A Cambodian soldier carries a machine gun alongside her comrades during the Vietnam War. This photo was taken on 26th August 1970 in the Prek Tamak region of Cambodia, where heavy fighting took place between Cambodian forces and the Viet Cong. Many young women served as soldiers and medics in the rapidly expanded Cambodian army during this time.
Born in Varanasi sometime between 1828 and 1835, Lakshmi Bai was the member of a high-class Marathi Brahman family. She was principally raised by her father and in addition to academic studies she was trained in horse riding, shooting and fencing. In 1842 she was married to the Maharaja (king) of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao. In 1851 she gave birth to a son named Damodar Rao, however the child died at just four months old. In 1853 the Maharaja adopted the son of a cousin to preserve his line, also naming him who Damodar Rao. The Maharaja died the next day, leaving Lakshimi Bai to rule Jhansi as regent for her new son.
However because Damodar Rao was adopted, the British East India Company claimed that Jhansi no longer had a legitimate ruler and annexed its territories, forcing Lakshmi Bai to leave the palace at Jhansi Fort. Replaced by an agent of the Company, Lakshmi Bai refused to accept the rule of the British. When the Indian Rebellion broke out in March 1857 she supported the uprising, rapidly assembling an army to reclaim Jhansi Fort and once again declared herself the regent ruler.
Initially Lakshmi Bai was not interested in fighting the British beyond maintaining order in Jhansi and her forces were principally involved in border skirmishes with other regional lords. According to some accounts she led the charge in two of these battles personally, riding on horseback armed with swords. Her armies included a significant portion of women, who she ordered should be trained how to shoot.
In early 1858 the East India Company forced her hand by invading and laying siege to the city of Jhansi for 2 weeks. Lakshmi Bai's forces resisted fiercely, hoping to hold out long enough for the army of their ally Tatya Tope to assist them. However Tope was defeated before they could reach Jhansi and the British eventually breached Jhansi's defenses. Lakshmi Bai herself escaped with a small contingent of guards. Regrouping with Tope, Lakshmi Bai then scored a significant victory by successfully assaulting the city-fortress of Gwalior, seizing it's treasury and arsenal. She then marched toward Morar to counterattack the British in defense of Gwalior. During the ensuing battle she was unhorsed while fighting a British cavalry officer and killed. Gwalior was retaken by the British 3 days later.
Following her death the British General Hugh Rose described Lakshmi Bai as "the most dangerous of all Indian leaders". She is remembered today as a heroine of India, with numerous memorials in her name. The Indian National Army's first female regiment was named after her.
An IRA fighter in West Belfast during the 1970's. Women were an active part of both Republican and Loyalist groups during the Northern Ireland conflict commonly known as 'The Troubles'. She is armed with a US-obtained ArmaLite AR-18 rifle, which were often used by the IRA and held important symbolic status.
Catherina Margaretha Linck (c.1687 - 1721) was a Prussian soldier who lived in the early 18th century. Linck spent most of their adult life presenting themselves as a man and it is a subject of discussion as to whether Linck can be best described as a transman, a lesbian woman who impersonated a man, or genderfluid.
An illegitimate child of a widow, Linck was raised in an orphanage in Halle, which they then left aged 14. They spent a number of years with a religious group known as 'Inspirants', likely a form of Quakers. Linck went on to disguise themselves as a man in order to enlist as a soldier in the army of Hanover, using the name 'Anastasius Lagrantinus Rosenstengel'. They served in the army for 3 years until they deserted in 1708. When arrested for desertion Linck declared themself to be a woman in order to avoid being hanged, which was then verified by a medical examination.
Over the next several years Linck served in a number of armed forces across Prussia, including a Polish garrison and the army of of Hesse. However these periods of service repeatedly came to an end either due to Linck deserting or being exposed as a woman. When out of the army Linck worked in the cloth trade, often alternating their dress between male and female. When presenting as a man Linck used a horn to allow them to urinate while standing and wore a strap-on dildo made of stuffed leather when having intercourse with women.
In 1717 an impoverished Linck married an 18-year old woman named Catharina Margaretha Mühlhahn, using the same alias of Anastasius. The marriage was disapproved of by Mühlhahn's mother, who ultimately tore off Linck's clothes in a violent confrontation and reported them to the authorities. Both Linck and Mühlhahn were put on trial for the crime of 'female sodomy', to which Linck pleaded guilty. However Linck also professed that their intentions toward Mühlhahn had been honourable and that Mühlhahn had not fully understood the nature of their sexual intercourse. This was accepted and Mühlhahn was given a lesser sentence of 3 years imprisonment, followed by exile.
The trial caused controversy as officials could not agree if Linck's had committed sodomy under the biblical definition, punishable by death, or a lesser crime. The case was referred to King Frederick William I, who sentenced Linck to death by beheading. This was an unusual decision for it's time and in 1721 Linck became the last person in Europe to be executed for lesbian sexual activity.
Lam Thi Dep was a Viet Cong soldier who fought in the Vietnam War. The above photo of her was taken in 1972 in Soc Trang Province when she was 18 years old. Large numbers of North Vietnamese women like Lam Thi Dep fought for the Viet Cong and photos like this were often taken for propaganda purposes.
She is seen carrying an American M16 rifle. US-supplied South Vietnamese garrisons often gave these weapons to the Viet Cong as a gift, in exchange for being spared from their attacks.
Sara Ginaite was a Jewish Lithuanian partisan who fought against Nazi occupation during the Second World War.
Ginaite was born in 1924 in Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania. She was educated in a Lithuanian-speaking school, which she was about to graduate from when Nazi Germany invaded the country in 1941. Three of Ginaite's uncles were killed in the Kaunas Pogrom, a massacre of Jewish people that the Nazi's encouraged the Lithuanian population to perform. The pogrom resulted in the deaths of 9200 people, almost half of them children. The surviving members of Ginaite's family were incarcerated in the Kovno Ghetto, along with 40,000 Jewish people.
While living in the ghetto Ginaite joined the Anti-Fascist Fighting Organization (AFO) to take part in the resistance against the Nazis. She began a relationship with their charismatic youth leader, Misha Rubinson, and the two married in 1943. The pair broke out of the Kovno Ghetto that winter, escaping to the Rudninkai Forest where they established a partisan military unit named 'Death to the Occupiers'.
Ginaite returned to the Kovno Ghetto twice to help others to escape, once disguised as a nurse claiming she was there to escort four sick workers. In 1944 Ginaite and Rubinson took part in the liberation of the Vilna and Kovno ghettos, although by this time 90% of the Jewish populations inside had been killed. Ginaite's own family were all dead, save for her sister and a young niece.
After the war, Ginaite fought against rampant anti-semitism to become a professor of Political Economics at Vilnius University, where she published award-winning books on the Holocaust in Lithuania. Following her husband's death in 1983, she moved to Canada to live with her two daughters and continue her academic career.
Kinessa Johnson is a US army veteran who currently works as an anti-poaching advisor in East Africa.
Johnson served in the US army in Afghanistan for 4 years as a weapons instructor and mechanic. She retired from the army and in November 2014 joined VETPAW, a non-profit organisation which trains conservation rangers in protecting wildlife from poachers.
Johnson has described her role as purely instructional and that the goal of her work is not to harm anyone but to assist rangers in being able to prevent poaching. She trains rangers in marksmanship, field medicine, and counter-intelligence. She currently works in Tanzania near Arusha, where 187 rangers were killed in 2014 trying to protect rhinos and elephants.
In addition to her training work, Johnson works to educate local populations on the importance of preserving endangered species and natural resources. She has a large social media presence on Facebook and Instagram which she uses to promote animal rights awareness.
Flora Sandes (1876-1956) was an Irish woman who served in the Serbian army during the First World War.
The youngest daughter of an Irish family, Sandes was raised in England where she developed passions for shooting, horse riding and driving her old French racing car. She traveled the world working as a secretary and trained with paramilitary organisations such as the Womens Sick & Wounded Convoy, with whom she served in Serbia in the First Balkan War in 1912.
When the First World War broke out in 1914 Sandes traveled to Serbia with a St. John Ambulance unit of 36 women. She later operated a Red Cross ambulance alongside the Serbian Army’s ‘Iron Regiment’. When in October 1915 the Serbs were forced into mass retreat, she was invited to join the Iron Regiment by their commander, Colonel Milic.
Sandes advanced quickly to the rank of Corporal, known both for fighting alongside the men and treating their wounds, including performing amputations for frostbite victims during the Great Retreat through Albania. In 1916 during the Serbian advance on Bitola, Sandes was wounded by a grenade while charging into a Bulgarian trench, shredding her back and right side from shoulder to knee. She was treated for her wounds in Tunis, recovering so well that she joined her fellow soldiers in visiting a brothel.
Sandes returned to fighting with the Iron Regiment but was wounded again in the summer of 1917. For her bravery she was promoted to Sergeant Major and awarded the Order of the Karađorđe’s Star, the highest Serbian military decoration. Although her injuries kept her from the front lines, she served as an officer even after the end of the war. She was finally demobilised in October 1922, which she resented.
Sandes became an international celebrity during the war and her letters and diaries were turned into a bestselling autobiography. In 1927, she married a Russian cavalry officer. She spent her life in Paris, Belgrade, Jerusalem and Rhodesia before finally returning to England for her final years. She died in 1956 aged 80.
Ōhōri Tsuruhime (1526 – 1543) was a Japanese Shinto priestess who took up arms to defend her island home of Ōmishima in the 16th century.
Daughter to the Chief Priest of the Oyamazumi Shrine on Ōmishima, Ōhōri was only 16 when she inherited her father’s title following his death from illness. Her elder brothers had been killed in battle fighting invading Ōuchi forces from the mainland of Honshu. Ōhōri had been in trained in martial arts all her life and when Ōuchi forces further encroached on the Oyamazumi Shrine’s territory, she raised an army to resist them. She claimed that she was not merely a mortal warrior, but a divine avatar of the shrine’s kami (god-spirit), Mishima Myojin.
When Ōuchi samurai raided Ōmishima in 1541, Ōhōri led her forces in driving them back to the sea. When they returned 4 months later, her fleet met them on the open sea and she boarded the Ōuchi flagship to challenge their general to single combat. The general, named Obara, was both surprised and scornful at being faced with the young woman and mocked Ōhōri by likening her to a prostitute. In response Ōhōri cut him down and his ship was bombarded by horokubiya (grenades) launched from her nearby ships, forcing the Ōuchi once more into retreat.
Ōhōri continued to successfully defend her home for a further two years. However following the death of her fiance in battle, she committed ritual suicide by drowning herself. She was 18 years old. To this day she is remembered as a Japanese heroine and her armour remains on display at the Oyamazumi Shrine.
Buffalo Calf Road was a Northern Cheyenne warrior who lived in the late 19th century.
Buffalo Calf Road came to prominence among the Cheyenne at the Battle of the Rosebud in 1876, where she joined the male warriors of her village as part of the Cheyenne and Lakota army led by Crazy Horse. During the battle Calf saw her brother, Chief Comes in Sight, trapped in a gully as his fellow warriors retreated. Riding on horseback and avoiding enemy bullets, Calf was able to rescue her brother and get him to safety. Crazy Horse’s forces were victorious and Calf’s fellows were so impressed by her courage that named it ‘The Battle Where the Girl Saved Her Brother’ in her honour.
Buffalo Calf Road is also known to have fought at the Battle of Little Bighorn alongside her husband Black Coyote. During this battle she is credited with rescuing a young warrior who became stranded. Other accounts also say it was Calf who felled Lieutenant Colonel George Custer from his horse.
Despite these victories the Cheyenne continued to be pushed back and following an attack on their village, Buffalo Calf Road led a group of 30 survivors in the wilderness, despite being pregnant. Eventually the group surrendered and were relocated to a reservation in far off Oklahoma. In order to escape the horrific living conditions, Calf and her family were part of the Northern Cheyenne Exodus in 1878, an attempt to return to their homeland. However most of the migrating Cheyenne were rounded up and captured. Black Coyote was put on trial for murder and Buffalo Calf Road was imprisoned at Fort Keogh, where she died of diphtheria in 1879.
Samusenko began her military service as a member of an infantry platoon fighting in the Winter War in Finland. Some rumours say she had previously fought in the Spanish Civil War, but these are unsubstantiated.
As World War 2 continued she graduated from tank academy and became commander of a crew operating a T-34 tank. She was the only female tanker in the 1st Guards Tank Army. In 1943 she received the the Order of the Red Star for bravery in the Battle of Kursk, where her crew destroyed three German Tiger I tanks.
Samusenko was befriended by US Army Sergeant Joseph Beyrle, who had escaped from a prison camp and persuaded Samusenko to let him join her unit en route to Berlin. She was also known to have a boyfriend named Mindlin, who she stopped smoking and drinking for.
Samusenko died 70 km from Berlin during the East Pomeranian Offensive, when she was accidentally run over by another Soviet tank in the dark. After her death Beyrle described her as a symbol of Soviet fortitude and courage.
Palestinian girl with rifle in Gaza.
Edit: This post previously contained a statement to the effect that tens of thousands of child soldiers were active in the Gaza strip. I was recently asked to check my sources for this and on closer re-examination I have been unable to verify this statement to my satisfaction. Therefore I’ve decided the sentence was misleading and should be removed.
Sayyida al Hurra was an Islamic pirate queen during the early 16th century. ‘Sayyida al Hurra’ is in fact a title marking her out as an independent female ruler. Her true name is unknown.
Born around 1485 in Granada, Sayyida fled with her family to Morocco when that Islamic kingdom fell to Christian Spain. At 16 she was married to a man 30 years her senior, al-Mandri, who was the governor of of Tétouan in northern Morocco. She assisted her husband in ruling the city and inherited his position following his death in 1515. She was the last woman to use the title of ‘al Hurra’, meaning ‘queen’.
Sayyida had never forgotten the indignity of being forced out of her home by ‘the Christian enemy’. To get her revenge she assembled her own pirate fleet and allied herself with the Turkish corsair Oruç Reis, known in Europe as Barbarossa. Together their forces wreaked havoc on Spanish and Portugese shipping lanes, looting ships and ransoming captured sailors. Sayyida al Hurra took control of the western half of the Mediterranean, while Oruç Reis commanded the east. Spanish records describe her as a respected and fearsome opponent who dominated the seas of that region.
In 1541 she accepted a marriage proposal from Ahmed al-Wattasi, the King of Morocco. However she refused to give up her role as queen of Tétouan or even to leave the city for the marriage ceremony, forcing al-Wattasi to come to her. This is the only recorded instance that the Moroccan king married outside of his capital.
Sayyida al Hurra reigned for nearly thirty years, until she was deposed by her own son-in-law in 1542. She was stripped of her property and power, however her ultimate fate is unknown.
Born in the small village of Plympton, Massachusetts, Sampson became an indentured servant after her father died at sea. By age 18 she became a free, self-educated woman and initially made a living as a schoolteacher and weaver.
Living in the shadow of the American Revolutionary War, Sampson wanted to join the Continental army, but as this was not allowed she decided to disguise herself as a man. She traveled to New York in the spring of 1781 and enlisted in the Light Infantry Company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment using the name of her dead brother, Robert Shurtleff.
Sampson was assigned to a scouting unit and fought in several skirmishes against British forces. On July 3rd 1782, she fought in a battle outside Tarrytown, New York, where she suffered two musket shots to the thigh and a sword wound across her forehead. Doctors treated her head wound in hospital, but fearing her identity as a woman would be discovered, she left before they could examine her thigh. She removed one musket ball herself using a penknife and sewing needle but could not remove the second. As result the leg never fully healed.
Needing time for her injury to heal Sampson volunteered to look after a sick soldier, Richard Snow, in a private home. However the house belonged to a Tory named Abraham Van Tassel, who consigned the pair to live in a stifling hot attic during the summer. Snow died under the conditions. Sampson later had her revenge by leading a night raid on Van Tassels’ estate with the assistance of Van Tassel’s own daughter. 15 men were captured in the raid.
In April 1783, Sampson was promoted and served as a waiter for General John Paterson. That summer Sampson was among those deployed to Philadelphia to put down a minor rebellion by American officers. During this time she came down with a fever and the doctor who treated her, Barnabas Binney, discovered she was a woman. He kept her confidence while he treated her but later informed General Paterson.
By the time Sampson had recovered the war was over and she was honourably discharged from army. She returned to Massachusetts where she married a farmer named Benjamin Gannett, with whom she had three children. In 1792, she petitioned the state for the military pay that had been withheld from her because she was a woman, and won her case. In 1804, her friend Paul Revere, a known hero of the Revolutionary War, helped her fight for a military pension, which was also eventually granted.
Sampson died in 1827 from yellow fever, aged 66. Numerous memorials to her can be found in her hometown of Sharon, Massachusetts.
Nakano was the daughter of an official from Aizu, but was raised in Edo (Tokyo) where she was trained in literary and martial arts, specialising in a form of Ittō-ryū one-sword fighting. She also became a skilled instructor in the use of the naginata, a bladed polearm. She spent five years as the adopted daughter of her martials arts teacher, Akaoka Daisuke, but left him after he attempted to arrange a marriage for her. She relocated with her native family to Aizu in 1868.
During this time the Boshin War began between the ruling Tokugawa shogunate and supporters of the Imperial Court. Although the Shogun surrendered in May 1868, some of his forces continued to fight on, retreating to Aizu. Nakano joined the army in repelling the Imperial forces and fought at the Battle of Aizu, which was in effect a month-long siege.
While Aizu retainers did not allow women to fight, Nakano formed an unofficial unit of twenty women armed with naginata, including her mother and sister. The group took part in a counter-attack designed to break the siege, during which Nakano killed five enemy opponents before taking a fatal bullet to the chest. Afraid that the enemy would take her head as a trophy, she asked her sister to instead decapitate her and bury the head.
The shogunate forces eventually lost the siege to the better-armed Imperial forces. As requested, Nakano’s sister buried her head under a pine tree at the Hōkai-ji Temple and a monument was erected there in her honour. During the annual Aizu Autumn Festival, a group of young girls take part in the procession to commemorate the actions of Nakano and her band of women warriors.
Bracha Fuld (1926-1946) was a Jewish resistance fighter who helped refugees enter Palestine in the wake of the Second World War.
As a teenager, Fuld escaped Germany to move to Palestine in 1939, where she lived with her mother. She was an energetic student at Balfour High School, where she took part in sports, hiking and dancing. Originally named Barbara, she changed her name to Bracha.
In the period after World War 2, the British wanted to prevent the many thousands of Holocaust survivors from migrating to Palestine, leading to Jewish revolt and widespread resistance. Fuld joined the Palmach resistance movement in 1944 and was stationed in Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim, near Jerusalem. During this time she met her boyfriend, Gideon Peli, although he was later imprisoned by the British.
Fuld was trained to be a section commander and took charge of a number of female soldiers in Palmach’s E company. It is known she fought in a raid on the German colony of Sarona in Tel Aviv. Some stories also suggest she worked as a spy seducing a British officer, but this is unsubstantiated.
On the 27th March 1946, Fuld was part of a squad charged with protecting a road that Jewish immigrants would use once they had arrived on the refugee ship Wingate. Fuld’s squad was not informed that the ship had been diverted and were taken off-guard when they encountered a British tank unit. She was severely wounded in the ensuing firefight and died in hospital shortly afterward. She was 19 years old.
Both a ship for transporting illegal immigrants and a street in Tel Aviv were later named after Fuld in her honour.
Elena Haas (1912-1945) was a Czech resistance fighter during World War 2.
A young woman beginning a career in civil engineering, Haas was 25 years old when Nazi Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938. She joined the Czech Resistance movement to fight against Nazi occupation, where her engineering skills made her an excellent saboteur, identifying where to plant explosive charges for maximum damage to structures.
In September 1944 she led a strategic raid, aided by a French agent and British special operatives. During this mission she successfully destroyed a key bridge and stocks of Nazi ammunition and supplies. 35 enemy soldiers were killed in the process.
Haas died in early 1945 leading a force of Czech partisans against a Nazi airfield near Prague. During the mission she was shot down, still firing her own weapon as she fell to the ground.