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Women Who Need Stories

June 24, 2015

I found my Wikipedia-hopping the other day. You know they do these lists of everything that occurred in a given year, the world over? That. I could, and have, lost myself there for hours.

In the time period I was reading through, I kept running into women, clicking their names, and saying to myself, “This lady was amazing! More people know about her.” And then I realized that I’d actually run into a bunch of other awesome women in the last couple months. Clearly it is a Sign.

1) Marie-Anne Gaboury was born Quebec in 1780, married a Quebecois fur trader in 1806, and then travelled with him on his trading route. This kind of thing was Not Done. They eventually got as far as Alberta, where, and I quote:

Her second child was born on the open prairie shortly after her horse had bolted towards a herd of buffalo, and on another occasion she fought and shot a large bear that had attacked one of their companions.

Eventually she and her husband helped establish the Red River Colony. A lot of the Métis can trace their ancestry to her, including Louis Riel.

2) Isobel Gunn was also in Western Canada at the same time as Marie-Anne, but she took her nonconformity to the next level by getting the Hudson’s Bay Company to hire her as John Fubbister. There no consensus, at least on Wikipedia, about why she did it: following a lover? Following her brother? For the money alone? She succeeded in this for about a year, at which point she gave birth and was sent back east again. She and her child were forcibly sent back to Scotland in 1809. (Isobel does have novels, mind you.)

3) Lillian Alling was an Estonian woman who, out of homesickness and poverty, tried to walk from New York to Russia in 1927. I’d like to think she succeeded, because she was last seen two years later, bartering passage from Alaska.

4) Lady Berry, or possibly Lady Betty, or Elizabeth McDermott was an Irishwoman who only gets a footnote on Wikipedia. She killed her son in a case of mistaken identity, at least if you believe the first link, or killed her infant child if you believe the second. She got out of her death sentence by taking the job of executioner instead.

5) Duchess Margaret Cavendish was born in 1623. She’s possibly best known today for being a very early science fiction author, who also published works of science and philosophy. She also had a penchant for extraordinary outfits, including men’s clothes, and for enraging her peers. For instance, she said some critical things during a full tour of the Royal Society, and they didn’t give another tour to a woman for three centuries.

An honorable mention to the ladies of Rejected Princesses, who include Julie d’Aubigny, cross-dressing French fencer and opera singer; Isabelle Eberhardt, another cross-dresser and explorer; and Khutulun,  wrestling Mongolian princess.

Please someone write their stories so I don’t have you? And by all means, if you know of other amazing historical figures, I’m all ears!


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