 5, 2013 [11 favorites]

Beryl Markham, as described in West with the Night. Among many other adventures, she was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west.
posted by alms at 6:40 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I just heard about Louise Michel, who was heavily involved in the Paris Commune. Heck of a life. Also, Hedy Lamar is really interesting.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:43 AM on September 5, 2013

Nellie Bly had herself committed to an insane asylum for an undercover journalism assignment, traveled around the world in 67 days, patented a milk can, and was president of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co.
posted by coppermoss at 6:45 AM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

You want to go to Badass of the Week and look up the women.

Some examples:
Mary Walker - only women to win Medal of Honor
Edith Garrud - militant Suffragrette who judo flipped cops
Milunka Savic - most decorated female solider in history
Stagecoach Mary - Hard-drinking, hard-fighting Old West mail carrier.
Julie D'Aubigny - French opera singer who killed ten men in duels and once snuck into a convent to bang a nun and then set the convent on fire to escape.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:04 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, geez, why have none of us mentioned Emma Goldman? I mean, talk about a paradigmatically adventurous life - anarchist, factory organizer, prisoners' rights activist, lecturer, threatened Johann Most with a horsewhip for being a misogynist, exiled by the US for her subversive activities, etc etc.

And of course, it would be redundant to mention Frieda Kahlo - she's turned into a bit of a cottage industry for middle class white liberal woman who ignore her actual radical activist history, her fierceness, her anti-white-supremacy-ness, her ways of centering people of color and indiegenous people, her queerness - but wow, she was amazing! Also a friend of Trotsky. Once again, Wikipedia totally does not do her justice. Dying and disabled by an injury in her youth, she was out protesting US intervention in Guatemala in 1954. If you want a woman of epigrams, she's your person.
posted by Frowner at 7:10 AM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

Also, there's wikipedia's list of women warriors in folklore. Most of the women on the list are real women.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:11 AM on September 5, 2013

Fly Rod Crosby. The first Maine registered guide. Amazing fly fisherwoman.
posted by jilloftrades at 7:12 AM on September 5, 2013

Nancy Cunard is pretty interesting too - she lived about as principled a life as a rich white heiress was ever likely to do.

Also Vera Brittain - you want harrowing, try reading her WWI memoir. But then she went on and did other stuff as well.
posted by Frowner at 7:14 AM on September 5, 2013

Emma Goldman: author, atheist, birth control advocate, LGBT rights supporter, anti-war critic, labor organizer, free speech advocate, abolitionist, world traveler, midwife, masseuse, and propagandist of the deed.

Born: June 27, 1869. Died: May 14, 1940.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:19 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wrote an entry some time back about how badass Hedy Lamarr is. She's got my vote.
posted by Jairus at 7:19 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Jairus, your link is dead.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:21 AM on September 5, 2013

Also, there are several women who are known for their accomplishments, but not for their badass adventure and deeds... but I STRONGLY suspect they have had badass adventures and deeds and most of them are secret. I would put Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, and Queen Elizabeth into this group. About the first 3, I don't think it's possible to travel the world for years being Secretary of State of the US without being involved in some Really Wild goings-on at the international incident level.

Condoleezza Rice described her upbringing this way: "A little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham – the most segregated big city in America. Her parents can't take her to a movie theatre or a restaurant, but they make her believe that even though she can't have a hamburger at the Woolworths lunch counter, she can be president of the United States." One of the little girls killed in the infamous 1963 Birmingham church bombing was her childhood friend. As a college undergrad, when a professor made remarks in class about black people having low IQs, she raised her hand and said, "Let me explain to you: I speak French, I play Bach, I'm better in your culture than you are."

About Queen Elizabeth, for the past 60 years she's been the monarch of one of the most powerful countries in the world. When you think of everything that has happened over the past 60 years, I think it's way more likely than not that she's been involved in Really Wild things. David Cameron said, about his meetings with her: "There's a very therapeutic side to it, because as you explain the particular problem that the government has, or a particular challenge the country's facing, sometimes you find it is all becoming clearer as you explain it to this one incredibly experienced person..." "The Conservative leader said he was "very conscious" that he was the 12th British prime minister that the queen has dealt with. "She's been listening to this stuff for 60 years... and you get some pretty good questions which you need to think of some good answers to," he said.
posted by cairdeas at 7:30 AM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

Tallulah Bankhead was pretty accomplished as an actress, but no-one, and I mean no-one has a better collection of life stories than hers. There are always new ones being revealed, of varying degrees of truth perhaps, but why spoil it? Her memoirs are a real treasure, and she doesn't even touch/remember the best stories.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:32 AM on September 5, 2013

And unfortunately I'll have to come back to the thread later, but I just wanted to drop in Benazir Bhutto and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
posted by cairdeas at 7:32 AM on September 5, 2013

Golda Meir
posted by Jahaza at 7:37 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

She may not have changed the world, but "Grandma" Gatewood was pretty damn badass.
posted by bondcliff at 7:53 AM on September 5, 2013

Aphra Behn - First English female professional writer; spy
posted by HeroZero at 7:57 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ella 'Kini' Maillart is your woman. And can I just say that this is my favorite question ever.
posted by Skyanth at 8:14 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

this is one of my favorite questions ever, too.

seconding hypatia, ada lovelace, hedy lamarr, and in the same vein, admiral grace hopper.

queen boudicca led her forces against a roman legion, and queen elizabeth the first was a real queen, not a show pony like her current namesake.

if you believe the story, joan of arc saved france, but i've always harbored doubts.
posted by bruce at 8:26 AM on September 5, 2013

Hildegard of Bingen.
posted by Gygesringtone at 8:37 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding a lot of the ladies who have already been mentioned, and adding Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer, Aletta Jacobs and Anna Maria van Schuurman. Especially Kenau was seriously badass.
posted by rjs at 9:29 AM on September 5, 2013

Seconding Ella Maillart.
posted by pipstar at 9:55 AM on September 5, 2013

I came in to say what Cairdeas said about OUR GRANDMOTHERS. My own grandmother helped instigate the Patterson Silk Strike when she was a mere 13 years old. She continued to be an integral part of the movement that began labor unions in the USA. At around age 17, I believe, she went on a cross country tour with some other young adults in order to continue union organizing, and since her mother objected to an unmarried girl traveling with unmarried men, she married one of them. In later years, she introduced my father, age 16, to a man who was "half Spanish, half Indian", and told him it was his real father. She became a vegetarian in the 1920's, was an avid promoter of juicing, organic eating and taking vitamins in the 1960's, appeared in a PBS documentary about the Wobblies in the 1970's, and in the 1980's, while in her late 80's, told me not to get married, "just live with a man till you get tired of him." She made her living as a nurse (who often argued with doctors and was generally right), and was a hellacious piano teacher (such that my father gave a recital in Carnegie Hall at the age of 4.) These are just a few of the things I'm aware of; there's lots more. And this is just *my* sweet little Grandma (who made matzoh ball soup with chickens she raised and butchered herself.) I imagine lots of people have women like that in their family, it just never gets written down.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:55 AM on September 5, 2013 [16 favorites]

Laura Secord walked 20 miles through hostile territory to warn the British of a surprise attack during the war of 1812, and there`s a chain of chocolate/ice cream shops named after her.
posted by gohabsgo at 10:05 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Alice Sheldon better known as James Tiptree, Jr. Here's a good timeline of her life, which includes African safari when she was 7, painter, Army Major, CIA spy, experimental psychologist, Nebula Award winning author.
posted by Sophont at 11:09 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Gertrude Bell

posted by Violet Hour at 12:02 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

For great stories, you can't beat Pancho Barnes, pioneer flyer and badass bar owner.
posted by JanetLand at 1:57 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think Cleopatra was an incredible woman and so much more than a lover to both Caesar and Mark Antony. Please see Cleopatra - A Life for a more well rounded (though at time hypothesized) biography.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 2:27 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mandukhai, queen of the Mongols. She carried her child husband to battle in a saddlebag, years later gave birth to twins during another battle, reunited the mongols after many years of internecine struggle, and was generally awesome. She's known as Mandukhai the Wise.
posted by sukeban at 2:44 PM on September 5, 2013

I'm glad someone mentioned Gertrude Bell - the fabulous Gertrude Bell Archive hosts her letters, diaries and collections of photographs.

Also, really seconding Emilie du Chatelet

Mary Seacole, (1805 – 14 May 1881), née Grant, a Jamaican-born woman of Scottish and Creole descent who set up a 'British Hotel' behind the lines during the Crimean War, which she described as "a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers," and provided succour for wounded servicemen on the battlefield. She was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991. In 2004 she was voted the greatest black Briton.

Sojourner Truth "was the self-given name, from 1843 onward, of Isabella Baumfree, an African-American abolitionist and women's rights activist." Sorry, there's not much fun in her story, what with the slavery and all. But. What power. Sojourner Truth (1797-1883): Ain't I A Woman? Delivered 1851 Women's Convention, Akron, Ohio: That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

...Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

posted by glasseyes at 3:09 PM on September 5, 2013

Marie Colvin was a thoroughly badass woman, killed in Homs, Syria, in February of 2012, reporting on the conflict that's still ongoing.

She was remembered as a local girl with a wild streak, an avid sailor plying the waters of Long Island Sound and a woman who gave great parties frequented by top journalists who let their hair down and danced.
“She never went anywhere without her cache of reporter’s notebooks — or her pearls,” said Katrina Heron, Ms. Colvin’s friend and roommate at Yale.

Colvin, from East Norwich, New York, had been a foreign correspondent for Britain’s Sunday Times for more than 25 years, making a specialty of reporting from the world’s most dangerous places. The newspaper posted her final dispatch outside the website’s paywall, so anyone could read her account from a cellar offering refuge for women and children. The report chronicled the horrors that eventually took her own life.
posted by glasseyes at 3:23 PM on September 5, 2013

Probably not the most amazing woman ever, but Annie Edison Taylor, the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel - on her 63rd birthday - is pretty impressive. It's a sad and interesting story.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 3:32 PM on September 5, 2013

Isabella Bird. Broke up the old boys' club of the Royal Geographical Society. Traveled the world. Romanced a one-eyed outlaw. Wrote prolifically about her adventures.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:44 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fun thread!

Agree that Harriet Tubman is one of the most exciting, adventrurous, rightous characters in North American history. Let's look at the evidence:

1) Born a slave. Whatever your upbringing, it's hard to imagine circumstances more challenging than that.

2) Became a central force in the underground railroad, personally escorting roughly 300 people to freedom. And when I say escorting, I mean hiding, sneaking through the woods and from safe house to safe house, at risk of death at all times.

3) Worked with John Brown to recruit folks to raid Harper's Ferry.

4) Joined the Union Army as a nurse and cook, and then became a spy! And then led an armed raid as part of the war that freed another 700 slaves!!

5) In her retirement, she became a suffragist, and then opened a sort of rest-home for former slaves in upstate New York.

All this with lifelong crazy brain attacks that caused intense headaches, buzzing in her head, seizures, and maybe hallucinations.

Um, complete motherfucking baddass anyone?!
posted by latkes at 6:17 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, a couple others I really admire:

France Bloch Serazin: I can only imagine she was one of the first female chemistry professors in France when the Spanish Civil War broke out and she got involved on the side of the Republicans. Joined the French Resistance when Fascism spread to her country and used her chemistry know-how to build bombs to blow up train tracks and stuff. Had a husband and a child. Got arrested by the Nazis, tortured for 9 months, and then was decapitated by axe. A true hero.

Frieda Belinfante was a Dutch musician, half Jewish, and became an orchestra conductor - maybe the first female conductor - in the 1930s. Oh, and she was a butch lesbian. When the war came to Holland, she joined up with other gay activists to forge identity papers for Jews and to blow up a big hall of records that recorded who was Jewish. When some of her comrades were caught, she started cross dressing full time and hiding out. She snuck out of Europe in the 40s and moved to Laguna Beach where I believe she conducted orchestras until her death. Check this woman out!
posted by latkes at 6:31 PM on September 5, 2013

All this with lifelong crazy brain attacks that caused intense headaches, buzzing in her head, seizures, and maybe hallucinations.

Don't forget, it was because (IIRC) some man had thrown a metal weight at her head! Leaving her with a permanent indentation there.
posted by cairdeas at 6:32 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thirding Gertrude Bell. (And seconding Marie Curie, whom I hadn't thought of but who had an amazing, adventurous, full, inquisitive, fulfilling, influential life.)
posted by kristi at 8:47 PM on September 5, 2013

And also seconding Harriet Tubman, whom I also hadn't thought of, but who was such a badass that slaveowners thought she must be a man because no mere woman could possibly have so much bravery and daring and SUCCESS in helping slaves free themselves.

Perhaps also Nzingha and Catherine the Great and Eleanor Roosevelt.
posted by kristi at 8:55 PM on September 5, 2013

Don't forget King Christina of Sweden.
posted by daisystomper at 9:17 PM on September 5, 2013

If you step back from the scientific framing of the post, Joan of Arc achieved quite a bit.
posted by pwnguin at 9:46 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Gloria Swanson?
posted by DRoll at 11:34 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, Aphra Behn was really amazing! I am in a Women Writers class, and we are reading The Rover, which was pretty groundbreaking in its day. She is buried in Westminster Abbey, too.
posted by DRoll at 11:37 AM on September 6, 2013

Best answer: Gráinne Ní Mháille, or Grace O'Malley, The Sea Queen of Connacht. (A more bombastic perspective here, if you prefer).

Countess Constance Markievicz; actress, painter, suffragette, Irish revolutionary, and the first woman elected to the British Parliament (which she refused to attend).
posted by rollick at 12:07 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Once upon a time, there was this young teenage girl, who was very religious and lived in a rural town in a very sexist community, who still managed to lead her country's army to great victories...
posted by Asparagirl at 11:38 PM on September 6, 2013

No love for Wu Zetian, the only female Emperor of China? Although vilified by later historians (who were Confucian and male), she seems to have done a pretty awesome job running the place, was a huge patron of Buddhism and Taoism, made major efforts to improved education, arts, and general well-being, and increased the size of the nation dramatically.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:52 AM on September 7, 2013

Best answer: Lise Meitner, who helped discover nuclear fission (and got no credit for it), the Auger effect (which you will note is not named the Meitner effect), and oh yeah also had to flee Nazi Germany on foot because she was Jewish.

Margaret Mead; while there's some controversy about her work now, there's no denying she was a very accomplished woman who led a rather adventurous life.
posted by kagredon at 10:46 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and on a sadder note--Princess Ka'iulani.
posted by kagredon at 11:10 PM on September 8, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for such a great response!
I've marked up some of the answers that really interested me and were closest to the drunken elk and sword fighting themes I was originally looking for.

All the other answers are excellent and fascinating also.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:33 AM on September 9, 2013

Agree with JJ86. Marie Curie was in my opinion the greatest.
posted by ofertarca at 3:37 AM on September 11, 2013

Elizabeth Freeman (Mum Bett)
posted by alfanut at 6:27 AM on September 11, 2013

she was pretty one-way, but this thread would not be complete without a nod to Janis Joplin.
posted by philip-random at 12:05 AM on September 12, 2013

I am waaaaay late to this thread, but I urge everyone to check out Adah Isaacs Menken, who outGagaed Lady Gaga back in the 19th Century. Most of what you find online tends to refer to her relationships, but the book Pin-Up Grrrls talks about her stage and media exploits.
posted by divabat at 3:16 PM on April 11, 2014

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