There is not a whole lot of details on Mary Richards early life since slave owners didn’t exactly keep detailed records but she was most likely born near Richmond, Virginia, as a slave of Eliza Baker and John Van Lew. She spent the next years of her life as a slave. On April 16, 1861, Mary Richards got married to Wilson Bowser. This happened just four days after the first battle of the Civil War where Confederate troops opened fire on Fort Sumter, .
While working as a slave for the Jefferson Davis’s family in the Confederate White House, Mary Bowser served an important role in the spy ring organized by Elizabeth Van Lew. Again, we don’t have many specific details on what intelligence Bowser collected but it is believed that Union military leaders such as Alfred Terry, Edward Ord, and Colonel S H Roberts benefited from Bowser’s work. It is pretty widely agreed on that Bowser and Van Lew’s ring was noted as having a significant impact on the outcome of the war by Generals Benjamin Butler, Ulysses S. Grant, and George H. Sharpe.
Pretty much as soon as the war ended Bowser worked as teacher to former slaves. Bowser gave at least two lectures in the North in 1865 about her education, travel to Liberia, and wartime exploits. Under the pseudonym Mary J. Richards, she founded a freedmen’s school in Saint Marys, Georgia in early 1867. This school served day students, adult night students, and Sunday school students, all taught by Bowser.
Bowser worked tirelessly to overcome not only her own position as a slave, but to free every other slave in America. And she didn’t stop there, she then went on to make sure all former slaves could receive an education! This badass woman helped saved thousands of men, women, and children from lives of oppression!
Shi Xianggu, better known as Ching Shih was born in 1775 in Guangdong and spent years working as a Cantonese prostitute before she was captured by pirates. She was forced to work as a prostitute for pirates until in 1801 when she married Cheng I, a notorious pirate. The name she is best remembered by simply means “Cheng’s widow”.
After her marriage Ching Shih participated fully in her husband’s piracy, helping Cheng I with his military assertion and helping build his reputation of consolidating a coalition of competing Cantonese pirate fleets into an alliance. By 1804, this coalition was a formidable force, and one of the most powerful pirate fleets in all of China.
When Cheng I died in November 1807 Ching Shih immediately began maneuvering her way into his leadership position. She managed to get her rivals to recognize her status and solidify her authority, and worked to stop her rivals before open conflict erupted by drawing on the coalition formed by her husband and building upon some of the fleet captains’ existing loyalties to her husband and making herself essential to the remaining captains.
Once she solidified her position of power Shih went on to unit the fleet by issuing a code of law, which included special rules for female captives and ensuring that pirates that raped female captives were put to death.
The fleet under Ching Shih’s rule could not be defeated by either Qing dynasty Chinese officials nor Portuguese and British bounty hunters. She even captured Richard Glasspoole, an officer of the East India Company ship The Marquis of Ely, and seven British sailors in 1809. Finally, in late 1809 she became one of the only pirates in recorded history to retire and keep her loot which she used to open a gambling house. She died in 1844, at the age of 69.
Ching Shih used her wit to overcome being captured by pirates, eventually leading a fleet of thousands of pirates, not only gaining their respect but leading them to become one of the most powerful fleets of all time. She also accomplished something most male pirated could never dream of and lived to retire, keeping all her loot!
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, so lets take a moment to appreciate all the women who worked behind the scenes in WWI to ensure victory and save the lives of thousands of soldiers.
Unfortunately, Canada didn’t let women enlist as soldiers on the battlefield during the First World War. However, women still found ways to kick ass, contributing to the war effort both at home and abroad and forcing significant change for women’s rights in the process.
At home women filled the gaps in the workforce left behind by the thousands of men going away to war. They worked in factories and farms like never before and became leaders of their family, communities, and the nation as a whole.
Several thousand women volunteered as Nursing Sisters for the Canadian Army Medical Corps where often served just behind the front lines. Over 3 000 of these women even served overseas.
The war cost the lives of approximately fifty Nursing Sisters both from disease and to enemy attacks. If you happen to be in Ottawa the Nurses’ Memorial in Center Block on Parliament Hill memorializes their sacrifice.
As a direct result of these women standing up and helping their country through the war the Wartime Elections Act of 1917 was passed and acted as a huge a step toward women’s suffrage in Canada. This Act gave women serving in the Armed Forced as well as the wives, sisters and mothers of serving men the right to vote in federal elections.
Lets honour these women not only by remembering the work they did, but also by taking advantage of out right to vote. It was not long ago that we were denied this right, lets never take it for granted and let what these women did go unnoticed.
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Julie d’Aubigny started out with a fairly unextraordinary life, but soon overcame the ordinary and spent her life proving how badass women can be and becoming known as Mademoiselle Maupin.
Julie was unlucky enough to be born in 1673, a time when women had to overcome a whole hell of a lot to prove themselves. On the bright side she was born to a father who trained the court pages for King Louis XIV, and as a result was lucky enough to spend her childhood dancing, reading, drawing, and most importantly fencing alongside the pages. She also began dressing as a boy from an early age, smashing gender norms centuries before it became cool, and presumably becoming one of the first hipsters.
Around 1687, Madame de Maupin became involved with an assistant fencing master named Sérannes, who happened to be on the run after being accused of murder (We’re not judging Julie, we’ve all made horrible dating decisions). Julie joined her lover on the run and the two made a living giving fencing exhibitions and singing in taverns and at local fairs. Throughout this time Maupin dressed in male clothing but never concealed her gender.
As I’m sure we can all relate Maupin soon grew bored with her bad boy Serannes and became involved with a young woman. This led to a whole lot of crazy adventures, that I won’t go into details about now, but lets just say it involved breaking into a covenant to break her lover out, stealing the body of a dead nun, placing it in the bed of her lover, and setting the room on fire to cover their escape. The flame of this romance unfortunately died out quick and the pair were broken up within 3 months.
Maupin left for Paris and again earned her living by singing. In Villeperdue Maupin, again wearing men’s clothing, was insulted by a young nobleman. They fought a duel and our girl Maupin kicked his as, driving her blade through his shoulder, and also going on to sleep with his close friend.
Maupin went on to have multiple lovers and face multiple death sentences. But if you want more on that you’ll have to check out Google, sorry! We’re just her for the juicy details like how she beat up a fellow Opera singer after he pestered the women in their troupe or how she kissed a young woman at a society ball and was challenged to duels by three different noblemen. She of course beat the crap out of all of them, but had to flee Paris as duels were outlawed at the time.
She fled to Brussels where she was again in trouble with the law for yet another fatal duel and for beating up her landlord. See, women can have anger issues that show themselves in the form of stupid acts of violence too!
Maupin was revered as one of the greatest Opera singers of her time, a talent which helped her get away with the majority of the above hijinks. While her behaviour may not have been moral by any stretch of the imagination she did lead the way for androgynous dress and beat a significant amount of men at their own game. Like her or not Julie d’Aubigny is an underrated badass who needs some more appreciation!