Kidnapped by slavers as child, Carlota was brought from West Africa to the Matanzas province of Cuba. There she worked as a slave harvesting sugar cane on the Triumvirato sugar plantation. In response to the appalling work conditions and brutal treatment by the Spanish landlords, Carlota began to plan an uprising along with another slave woman named Fermina. However Fermina's role in the planning was discovered by the Spanish, who had her severely beaten and imprisoned.
Despite this Carlota continued to organise the uprising. Known for both her intelligence and musical skill, she sent coded messages using talking drums to coordinate a series of attacks. As the drums were a traditional instrument among the West African slaves, the Spanish were unaware that the music was also being used a form of communication. On November 3rd 1843, Carlota led a raid which freed Fermina and a dozen other slaves from captivity. On November 5th the uprising began by at the Triumvirato and Acane sugar plantations, forcibly overthrowing the Spanish owners. These attacks were led personally by Carlota, who went into battle wielding a machete.
The uprising continued for a year during which the rebels liberated slaves from at least five large sugar plantations in the Matanzas, as well as from a number of coffee and cattle estates. While many historians have focused on the physical strength of the slaves, their rebellion also showed great sophistication, using advanced guerrilla tactics and coded communication to achieve their goals. Eventually however the forces of the Spanish Governor were able to put down the rebellion due to their overwhelming numbers.
Carlota and Fermina were both captured and executed, and 1844 became known as the 'Year of the Lashes' due to the tide of violence inflicted upon the slave population to bring them back into line. However Carlota's actions created a legacy which inspired numerous subsequent rebellions against white slave owners in the Caribbean. Today there is a monument to her at the Triumvirato sugar mill.
Hannah Szenes (1921-1944) was a Jewish Hungarian resistance fighter who was parachuted behind German lines in World War 2.
The child of a Jewish family in Hungary, Szenes showed a talent for writing from a young age. She was accepted into a Protestant private school, however in spite of a 'gifted student' discount she still had to pay double the regular fees because she was Jewish. Combined with her awareness of the worsening situation for Jews in Hungary, this led her to join Maccabea, a Hungarian Zionist youth movement.
In 1939 Szenes traveled to the British Mandate of Palestine where she studied agriculture and wrote poetry and plays about Kibbutz life. In 1941 she joined the Jewish paramilitary force Haganah and in 1943 volunteered to join the British Special Operations Executive to train as a paratrooper. After training in Egypt she was selected to take part in an operation to infiltrate German-occupied Europe and establish links with beleaguered Jewish communities.
On March 14th 1944 Szenes was parachuted into Yugoslavia along with two men, Yoel Palgi and Peretz Goldstein. Their mission was to enter Hungary and help save Hungarian Jews from being deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The team spent 3 months working with Yugoslavian partisans, during which they discovered that Hungary had been forcibly occupied by German forces in retaliation for attempting to surrender to the Allies. Faced with this new information Palgi and Goldstein decided to call off the mission. Szenes disagreed and pressed on to the Hungarian border alone, however not long after crossing she was arrested by Hungarian police.
Szenes was imprisoned and suffered a brutal interrogation by police who wanted to know the code for the radio transmitter she used to communicate with the partisans and the British. She was stripped, tied to a chair, and whipped and clubbed for 3 days. She lost several of her teeth. Yet she refused to surrender the code and so she was transferred to a Budapest prison where she continued to be tortured. Frustrated that she wouldn't break, the guards brought in her mother, who she had not seen for 5 years, and threatened her life. Despite this Szenes still refused to give up the code and eventually her mother was released.
Szenes spent the next three months in prison but was not idle. She communicated with other prisoners using a mirror to flash signals and used large cut-out letters to spell out messages in Hebrew. She often sang to keep up the spirits of the other prisoners. However in late October she was tried for treason and on November 7th 1944 she was executed by a German firing squad.
Following the end of the war, Szenes became widely known when her diary, poetry and plays were published. She was recognised as a national heroine of Israel and in 1950 her remains were reburied in the military cemetery on Mt Herzl in Jersualem.
One of the final entries in her diary contained a poem reading:
In the month of July I shall be twenty-three,
I played a number in a game,
The dice have rolled. I have lost.
Griest, a military police officer, and Haver, an Apache helicopter pilot, made history on 21st August 2015 by graduating from the Ranger School having completed an intensive 62-day course which included parachute jumps, helicopter assaults, a 5-mile run in 40 minutes and a 12-mile foot march in 3 hours. They were also trained in specialist skills such as small unit leadership and swamp survival.
This was the first time female soldiers were allowed to take part in the US Army's toughest training as part of an ongoing effort to open up combat roles for women. The commander of the school, Major General Scott Miller, hit back against accusations on the internet that standards were lowered for the female soldiers, pointing out that the physical tests were exactly the same for all candidates and that "The 5-mile run is still 5 miles, the times do not adjust."
Both women described how they received some skepticism from their male colleagues but this quickly evaporated as they proved themselves in the physical challenges, including their completion of a 3-day mountain march carrying 50 pounds of gear, which many of the male candidates failed to complete. Moving forward Griest has expressed an interest in joining a special forces unit, although such roles are currently unavailable to women in the US Army. Haver stated that she will be returning to her role as a helicopter pilot.
An Italian Maquis freedom fighter braves the hazardous conditions of the Alps at Little St Bernard Pass, 4th January 1945. The Italian Maquis were a resistance movement which fought against German Nazis and Italian fascists before and during World War 2. Formerly a school teacher, this woman chose to fight alongside her husband as part of the Maquis 'White Patrol'.
Lady Fu Hao was a queen, general and high priestess of the Shang dynasty in Eastern China during the 13th Century BCE.
Fu Hao first became known when she married the Shang king, Wu Ding, and became one of his 60 wives. Fu Hao took advantage of the semi-matriarchal slave society to ascend through the ranks of the royal household, gain a leading position in the Shang army and become Wu Ding's most favoured wife.
As a warrior Fu Hao gained notoriety for her efforts against the Tu-Fang, who despite having been fierce rivals of the Shang for generations were completely defeated by Fu Hao in a single decisive battle. She went on to become the Shang's most powerful military leader commanding a force of 13,000 soldiers with several other generals in service to her. She led successive military campaigns against the neighboring kingdoms of the Yi, Qiang and Ba. The last of these involved her leading the earliest recorded ambush in Chinese history.
Like other war chiefs Fu Hao was granted a fiefdom of land from the territories she conquered, from which she derived her own income. She was also an active politician and spiritual leader, acting as an adviser to the king and performing religious rituals as a high priestess. These were unusual roles for a woman at the time and reflected the faith that Wu Ding placed in her.
Following Fu Hao's death the Shang's military dominance weakened under attacks by the Gong, causing Wu Ding to make repeated sacrifices and prayers to Fu Hao's spirit to defend them against invasion. Over the centuries Fu Hao's accomplishments descended into myth and many historians did not believe that she had really existed until her tomb was uncovered at Yinxu in 1976. The tomb contained detailed records of her life on oracle bone, as well as an arsenal of weapons including battle-axes bearing her personal inscription.
Yevdokiya Zavaliy was a Soviet nurse, soldier and marine commander who fought in World War 2.
Born in 1924, Zavaliy was raised in a small village in the Mykolaiv region of Ukraine, where she worked on a farm. She was brutally exposed to the outbreak of World War 2 when enemy planes bombed her village and in the aftermath she treated injured soldiers by ripping up bed sheets from her home to make improvised bandages. The event left such an impression on her that she persuaded the commander of a cavalry regiment to take her with them to the front line, claiming to be 18 years old when she was in fact 16.
Zavaliy started serving with the regiment as a nurse, but during this time she learned to shoot rifles, pistols and machine guns. She also became directly involved in conflicts, taking a wound to the abdomen during the retreat at Khortytsia island and saved the life of a wounded officer by dragging him to safety. She was awarded the Order of the Red Star for her bravery, but this was only to be the first decoration she would receive.
One day an officer mistook Zavaliy for a man as she wore soldier's clothes and her head had been shaved to remove lice. The officer ordered her to join a group of soldiers headed to the front line. Zavaliy decided to go along with the mistake and two hours later she took part in a battle near Goryachy Kluch with the 6th Airborne Brigade. She continued to serve in numerous battles under her new male identity and following her capturing of a German officer in combat she was appointed to commander of a reconnaissance squad. When Soviet troops were starving near Mozdok in late 1942, Zavaliy mounted a daring night raid across a river to a German camp, where she stole ammunition and provisions before sailing away on a raft.
The following year Zavaliy was a sergeant serving in the Kuban region when her company was surrounded during a heavy firefight and the company commander was killed. Seeing her fellow soldiers faltering Zavaliy took command, shouting for the men to follow her and leading them in a furious counter-attack which broke the enemy and sent them into retreat. The battle left her seriously injured and during her treatment the doctors discovered that she was a woman. Zavaliy expected to be dismissed and return to nursing, however in light of her many achievements she was allowed to stay in the army and in October 1943 she was promoted to commander of a submachine gunner platoon.
While the men of her platoon were initially reluctant to follow the orders of a teenage girl, Zavaliy quickly won their respect. The platoon was repeatedly deployed to the forefront of the most intense fighting, where Zavaliy led her men in daring attacks on German lines, taking part in the defense of the Caucasus, the battle for Crimea and ultimately the Soviet expansion across Eastern Europe. She became so feared by German soldiers that they nicknamed her 'Frau Black Death'. Twice she was believed to have been killed in combat but both times she returned unscathed. In her military career she was wounded a total of 4 times and received approximately 40 medals of honour.
Zavaliy was eventually discharged from the army in 1947 and traveled to Kiev where she married and had 2 children. She spent much of her life working as the manager of a grocery store but also toured many cities and army bases where she was celebrated as a military hero. She died in Kiev in 2010.
Soviet guerrillas operating in Russia during World War 2.
Hannah Snell (1723-1792) was a famous British soldier in the 18th century.
Born in Worcester in England, Snell is said to have had a fascination with soldiers even as a child. When she was a young woman she moved to London and in 1744 married a man named James Summs. The couple had a daughter, but the child died only one year old and Summs disappeared. Hearing a rumour that Summs had been pressed into military service, Snell borrowed the clothes of her brother-in-law, James Gray, and assumed his identity to join the British army and locate Summs.
Although she later discovered that Summs had been convicted and executed for murder, this did not prevent Snell from pursuing an adventurous military career disguised as James Gray. According to her own account she became a soldier in the 6th Regiment of Foot, where she was stationed in Carlisle during the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland. During this time she was trained in military drill and the use of firearms. However after she prevented a sergeant from raping a local girl she was sentenced to 600 lashes of the whip for 'neglect of duty'. As she endured the first 500 lashes without making a sound her commanding officer ordered that she be spared the final 100 lashes.
Snell left the regiment after this and instead decided to travel to Portsmouth where she joined the British Royal Marines and set sail to India on the Swallow. In 1748 Snell fought in the naval Battle of Pondicherry where the British attempted to capture a French colony. She reportedly killed several Frenchmen before being wounded herself. She is also known to have fought in a battle at Devicotta and was wounded a total of 12 times during her naval service, including suffering a musket shot to the groin. She operated on herself to remove the musket ball so that she wouldn't be identified as a woman by the ship's surgeon.
In 1750 Snell returned to Britain and decided to finally reveal her true identity to the other members of her unit. With the encouragement of her shipmates she petitioned the head of the British army, the Duke of Cumberland, to grant her a military pension. Remarkably, the pension was granted and she was honourably discharged from the army. Snell's exploits became popular gossip around London and she eventually sold her story to a London publisher under the title 'The Female Soldier'.
Snell retired to Wapping where she opened a pub named 'The Female Warrior'. She lived for another 40 years, married twice more and raised 2 sons. In her old age Snell began to suffer from dementia and in 1791 she was admitted to the Bedlam asylum where she died 6 months later.
Gao Guiying was a Chinese revolutionary general who fought against the Ming and Qing dynasties during the early 17th century.
Gao was raised in Mizhi City at a time when the Ming dynasty that had ruled China for nearly 3 centuries was struggling to hold onto power in the face of numerous popular rebellions. In 1627 Gao met the outlaw Li Zicheng when he was brought to the Gao family home by her brother to hide from the authorities. Li was wanted for the murder of a local gang leader who had been terrorizing Yanan. Gao and Li formed a fast bond while they practiced martial arts together, with Gao repeatedly proving herself to be a most challenging opponent for Li. The pair married and began to instruct the local population in martial arts.
Eventually the authorities learned of Li's whereabouts and he and the Gao family were forced to flee their home. They joined a group of peasant rebels among whom Gao and Li quickly rose to positions of power. In 1630 they launched a large scale revolt. The pair split as Li led a an army of peasant men while Gao trained and educated her own army formed entirely of women. She established a stronghold in Changde in the Hunan region which became known as the 'Lady's Base' and would serve as her base of operations for the next 17 years. The rebellion was an enormous success as Gao and Li carved out their own huge territories across China and declared them independent from Ming rule.
In 1644 Li's forces captured the capital of Beijing, ending the Ming dynasty and declaring himself Emperor of the new Shun Dynasty with Gao as his Empress. However Li's reign was short-lived. The break-up of China had created a new enemy in the form of the Machunian Qing dynasty, who captured Beijing just months later and killed Li. Declaring herself the greatest opponent of the Qing, Gao allied herself with her former enemies, the Ming, some of whom still clung on in Southern China. She became the supreme military commander in the fight against the Qing and was given the noble title of 'Lady of the First Degree' by the King of Nantang.
Gao led the fight against the Qing until her death in 1647. She is remembered in Chinese culture as a remarkable leader and has appeared in novels, plays, films and comics.
Florine of Burgundy (1083-1097) was a French princess and a famous participant in the First Crusade.
Florine was a princess of the Duchy of Burgundy, a vassal state of the Kingdom of France. As a teenager she was married to the Danish prince, Sweyn the Crusader, with whom she set out with an army of 1500 Danish horsemen to join the First Crusade. While leading their army at a fast pace across the plains of Cappadocia they were ambushed by Turkish forces which overwhelmed them.
Florine and Sweyn were forced to defend themselves in a prolonged combat for a whole day, while the entirety of their army was slain around them. Florine sustained a number of arrow wounds but the two continued fight their way to safety in the nearby mountains. However they eventually succumbed to their attackers and died in battle. Florine was 14 years old.
Violette Morris (1893-1944) was a decorated French athlete, race car driver, military nurse and Nazi intelligence operative.
A wild child from a French noble family, Morris spent her teenage years in a convent where she displayed an incredible aptitude for sports. At the age of 15 she was competing at the highest levels of boxing, swimming, weightlifting, javelin, shot put and discus. She was fond of describing herself with her cheeky motto "Anything a man can do, Violette can do".
Morris married Cyprien Gouraud in 1914 just before the outbreak of the First World War. During the war she served as military nurse driving an ambulance on the front lines during the Battle of Verdun and the Battle of the Somme. She also served as a warzone motorcycle courier, wrecking her bike on the crater-filled terrain at least three times, but always completing her mission.
After the war Morris returned to sports, playing for various French Women's Football teams and winning Olympic gold medals for discus, javelin and shot put. Her life driving on the front lines had given her a passion for speed and she competed twice in the Bol d'Or driving a 750cc Benjamin Ruby cyclecar. In 1923 she became the the French national boxing champion. Morris also defied society's expectations of women in her personal life, dressing in men's clothes, smoking heavily and swearing frequently. She was publicly known to be bisexual and was photographed attending the Parisian lesbian nightclub, Le Monocle. In 1929 she had a double mastectomy, stating that her large breasts interfered with her race car driving.
Public opinion eventually turned against Morris. She was banned from entering the 1928 Olympics and was subsequently smeared in the French press. Repeatedly forbidden from entering sporting competitions, Morris became bitter toward French society and in 1935 she agreed to become a spy for Nazi Germany. She was rewarded with a personal invitation from Adolf Hitler to be an honoured guest at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Morris provided Germany with French tank schematics and plans of France's defenses along the the Maginot Line, information which proved integral to the German invasion of France in World War 2.
Following the German occupation of France, Morris became a member of the Carlingue, the French wing of the Gestapo secret police. She operated in counter-intelligence working against British SOE forces that were supporting the French Resistance. She was so effective in infiltrating resistance networks and extracting information through torture that she became known as the 'Gestapo's Hyena'. Her notorious success eventually led to resistance forces plotting to assassinate her. On April 26th 1944 Morris was driving her sports car when she was fatally ambushed by Resistance commandos armed with machine guns. Nobody claimed her body and she was buried in a communal grave.
A soldier of the Polisario Front holds her child and a rifle during training in the Western Sahara, December 1978. The Polisario are a Sahrawi liberation movement who fought against Moroccan control of the Western Sahara from the 1970s to early 1990s. Female soldiers were key to defending the the Tindouf refugee camps during the conflict and today the women's wing of the Polisario contains around 10,000 members.
Dihya al-Kahina was a Berber queen, religious and military leader who fought against Islamic expansion in Northwest Africa during the 7th century. Her name is recorded with a number of variations, including, Daya and Dahlia. 'al-Kahina', meaning 'sorceress', was a title given to her by her Muslim opponents because the defeats she inflicted on them were deemed the result of magic.
Dihya was raised in the Aures mountains in what is now modern-day Algeria. She was daughter to the chieftain of a Jewish Berber (Amazigh) tribe, however some sources suggest she also had some Greek heritage. Little of her childhood or private life is recorded, save for some accounts saying she had a passion for desert birds, her studies of which led to early advances in North African biological science.
In the early 7th century the Berbers of Northwestern Africa were under the control of the Exarchate of Carthage, itself a division of the Byzantine Empire. However after Egypt fell to Islamic conquest the Exarchate found itself in direct conflict with the Islamic Caliphates. The Byzantine capital of Carthage eventually fell to the armies of the Umayyad General Hasan ibn al-Nu'man, essentially wiping out Byzantine control of the area. However with their former rulers defeated, Dihya was able to rally all of the Berber tribes under her leadership and she became know as the 'Queen of the Berbers'. She mounted a campaign of resistance against the Ummayyad invaders, at first using guerrilla warfare but quickly escalating into outright conflict. Under her instruction the disorganised Berber forces quickly transitioned into a well-disciplined army.
Seeing Dihya as the most powerful opponent in the region, General Hasan marched south to engage her. Their armies met near Meskiana, where Dihya's forces defeated Hasan's so completely that he fled the area and retreated to Libya for the next few years. During this time Dihya came close to establishing a new nation state, setting up new administrative systems to support her army.
However the Berbers had become the only opponent to Islamic rule in Africa and the Caliphates devoted enormous resources toward their defeat. Hasan returned with fresh forces, this time allied with one of Dihya's own sons who had defected. The Berber forces were defeated and Dihya herself was killed in the ensuing battle. Some accounts say she poisoned herself when defeat became inevitable, while others say she died in combat with a sword in her hand. As the last voice of resistance to Islamic rule in Northwest Africa, Dihya's death marked the end of an era for the region.
Eritrean soldiers during the 30-year long Eritrean War of Independence between Eritrean forces and the Ethiopian government. Women made up 30% of Eritrea's army of 100,000 soldiers and were a popular symbol of the liberation effort.
After Eritrea won its independence in 1993 women were given 30% of the seats in parliament and gained new legal rights. However some complained that they were treated more respectfully as fighters than they were as civilians.
While little is known of Ghesquière's early life, it is established that she joined the French army in 1806. Ghesquière elected to take her brother Jean Baptiste's place in the French army, disguising herself as a man. Accounts vary as to whether her brother died in battle and she replaced him masquerading as another brother, or if she represented herself as Jean Baptiste himself in order to enlist. Regardless, Ghesquière served in the 27th Line Regiment of the army for 6 years.
Ghesquière had a distinguished military career serving in a number of campaigns during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1807 she took part in the invasion of Portugal during the Peninsular War, serving under General Jean-Andoche Junot. Distinguished numerous times for her performance, Ghesquière was promoted to Sergeant for her bravery at the Battle of Wagram, where she saved her captain from drowning in the Danube river. She was also commended for saving the life of a colonel who had fallen from his horse after being shot.
Ghesquière was injured in battle in 1812 and the surgeon treating her wounds discovered her identity as a woman. This led to her immediate dismissal from the army. However for her contribution in the war she was awarded the French Legion of Honor medal by Napoleon himself.
Ghesquière's dismissal from the army brought her a small amount of fame and she was featured in an article of the Journal de l'Empire newspaper. There was also a song composed about her life, which referred to her as the 'jolie sergent' (pretty sergeant). Although her year of birth is unknown, Ghesquière is believed to have been over 100 years old when she died in 1854.
Ecaterina Teodoroiu (1894-1917) was a Romanian soldier who fought against German forces during the First World War.
Teodoroiu spent her teenage years as a member of the Romanian Scouts and studied at the Girl's School in Budapest. She planned to become a school teacher, however when Romania entered World War I on the Allied side in 1916 she instead decided to serve as a nurse with the Scouts. Inspired by the patriotism of the wounded soldiers she treated and the death of her brother in action, she decided to enlist as a soldier.
Although she had to apply several times before the Romanian army eventually accepted her, Teodoroiu saw combat in October 1916 at the first Battle of Jiu as part of General Ion Dragalina's 1st Army. Some accounts say that Teodoroiu played a key part in this battle by rallying soldiers defending a bridge. Despite initially repulsing the German offensive, the 1st Army was forced back and during the retreat Teodoroiu was captured. However she managed to escape, killing at least two German soldiers in the process while sustaining only a leg wound in return.
She continued to serve in the army, however in November 1916 she was seriously wounded by a mortar strike and had to be hospitalised. She received the Military Virtue Medal, 1st Class, for her bravery and on her return to duty was promoted to Sublocotenent (Second Lieutenant) and given command of a 25-man platoon.
Teodoroiu was killed on September 3rd 1917, during the the Battle of Mărășești, the last battle fought between Romania and Germany in the war. She was hit in the chest by a burst of machine gun fire as she led her platoon against a unit of entrenched Germans. Her last words as she died were to call out "Forward, men, I'm still with you!".
Teodoroiu was buried in Târgu Jiu where her grave is honored by a monument. She is regarded as a heroine of Romania.