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22 Fascinating Historical Women to Learn about in 2022 (and Beyond!)

Art of a brown-haired woman in ancient-style garb holding a scroll with the text Clio, Muse of History
Clio, Muse of History, issued by Wm. S. Kimball & Co., 1889, via Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Happy Women's History Month! Although I've done a lot of writing and podcasting about women in history over the years, there are always more that I'd like to study. Some I may already know a lot about, but want to know more, while others I have only encountered in passing and they really deserve a deep dive. My list keeps growing, too, because every time I study a new area of history I uncover more people I want to learn about in the future.

For this post, instead of telling you about women whose lives I have already covered elsewhere, I've selected 22 women I hope to learn more about in the future. Maybe you know all about some of them and can tell me where I should look to learn more, or maybe they will be new to you, too, and inspire future research. Every woman (or group of women) on this list is fascinating in her own right, and I am happy to have this platform to mention them even if I still have a lot of work to do to learn more about them myself.

Which historical women do you wish you knew more about?

Figure of a tan bear wearing red head covering and carrying a basket
The Samsui woman bearista figure I received from my friend. Photo by Christine Caccipuoti, 2022.
  • Samsui Women (1930s+) A few years ago, a friend of mine from Singapore who knows I love Starbucks bearistas sent me an adorable bearista figure made to hang off the side of a mug. The bear wore red on her head and was carrying a basket. My friend told me that she was a Samsui woman, an important part of Singapore's history. Of course, I was intrigued, and ever since I've wanted to learn more. Samsui women were women who went from China to Singapore, largely beginning in the 1930s, often living communally and working in construction. My friend called them 'the women who built Singapore' (a sentiment shared by the BBC), and the red headgear on my little bearista is a depiction of their trademark clothing.

  • (Dihya) al-Kahina (600s) The Museum of the Jewish People calls (Dihya) al-Kahina the 'Jewish Khaleesi', which was enough to pique my interest for sure. al-Kahina was a 7th-century Berber Queen and to learn about her one needs to try and separate fact from legend. A prophetess and a strong leader, she defended her lands from encroaching opposition and then expanded her own holdings, but ultimately passed away in battle against the persistent caliphate. According to, her defeat did little to tarnish her reputation and she is an icon to many groups touched by her life story.

  • Elizabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine (1652-1722) The television series Versailles is one of my favorite historical dramas. I've watched it all the way through multiple times. Although I've always had interest in Louis XIV of France and those around him, it wasn't until I watched that program that I gave much thought to the woman called Liselotte. Liselotte was the second wife of Louis XIV's brother Philippe, Duke of Orléans. Despite having three children together, their marriage was not a great success, however, very significantly, she was an extensive and detail-oriented writer which gave historians important insight into life at court. Her husband may not have appreciated her, but I certainly do.

  • Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen Consort of Prussia (1776-1810) Louise (or Luise) was only thirty-four when she passed away, but she was a queen consort who had displayed significant influence with her husband (King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia) and was as respected for her intelligence and determination as she was admired for her beauty. Louise has been in the realm of my awareness for a long time, as she pops up in every biography of Napoleon Bonaparte, where it is always noted that she met with him at Tilsit on behalf of Prussian interests and severely hated him. I spend a great deal of my time researching the Bonapartes, but of all Napoleon's opponents, she may be the one who intrigues me the most.

  • Susan La Flesche Picotte (1895-1915) At the end of last year I came across the story of Susan La Flesche Picotte, and was annoyed that I hadn't learned about her earlier. Susan is regularly recognized as the first Native American to receive a medical degree (she graduated first in her class in 1889 from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania). A member of the Omaha tribe, Susan brought her medical knowledge back to her home region and eventually opened a hospital there in 1913. That hospital is now the Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte Center, "a community center and wellness clinic for the Omaha tribe and the residents of the Walthill area."

  • Marian Anderson (1897-1993) When I was first learning how to sing, my voice teacher told me that for every musical theater song I wanted to undertake, I had to counter it with a classical piece. As a result, I've always enjoyed looking into the lives of opera singers, and contralto Marian Anderson is one of them. Every year I tweet about her being the first African American to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, which she received for her dedication to the performing arts and humanitarian issues. She famously sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and was the first African American to sing a leading role with the Metropolitan Opera. Calling her an impressive barrier breaker is an understatement.

19th-century photograph of two women. Hackley, in the back wearing glasses, rests her hands on the shoulders of Brooks
E. Azalia Smith Hackley (right, in glasses) with activist Emma Carter Brooks, c 1885, Library of Congress.
Daguerrotype of Queen Kamala facing frontward, wearing necklaces and earrings, in a frame
Queen Kalama Hakaleleponi Kapakuhaili of Hawaii, about 1853–1854, Daguerreotype, Attributed to Dr. Hugo Stangenwald, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
Oil painting of a young white girl with brown hair, wearing 18th-century clothes, and looking in a hand-held mirror
Julie Le Brun Looking in a Mirror, by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1787, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • Julie Le Brun (1780-1819) In 2016, the Metropolitan Museum of Art had a beautiful exhibition of the works of artist Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. I was excited to go and see some of her pieces that I had only ever seen on the internet (like portraits of Marie Antoinette and Caroline Murat) but once I was there the source of my fascination were the paintings of Julie Le Brun, Elisabeth's daughter. There were multiple, depicting her at various ages (including the one of child Julie shown here) and I spent a long time studying them, because while Elisabeth is very famous, one almost never hears about Julie. Maybe there's a reason for it. Julie went against her mother's wishes when she married, and the two sometimes had a contentious relationship.

  • Isabel Neville (1451-1476) I've done extensive research on Anne Neville, Queen consort of King Richard III of England, both out of general personal interest and for Footnoting History. There are major gaps in what we know about Anne's life, and just as many (honestly, more) regarding her elder sister, Isabel, who was married to Richard's brother, George, Duke of Clarence. Most of what you hear about her comes from her relation to George or Anne, and she doesn't even have a solo entry in the Dictionary of National Biography...but if ever a full biography of her is written, I would happily read it.

  • Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) My introduction to China's Empress Dowager Cixi came from reading numerous articles about Jung Chang's Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China when it was published in 2013. Almost every time I encounter her name, it is attached to the word 'controversial', which always sparks my interest. Cixi began, as the book's subtitle suggests, as one of the concubines of the Emperor. As the only woman out of his wives and concubines to give him a son, when the boy became the new Emperor, she rose with him and ruled as regent during his tenure and, after he passed, during her nephew's as well. Suspicious deaths and curious circumstances surround events in her adult life, but there's no questioning that she was a force to be reckoned with for about 50 years. Who wouldn't want to learn about that?

Close up of a sculpture of a naked woman with her hair in a bun. She is kneeling, with her hands folded over her pregnant stomach, and looking over her right shoulder
Sculpture of Constance Lloyd Wilde by Danny Osborne in Merrion Square Park, Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Christine Caccipuoti, 2016.
  • Constance Lloyd Wilde (1858-1898) In 2016, I was in Dublin for the centennial of the Easter Rising and I visited Merrion Square Park. While there, I saw the Oscar Wilde Monument, an impressive three-sculpture piece by Danny Osborne. The main focal point is a lounging Oscar Wilde, the incredibly quotable writer, but the piece that drew my eye was of Wilde's wife, Constance. She is kneeling, nude, and pregnant, gazing over her shoulder at her husband. According to the artist, "It is significant that Oscar's first homosexual encounter occurred when she was at this stage of pregnancy with her second child. Here the figure is complete and realistic, and represents the tyranny of fact, and Oscar is not looking at her but beyond her." Although it has been several years now since I encountered this sculpture, I think of it often, and it certainly sparked my interest in the life of the woman who married Oscar Wilde.

  • Tove Jansson (1914-2001) The same friend who sent me the Samsui woman bearista unintentionally introduced me to Tove Jansson. My friend had this sweet little plush that looks somewhat like a white hippopotamus but not exactly, and she carries a purse. I thought she was so lovely that I had to ask about her. She is a Moomin, specifically she is Moominmamma. Unfortunately, Moomins are not huge in the US (yet?), but I had to investigate them. They are popular characters in books and comics created by award-winning Finnish writer-artist Tove Jansson. I think Moomins are so wonderful, that I am eager to learn more about their creator.

  • Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi (1827/1828–1858) I decided a few years ago that I wanted to know more about Indian history, and that led me to India's warrior queen, Lakshmibai (alternately, Lakshmi Bai). She was a leader during the rebellion against the British Raj in 1857, and according to ODNB, one example of her leadership is that, "during the Kotah-ki-sarai on 17 June 1858—Lakshmi Bai, now entrusted with the command of the forces, mounted on horseback, and clad in her usual military uniform—a red jacket, trousers, and a white turban—encouraged them throughout the day." Later, Lakshmibai became a symbol of India's independence movement. During the Second World War, the Indian National Army chose her name to attach to its women's regiment. Pretty epic, if you ask me.

  • Clara Bow (1905-1965) Known as Hollywood's original 'It' girl, Clara became famous as the star of silent films. However, according to ANB, "Bow had long feared that she might inherit her mother’s mental instability, and with the onset of talking motion pictures she began to suffer nervous breakdowns." Though Clara did appear in several 'talkies', she never returned to the level of fame she had during the heyday of the silent era, when she was often viewed as a sexual icon and the quintessential flapper.

Do you love learning about women in history? I have so much more to learn about all of these complicated ladies, but now I want to know: who do you love to study and who do you want to learn more about?



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