5 Amazing Women History Almost Forgot
Amanirenas (60 BCE - 10 BCE)
After Augustus Caesar conquered Egypt, he and the Roman Empire planned to go further south and conquer more of Africa. And on their list was a small country called Kush, which is modern-day Sudan. Kush was a lot smaller than Rome, and they had to act fast if they didn't want to follow in Cleopatra's footsteps.
So Kush took the element of surprise and attacked first.
Kush's king died early on in the war, leaving its queen, Amanirenas, to carry on the fight. Under her command, Kush captured two major Roman cities where they took captives and defaced statues of Augustus.
August struck back, though by destroying Kush's capital and selling thousands of Kush's citizens into slavery.
Amanirenas wasn't done, though.
Through repetitive, brutal attacks, Amanirenas fought back against Rome. Although her specific strategies are lost to history for now, it's rumored that she used war elephants in battles and a carving depicts her feeding captives to her pet lion.
Eventually, the mighty Roman Empire gave up and negotiated peace with Kush, a country that would survive for another 400 years.
Sarah Biffen (1784-1850)
Sarah Biffen is the prime example of why we shouldn't complain about our lots in life.
Sarah was born in rural England without arms or legs.
Her parents were poor and didn't know how to care for her. They tried to stop her from doing anything, thinking that she would just put herself in danger in her vulnerable state.
But Sarah was a lot stronger than that, and very clever too.
Whenever she was alone at home, she taught herself basic skills like sewing and writing. By the time she was eight, she could make her own dresses. By the time she was twelve, she could write long letters.
She used her mouth to wield both the sewing needle and the pen. She sewed loops into the shoulders of her dress so she could reach her supplies easily when needed.
When she was 14, she met a traveling showman and con-man named Emmanuel Dukes. Dukes saw the potential in Sarah and gave her room, board, and a small salary in exchange for joining his sideshow as The Astonishing Curiosity.
He charged people to watch her sew, write, and cut out portraits. He also taught her how to paint so she was able to add selling miniature portraits to her repertoire.
Sarah became a minor celebrity, and very lucrative for Dukes, who regularly bet onlookers 1,000 guineas that the armless and legless woman could cut, sew, write and paint. He also sold her miniature portraits for three guineas each and charged every onlooker two schillings for the privilege of watching The Astonishing Curiosity.
Unfortunately, Sarah got the wrong end of the paintbrush in the deal. Dukes only paid her three guineas a year no matter how much money she gave him.
However, the Earl of Morton took notice when she made a portrait for him. He showed the portrait to King George III, who was so impressed, he paid for Sarah to get a better tutor.
Sarah eventually left Dukes' sideshow and set up her own studio where she painted portraits for King George III, King George IV, Queen Victoria, and many other members of royalty. She also became the official artist in the court of the King of Holland.
Micaela Almonester (1795-1874)
Micaela Almonester built a real estate empire in New Orleans by herself. Before that, she was shot four times in the chest and escaped an abusive marriage after a four-year battle with the courts.
Micaela Almonester was born into one of the most prominent families in New Orleans and because of that, she ended up getting married to her gold-digging husband Celestin de Pontalba, son of Baron Joseph de Pontalba, a violent, greedy nutcase.
After their marriage, Micaela was taken to France to live with the Pontalbas, where the Baron effectively cut her off from her friends and family and bullied her into signing over Power of Attorney to him. Once she had, her husband left her, leaving her only $600 a month in allowance.
In response, Micaela moved back to New Orleans and revived the family estate, where she increased her income to $40,000 a year and also tried to get a divorce under Louisiana law.
Her husband and father-in-law counter-attacked by getting the French courts to order her back to France, where they shut her in a room and kept her locked up in solitary. Maids were not allowed in her room or talk to her and visitors for her were turned away. Micaela bided her time, gathering evidence of their wrongdoing to help her win a divorce case in France.
Unfortunately, the French divorce laws were ridiculous, and for four years, Micaela kept losing. Not only was she still trapped by her husband and father-in-law, but she also had to pay their legal fees every time. But she still kept fighting for her freedom.
Her perseverance enraged the Baron and he went into her room with two pistols and shot her four times in the chest. Then he went to his own room and shot himself.
Micaela survived, however, even though the recovery was brutal. For three weeks she endured near-daily seizures and the pain was too great to let her sleep. Because she had tried to use her left hand to protect herself against the bullets, she lost one of her fingers. She also had a collapsed lung that never healed properly. For the rest of her life, even going up a flight of stairs would leave her breathless.
But she survived. Three weeks after the shooting, she moved to Paris and continued suing for divorce. She lost yet again.
By this time the shooting and constant lawsuits had become a public scandal and Micaela lost many of her high society friends as a consequence. Her husband reveled in the victories, however, and even passed out copies of the court proceedings to random passerby, which finally let Micaela win her case on the grounds that Celestin was shirking his husbandly duty of protecting her.
Micaela Almonester was finally free at 40 years old.
She started her new life as a shrewd businesswoman. She built the Hotel de Pontalba, a Paris landmark. Then she went to New Orleans and built the Pontalba Buildings, some of the most recognizable buildings in the French Quarter. Within a few years of her divorce, she had gained a reputation as a real estate shark. She died at 76 as a deeply respected and feared New Orleans businesswoman.
Pingyang was only 23 when she died but in her short life, she led an army of 70,000 to revolt against the tyrant Yangdi and helped catapult China into a golden era with the Tang dynasty. Long story short, she was an all-around badass.
Yangdi was the type of ruler to get praised by Stalin. He conquered seven neighboring countries and launched a series of dangerous infrastructure projects that left millions dead. He accomplished this with conscription and over-taxation, essentially uniting everyone under his rule with his or her hatred of him.
Pingyang was the daughter of the military commander Li Yuan who was plotting to kill Yangdi. When her husband, a royal guard, left to join LI Yuan in his rebellion, Pingyang was left in a bad situation. She volunteered to stay behind because both of them leaving at once would be too dangerous. She didn't stick around long, however, and snuck out of the palace to travel alone to her family's lands.
The commoners were suffering from drought and starvation after being neglected by the government and basically left to die. Pingyang gave out food from her family's storehouses to feed them. They were so grateful that many pledged loyalty to her which was the beginning of what would be known as the Woman's Army.
For several months, while Yangdi was distracted fighting Li Yuan, Pingyang cultivated political alliances to grow her army. The Woman's Army became 70,000 strong and lived under a strict code of conduct put in place by Pingyang: no stealing, raping, or pillaging. If a soldier wanted to take something, he had to pay for it. Because of this, Pingyang's soldiers were welcomed as liberators instead of hated as conquerors.
In less than a year, the Woman's Army conquered Yangdi's forces, and the fallen tyrant fled. Her father, Li Yuan, took the throne, establishing the Tang Dynasty.
Pingyang died from unknown causes when she was 23. Military music was played at her funeral to honor her military success.
Manuela Saenz (1797-1859)
Manuela Saenz was born out of wedlock and therefore destined to be an outcast in Ecuadorian society. Not that she cared about being accepted by polite society.
Instead of going to church and acting like a nice girl, Manuela went horseback riding and shot pistols with her family's servant and her lifelong friend, Jonatas. Her family tried several times to "civilize" her and failed. They sent her to a convent only for her to run off with an army guy. Then they married her to an English merchant who she abandoned when she joined a rebel army at 26 years old.
Manuela worked as a spy in Lima, gathering intel for Simon Bolivar, AKA The Liberator, who was on a mission to liberate South America from the Spanish. She was so good at it that she was promoted to general. As part of the army, she survived harrowing journeys, like a 950-mile trek through the mountains, which caused the death or desertion of over 700 soldiers. She was also at the Battle of Ayacucho, one of the most important battles in the wars for independence. While there, she ripped off the mustache of a dead enemy, which she kept as a trophy.
Not only would she wear the mustache to masquerade balls, but she also kept a pet bear that terrified visitors and gave her a reputation for being really weird. But she also became Simon Bolivar's lover, which is what she was best known for.
She was Bolivar's favorite mistress, and he trusted her with his life, which was smart of him to do. She saved his life twice. The second time she did so, she ended up getting beaten by assassins so badly she was bedridden for two weeks.
Bolivar established a short-lived country called Gran Columbia, which collapsed near the end of his life. When he died, Manuela tried to kill herself by getting a poisonous snake to bite her. She survived, however, and lived another 26 years in relative peace.