History’s Bad Girls: Villains, Rebels, & Freedom Fighters

Courtesy Library of Congress.

London Suffragette
Courtesy Library of Congress.

Well-behaved women seldom make history.

—Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

You’ve probably read the above phrase on bumper stickers and T-shirts…and perhaps even on your own coffee mug. But is the saying true? For every Mother Teresa and Florence Nightingale who shows up in the history books, are there a hundred historical women who behaved badly?

Lizzie Borden

Lizzie Borden

If we’re talking dangerous, traitorous, murderous bad, there is certainly no shortage of females that have gone down in history. Infamous bad girls of the past include scandalous murderers like Lizzie Borden and Bonnie Parker of “Bonnie and Clyde” fame and monstrous countesses such as Elizabeth Bathory. These ladies proved that women could be equally as criminal as men, and while their behavior isn’t the stuff of role models, their stories are, admittedly, fascinating.

If we’re talking rebellious, damage-inflicting bad, there’s ax-wielding Carry Nation, famous for smashing up saloons in an attempt to outlaw liquor in the early twentieth century. Her heart was in the right place (her first husband was an alcoholic who died at the age of 29), but her method certainly instilled fear…and repeatedly landed her in jail.


Carry Nation

Other historical women accused of bad behavior are the ones who questioned inequality instead of conforming to the subservient roles of females and/or minorities, such as Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus or Alice Paul enduring hunger strikes, jail, and forced feedings for the right to vote. Historically speaking, being a girl has meant encountering obstacles and limits and the word “NO!” The women who stood up for inequality and fought to right wrongs may have stirred up anger and controversy, but their courage to step over the line of propriety led to modern freedoms we often take for granted. My favorite historical “bad girls” are the ones who changed history that desperately needed to be changed.

Alice Paul

Alice Paul
Courtesy Library of Congress

Whether you like your historical bad girls scandalous, rebellious, or downright dangerous, there’s one thing all women behaving badly have in common: they prove that historical fame isn’t just for the boys.

Who are your favorite historical bad girls?

Cat Winters is the author of In the Shadow of Blackbirds, a WWI-era ghost tale coming April 2, 2013, from Amulet Books/ABRAMS. Visit her online at www.catwinters.com, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

About Cat Winters

Cat Winters’s critically acclaimed debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, was named a 2014 Morris Award Finalist, a 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults pick, a 2013 Bram Stoker Award Nominee, and a School Library Journal Best Book of 2013. Her second novel, THE CURE FOR DREAMING, is a 2015 Amelia Bloomer Project Nominee and a 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults Nominee. Her upcoming books include THE UNINVITED (William Morrow/2015) and THE STEEP AND THORNY WAY (Amulet Books/2016), and she’s a contributor to the 2015 YA horror anthology SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS. Cat lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids. Visit her online at http://www.catwinters.com.

2 thoughts on “History’s Bad Girls: Villains, Rebels, & Freedom Fighters

  1. jennmcgowan says:

    Brilliant! Carry Nation is not someone I’d mess around with! I think my favorite “Bad Girl” (monarchs aside) would be Annie Oakley. 🙂

    • catwinters says:

      I love Annie Oakley, too! I remember being fascinated by her from an early age.

      Another one I failed to mention is Teddy Roosevelt’s outspoken, rule-breaking oldest child, Alice. There’s a famous quote of Roosevelt’s in which he said, “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”

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