10 Women Who Went to War

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A Brief History

On April 29, 1429, Joan of Arc, The Maid of Orleans, arrived at Orleans wearing the armor of a knight to lead the battle to lift the Siege of Orleans.  With her council and inspirational leadership, the siege was lifted and a legend begun.  Many times throughout history women have gone to war in many roles, from nursing to heavy labor, from flying fighter planes and bombers, to accurately sniping enemy soldiers.  Here are 10 prime examples of women warriors.  If 10 is not enough we can always make a sequel list!

Digging Deeper

10. Catherine of Aragon, England vs. Scotland.

Left in charge while her husband (Henry VIII) was away fighting in France, Catherine led her forces in 1513 wearing full armor although she was pregnant!  Catherine sent a letter to Henry detailing the battle accompanied by the bloody coat of the Scottish King James IV who had been killed.

9. Aleksandra Samusenko, World War II.

This Ukrainian warrior is extraordinary in the rare fact that she commanded a tank brigade for the 1st Guards Tank Army, an elite Soviet armored unit.  Highly decorated and holding a command usually held by a brigadier general, this Captain of the Guards was killed in 1945 at age 23.

8. Mary Read, 9 Years War, Piracy.

Disguised as a boy from a young age (her mother trying to hide her illegitimate daughter), Mary joined the British Army and fought in the infantry against the French in around 1708. Briefly married to a Dutch officer, when widowed she became a pirate, was pardoned, became a privateer, and then a pirate again raiding with Calico Jack and her friend, fellow female pirate Anne Bonny.  The two of them are among the most famous female pirates, but Mary gets the spot on the list for also fighting in the Army. Read died at age 30, imprisoned for piracy.

7. Molly Pitcher, American Revolution.

Actually named Mary Ludwig Hays, Molly was running back and forth with pitchers of water for Americans fighting the British in 1778.  When her husband went down from exhaustion, Molly picked up his rifle and fought the rest of the battle alongside the men.

6. Buffalo Calf Road Woman, War Against US Army.

Already renowned for rescuing her husband during combat at the Battle of the Rosebud in 1876, this Cheyenne warrior also fought alongside her husband and the other Native-Americans against George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  Cheyenne history records that it was Buffalo Calf Road Woman that knocked Lt. Col. Custer off his horse immediately prior to him being killed.  This revered warrior died 2 years later from malaria.

5. Lydia Litvyak, World War II.

The greatest female aerial ace of all time with 12 confirmed air to air kills (and another 4 co-kills with other pilots) this Soviet aviatrix died at age 21 in 1943 when she was shot down during the great battle of Kursk.  Lydia, known as Lily, was of Russian-Jewish descent and flew the Yak-1 fighter, armed with 1 X 20mm cannon and 1 X 12.7mm machine gun.

4. Hannah Duston, King William’s War.

A Massachusetts Puritan housewife and mother (9 children) 40 years old, Hannah was captured by the Abenaki tribe of Native-Americans.  Held prisoner after watching her captors smash her baby to death against a tree.  Six weeks into captivity, Hannah got her hands on a tomahawk and killed 10 Native-American captors and led another woman and a teenaged boy to escape by canoe.  Pausing to scalp her victims first (for proof of her travails and for the bounty paid) Hannah and her 2 companions successfully made it back to European hands.  Hannah lived to age 80 and became the first woman with a statue erected in her honor in the United States ( 6 memorials in all).  Prominent authors such as Cotton Mather, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry Thoreau wrote about her.

3. Lyudmila Pavlichenko, World War II.

In her senior year of college in 1941 when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, this Ukrainian girl of 24 rushed to enlist and volunteered for training as a sniper.  With 309 confirmed kills, she is the deadliest female sniper known to history.  After being wounded by shrapnel in 1942, Pavlichenko was sent on a publicity tour to the United States where she became the first ever Soviet citizen received by the president of the US.  After the war she completed her degree and worked as an historical researcher, but died at only 58 years old in 1974.

2. Queen Boudica, Celts vs. Romans.

Boudica was Queen of the Iceni, a Celtic people of Great Britain in around 60 AD, leading the fight against Roman tyranny.  Fighting like a woman possessed, this great warrior led as many as 100,000 men and probably killed close to that number of Romans and their allies.  Coming close to abandoning the colony of Britannia, the Romans finally got the upper hand and defeated Boudica’s forces.  Boudica probably killed herself to avoid capture, and goes down in history as one of if not the fiercest female warrior ever.

1. Joan of Arc, Hundred Years War.

After her battlefield successes politics caused the French to allow her to be tried for heresy, and subsequently burned at the stake.  Not grateful, were they? At least she got vindication (almost 500 years later) when she was canonized a saint.  The possibilities are that she really was directed by God, that she lied about it and made it up, or that she was delusional and really believed (erroneously) God was telling her what to do.  It really has to be one of those 3 scenarios.  Regardless of which one you believe, the fact is she was determined, brave, and successful, our top woman warrior.

Question for students (and subscribers): What other women come to your mind?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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 Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Behan, Mona.  Warrior Women: An Archaeologist’s Search for History’s Hidden Heroines.  Warner Books, 2003.

Jones, David E.  Women Warriors: A History (Warriors (Potomac Books)).  Potomac Books, 2005.

Julek, Heller and Marianna Mayer.  Women Warriors: Myths and Legends of Heroic Women.  HarperCollins, 1999.

The featured image in this article, French troops of Joan of Arc besieging Paris, is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or less.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.