Revolutionaries

10 intriguing female revolutionaries that you didn’t learn about in history class

Revolutionaries

We all know male revolutionaries like Che Guevara, but history often tends to gloss over the contributions of female revolutionaries that have sacrificed their time, efforts, and lives to work towards burgeoning systems and ideologies. Despite misconceptions, there are tons of women that have participated in revolutions throughout history, with many of them playing crucial roles. They may come from different points on the political spectrum, with some armed with weapons and some armed with nothing but a pen, but all fought hard for something that they believed in.

Let’s take a look at 10 of these female revolutionaries from all over the world that you probably won’t ever see plastered across a college student’s T-shirt.

Nadezhda Krupskaya

Many people know Nadezhda Krupskaya simply as Vladimir Lenin’s wife, but Nadezhda was a Bolshevik revolutionary and politician in her own right. She was heavily involved in a variety of political activities, including serving as the Soviet Union’s Deputy Minister of Education from 1929 until her death in 1939, and a number of educational pursuits. Prior to the revolution, she served as secretary of the Iskra group, managing continent-wide correspondence, much of which had to be decoded. After the revolution, she dedicated her life to improving education opportunities for workers and peasants, for example by striving to make libraries available to everyone.

Nadezhda Krupskaya

Constance Markievicz

Constance Markievicz (née Gore-Booth) was an Anglo-Irish Countess, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil politician, revolutionary nationalist, suffragette and socialist. She participated in many Irish independence efforts, including the Easter Rising of 1916, in which she had a leadership role. During the Rising, she wounded a British sniper before being forced to retreat and surrender. After, she was the only woman out of 70 to be put into solitary confinement. She was sentenced to death, but was pardoned based on her gender. Interestingly, the prosecuting counsel claimed that she begged “I am only a woman, you cannot shoot a woman”, while court records show she said “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me”. Constance was one of the first women in the world to hold a cabinet position (Minister for Labour of the Irish Republic, 1919–1922), and she was also the first woman elected to the British House of Commons (December 1918)—a position which she rejected due to the Sinn Féin abstentionist policy.

Constance Markievicz

Petra Herrera

During the Mexican Revolution, female soldiers known as soldaderas went into combat along with the men although they often faced abuse. One of the most well-known of the soldaderas was Petra Herrera, who disguised her gender and went by the name “Pedro Herrera”. As Pedro, she established her reputation by demonstrating exemplary leadership (and blowing up bridges) and was able to reveal her gender in time. She participated in the second battle of Torreón on May 30, 1914 along with about 400 other women, even being named by some as being deserving of full credit for the battle. Unfortunately, Pancho Villa was likely unwilling to give credit to a woman and did not promote her to General. In response, Petra left Villa’s forces and formed her own all-woman brigade.

soldaderas

Nwanyeruwa

Nwanyeruwa, an Igbo woman in Nigeria, sparked a short war that is often called the first major challenge to British authority in West Africa during the colonial period. On November 18, 1929, an argument between Nwanyeruwa and a census man named Mark Emereuwa broke out after he told her to “count her goats, sheep and people.” Understanding this to mean she would be taxed (traditionally, women were not charged taxes), she discussed the situation with the other women and protests, deemed the Women’s War, began to occur over the course of two months. About 25,000 women all over the region were involved, protesting both the looming tax changes and the unrestricted power of the Warrant Chiefs. In the end, women’s position were greatly improved, with the British dropping their tax plans, as well as the forced resignation of many Warrant Chiefs.

ABA Women

Lakshmi Sehgal

Lakshmi Sahgal, colloquially known as “Captain Lakshmi”, was a revolutionary of the Indian independence movement, an officer of the Indian National Army, and later, the Minister of Women’s Affairs in the Azad Hind government. In the 40s, she commanded the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, an all-women regiment that aimed to overthrow British Raj in colonial India. The regiment was one of the very few all-female combat regiments of WWII on any side, and was named after another renowned female revolutionary in Indian history, Rani Lakshmibai, who was one of the leading figures of the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Lakshmi Sehgal

Sophie Scholl

German revolutionary Sophie Scholl was a founding member of the non-violent anti-Nazi resistance group The White Rose, which advocated for active resistance to Hitler’s regime through an anonymous leaflet and graffiti campaign. In February of 1943, she and other members were arrested for handing out leaflets at the University of Munich and sentenced to death by guillotine. Copies of the leaflet, retitled The Manifesto of the Students of Munich, were smuggled out of the country and millions were air-dropped over Germany by Allied forces later that year.

Sophie Scholl

Blanca Canales

Blanca Canales was a Puerto Rican Nationalist who helped organize the Daughters of Freedom, the women’s branch of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. She was one of the few women in history to have led a revolt against the United States, known as the Jayuya Uprising. In 1948, a severely restricting bill known as the Gag Bill, or Law 53, was introduced that made it a crime to print, publish, sell, or exhibit any material intended to paralyze or destroy the insular government. In response, the Nationalists starting planning armed revolution. On October 30, 1950, Blanca and others took up arms which she had stored in her home and marched into the town of Jayuya, taking over the police station, burning down the post office, cutting the telephone wires, and raising the Puerto Rican flag in defiance of the Gag Law. As a result, the US President declared martial law and ordered Army and Air Force attacks on the town. The Nationalists held on for awhile, but were arrested and sentenced to life in prison after 3 days. Much of Jayuya was destroyed, and the incident was not fairly covered by US media, with the US President even saying it was “an incident between Puerto Ricans.”

Blanca Canales

Celia Sanchez

Most people know Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, but fewer people have heard of Celia Sanchez, the woman at the heart of the Cuban Revolution who has even been rumored to be the main decision-maker. After the March 10, 1952 coup, Celia joined the struggle against the Batista government. She was a founder of the 26th of July Movement, leader of combat squads throughout the revolution, controlled group resources, and even made the arrangements for the Granma landing, which transported 82 fighters from Mexico to Cuba in order to overthrow Batista. After the revolution, Celia remained with Castro until her death.

Celia Sanchez

Kathleen Neal Cleaver

Kathleen Neal Cleaver was a member of the Black Panther Party and the first female member of the Party’s decision-making body. She served as spokesperson and press secretary and organized the national campaign to free the Party’s minister of defense, Huey Newton, who had been jailed. She and other women, such as Angela Davis, made up around 2/3 of the Party at one point, despite the notion that the BPP was overwhelmingly masculine.

Kathleen Neal Cleaver

Asmaa Mahfouz

Asmaa Mahfouz is a modern-day revolutionary who is credited with sparking the January 2011 uprising in Egypt through a video blog post encouraging others to join her in protest in Tahrir Square. She is considered one of the leaders of the Egyptian Revolution and is a prominent member of Egypt’s Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution.

Asmaa Mahfouz

These 10 women are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to female revolutionaries. Let us know in the comments who we’ve left out and what you think about the actions of those included on our list!

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117 replies
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    • Nushinna
      Nushinna says:

      Please find out about the meaning of the word “Revolutionary”. There is a difference between an assassin and a revolutionary person.

      Reply
    • Gareth
      Gareth says:

      Except, Lenin was the revolutionary, and what he was working towards was good. Making Fanya an anti-revolutionary.

      Reply
  1. Leah
    Leah says:

    Juana Azurduy de Padilla – a Bolivian guerillla soldier and general of the Argentinian army (she was only rewarded this rank in 2009, 147 years after her death).

    Reply
  2. Emily
    Emily says:

    Birgit Monhaupt – Leading figure of the 2nd generetion of the Rote Armé Fraction, from Germany

    Leila Khaled – Comander in the Public Front for the Liberation of Palestine

    Rosa Luxemborg – Leading figure in the Paris Comune

    Valerie Solanas – Creater of the SCUM manifesto, and shot Andy Warhol

    Emma Goldman – Leading figure of the Anarchist movement in the USA and in Russia under the Revolution in 1917

    Voltairine De Cleyre – Leading Anarchist firgure in USA in the 1800′s

    Milly Witkop – Leading figure of the Anarcho syndicalist/feminist movement in Berlin in the 1920′s

    Reply
  3. Eelker van Hagen
    Eelker van Hagen says:

    I actually had goose bumps, realizing both the staggering number of people reacting to the request for examples of women that are undervaluated by history. Because that is just the basic force we see at play here. If we make a quick judgement on how much coverage “male revolutionaries” have received when compared to their “female” colleagues and what immense and strong force of bias has been in place and still is to even make a censorship like that to be effective and that wide spread throughout our history to make these women almost disappear from our collective memory, it is enough to be silenced in dismay or break out in anger. But if you’re proned to be aware of it, there is enough evidence of this bias in every day life, to be appalled over, get angry about or break down in silence for being hurt. So the only way out of that, is to find things to do, the small sparks of hope that give us a small view of things changing for the better and how we aid to that improvement. And that’s the thing, this is just one amazing attempt to have these women not be forgotten and if I’m right, you will be given an enormous amount of women by your readers that deserve to be torn from obliviance. Maybe some day, there will be no need any more to safeguard women from obliviance or quite obvious displays of underestimating their role in history. That day won’t come any sooner but for initiatives like this one. Thank you very much for this brilliant attempt to wake up our collective memory to its unjust biases and for confronting me with blindspots in my own that needed to be filled.

    Reply
  4. Anna Yaroslava
    Anna Yaroslava says:

    Where’s Ruslana Lyzhychko on this list? She should definitely be included, especially considering what’s going on in Ukraine at this moment.

    Reply
  5. Douglas Cooke
    Douglas Cooke says:

    Bartolina Sisa, together with her husband Tupak Katari, led an indigenous uprising against Spanish rule in Bolivia in 1781. They held the capital in siege for 184 days. She was executed September 5, 1782.

    Reply
  6. Ed Lytwak
    Ed Lytwak says:

    Maria Nikiforova – the anarchist Joan of Arc (1885-1919) Played a prominent role in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Civil War as an organizer, military commander, and “terrorist.” A revolutionary from the age of 15, she was on trial for her life on four separate occasions under three different regimes and sentenced to death twice. Her exploits became the stuff of folklore. But she was “blacklisted” by official historians and her story was lost for generations. — “Atamansha” Black Cat Press http://www.blackcatpress.ca

    Reply
  7. Perla
    Perla says:

    All the ‘staffette’, the partisan women who helped American allies and rebel italian soldiers to fight against fascist and nazi forces in Italy during WWII. Some names: Irma Bandiera, Laura Del Bon, Ines Bedeschi, Livia Bianchi.

    Reply
  8. Pia Cortez
    Pia Cortez says:

    Definitely GABRIELA SILANG, a Filipino revolutionary whose biggest mass women’s movement in the Philippines (with international chapters) is named after.

    Reply
  9. Matilda Olsson
    Matilda Olsson says:

    And for French resistance leaders during the occupation of WWII, you have to include Nancy Wake. Being a military genius, amazing strength of character and sassy as shit, she was told to have immortalized the words “Don’t give me that French shit”, when the local Captain of the French Resistance told her he hoped all trees would bear such beautiful trees while cutting her down from her parachute. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_Wake

    Reply
  10. Steve price
    Steve price says:

    Came across your list of female revolutionists on facebook found interesting but couldn’t shake the thought that in making it you didn’t care what their beliefs politics or goals were as long as they were female (I KNOW LIKE THE LIST SAYS) cant help thinking it lessens them in someway if only their gender matters

    Reply
  11. Mugo
    Mugo says:

    Mbuya Nehanda, led the first war of Independence for Zimbabwe then Rhodesia in the 1800s, she was hung in the center of the capital of Zimbabwe after her capture.

    Reply
  12. Bill Wood
    Bill Wood says:

    Jane Addams and Emily Greene Balch, co-founders of Women’s international league of peace and freedom (1914), during WW I.

    Reply
  13. Shudipta Sharma
    Shudipta Sharma says:

    You should include Pritilata Waddedar (1911 –1932) here.
    She was a Bengali revolutionary nationalist. After a brief stint as a school teacher, Pritilata joined a revolutionary group headed by Surya Sen. She led a 15 man team of revolutionaries in a 1932 attack on the Pahartali European Club, which had a sign board that read “Dogs and Indians not allowed”. The revolutionaries torched the club and were later caught by the British police. To avoid getting arrested, Pritilata consumed cyanide and died.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pritilata_Waddedar

    Reply
  14. Aimee
    Aimee says:

    The four Mirabal sisters: Patria, Dede, Minerva, and Maria Teresa. They opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. Brave, brave women who stood up against an oppressive government. 3 of them were sadly assassinated for their pursuits. The UN founded the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in their honor.

    Reply
  15. Luise
    Luise says:

    Josephine Baker is well-known for dancing in a skirt made of bananas, but later she also became a prominent figure in the French résistance movement against the Nazi regime.

    Reply
  16. Graham Korn
    Graham Korn says:

    Federica Montseny – Spanish anarchist who for a short while was a minister in the Spanish Republican Government during the civil war.

    Reply
  17. Abra
    Abra says:

    Clara Zetkin from the German Social-Democratic Party (the SPD), a feminist and a friend of Rosa Luxemburg’s

    Inessa Armand, Russian revolutionary who defected from the bourgeoisie. Also reputed to be Lenin’s lover

    Alexandra Kollontai, Russian revolutionary and feminist, author of a feminist working class novel _Love of Worker Bees_

    Assata Shakur of the Black Panther Party

    Daisy Zamora of the Sandinistas, feminist revolutionary and poet

    Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, Irish Civil Rights activist and socialist from Derry in the North of Ireland; elected to British Parliament in a protest election, youngest member ever, at the time

    Lucy Parsons, African-American anarchist activist from 1880s through the 1920s in Chicago, Illinois, and widow of Haymarket martyr Albert Parsons

    if we’re including Jane Addams, then Victoria Woodhull, who ran for President (with Frederick Douglass as her VP running-mate) in the 1870s, and who campaigned for free love, and also an end to the double standard in sexual morality by publicizing Henry Ward Beecher’s affair with Elizabeth Tilton

    Reply
  18. Roraki
    Roraki says:

    Here’s the Indonesian list (although almost every of them can you read on our history book, our teachers never tell us their every own very cool story):

    1) Keumalahayati or simply Malahayati: First women admiral in modern world, kills Cornelis de Houtman on one-by-one sword fight on board. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keumalahayati)

    2) Rasuna Said: One of first Indonesian women politician, one of most brave Indonesian women jurnalist, often get caught and imprisoned by Colonial Dutch Indies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rasuna_Said)

    3) Martha Christina Tiahahu: Leads thousands of men in Amboina Revolution, after Pattimura had been caught, at 17 of age (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martha_Christina_Tiahahu)

    4) Cut Nyak Dhien: Leads Aceh guerrilla (who were majority compossed by men) to the Dutch Colonialist for 25 years, after her husband’s demise (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cut_Nyak_Dhien)

    5) Maria Walanda Maramis (nee Maria Josephine Catherine Maramis): Struggling for the rights of women to vote and to have higher education. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Walanda_Maramis)

    6) Fatmawati: Indonesia’s first ever First Lady, helping stabilitating the new-born Indonesian government (From the shock of First and Second Dutch Aggretions, and also from it’s own politicians), mother of first ever women president of Indonesia. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatmawati)

    7) Surastri Karma Trimurti: one of Indonesian women jurnalist that always making Dutch Colonial inflame (alongside with Rasuna Said), second Indonesian women minister, joining the Partai Indonesia (Partindo) at 1933 or 21 years old. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S.K._Trimurti)

    8) Maria Ulfah Santoso: First ever Indonesian women to study about Laws in Netherlands AND get a honor of Mesteer at 1933, first ever Indonesian women minister. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Ulfah_Santoso)

    9) Rahmah El Yunusiyyah: Indonesia’s religious education reformer, establish the only-girls school called Sekolah Diniyyah (whom the students aren’t just from West Sumatra, but also from other parts of Indonesia even from Malaysia), join hand to establishing the People Guarding Army (whom now become the National Forces of Indonesia), get caught and imprisoned, elected to be a member of Temporal People’s Representative Council, (http://id.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rahmah_El_Yunusiyyah)

    Reply
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