History’s Bravest Women Warriors That You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Although many nations have traditionally not allowed women to become soldiers, that did not stop some brave heroes. Some women disguised themselves as men to join the Army, while others worked as spies and nurses. Others were rulers who fought on the front lines. Female warriors hail from countries across the globe, and they have served their nations in every era. Here are some women warriors you’ve probably never heard of.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko Was The World’s Best Female Sniper

Red Army Soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko is seen sitting next to friends in 1968.
Les Lee/Daily Express/Getty Images
Les Lee/Daily Express/Getty Images

Lyudmila Pavlichenko is the most successful female sniper in history. As a member of the Soviet Red Army in World War II, she had 309 confirmed kills. This world record earned Pavlichenko the nickname “Lady Death” along with a Gold Star of the Hero and two Order of Lenins.

After the war, Pavlichenko did not stop working for the military. She trained other Red Army snipers and worked as a military spokesperson. After touring Great Britain, the United States, and Canada, she returned to the Soviet Union. She was then reassigned as a Senior Researcher for the Soviet Navy, where she worked until her death.

Nakano Takeko Formed A Women’s Army Without Permission

Nakano
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Nakano Takeko was a Japanese warrior during the Boshin War, from 1868 to 1869. At the time, women were not officially recognized as members of the military. Regardless, Takeko created the Jōshitai, which means “Women’s Army.” She and her squadron fought on the front lines without permission.

Takeko fought in the Battle of Aizu with a naginata, a Japanese polearm. Despite fighting valiantly, she was eventually captured. To keep her honor, she asked her sister to cut off her head, and she died there. Takeko is still honored today as one of the last samurai in history.

Krystyna Skarbek Was One Of The World’s Cleverest Spies

War spy Krystyna Skarbek sits on a beach in this old photograph.
Heather McIntyre Kirk/Pinterest
Heather McIntyre Kirk/Pinterest

Krystyna Skarbek is one of the most famous spies from World War II. In 1939, she organized a Polish resistance group to smuggle pilots out of the occupied country. The British noticed this and enrolled her in the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Throughout the 1940s, Skarbek partook in many dangerous missions in Germany and France. Her most famous was releasing fellow SOE agents from a German prison. She did so by outing herself as a spy to the commander, and persuading him with a two million franc bribe and a (false) threat of an Allied invasion. All SOE agents successfully escaped and no money was spent.

Sybil Ludington Was More Hardcore Than Paul Revere

This statue memorial portrays Sybil Ludington riding on a horse while waving a stick.
Anthony22/Wikipedia Commons
Anthony22/Wikipedia Commons

Paul Revere was not the only person who warned the Americans about the British. On April 26, 1777, Sybil Ludington learned that British forces were planning to attack Putnam County, New York, and Danbury, Connecticut. At the age of 16, she rode overnight on horseback to warn the militias.

Ludington rode through the pouring rain and fought off highwaymen with a stick. Eventually, she reached her father, Colonel Henry Ludington. He arranged 400 troops for a counterattack, and Sybil might have helped him do so. She was not publicly honored for her service until 1900.

Flora Sandes Became A World War I Captain

In this 1918 photo, Flora Sandes is seen in her Army uniform.
Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

Flora Sandes was the only British woman to officially fight during World War I. Formerly an emergency medical volunteer, she traveled to the Kingdom of Serbia and joined the Royal Serbian Army. She rose from soldier to Corporal to Sergeant major to Captain.

Sandes fought throughout World War I, at one point receiving a grenade wound from hand-to-hand combat. After the war, she published an autobiography, An English Woman-Sergeant in the Serbian Army, from her letters and diaries. She was also decorated with seven medals from her service.

Queen Zenobia Conquered Territories In The Roman Empire

This artwork depicts Zenobia's last look upon Palmyra after being defeated by Aurelian in 272 AD.
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Septimia Zenobia was the queen of the Palmyrene Empire in modern-day Syria. In 270 AD, she was competing with the Roman Empire for territory. She launched many campaigns, conquering areas in Turkey, Western Asia, and southern Egypt.

Although Zenobia was an accomplished rider, she would often join her soldiers by marching on foot for miles. Along with war, Zenobia spread education and religious tolerance. But her reign was short. In 1974, Roman soldiers captured her during the Battle of Immae and executed her. She is now one of Syria’s most patriotic symbols.

Princess Noor Inayat Khan Was Also A Spy

Noor_Inayat_Khan,_c.1943
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Noor Inayat Khan was not just a Muslim princess of the Indian Mysore state. She was also a spy who worked for the Allies. As a member of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Khan lived in France and secretly sent information to Britain.

Khan was the first female wireless operator. This was the most dangerous spy job, as she had to send radio signals, which could be intercepted. In 1943, Khan got caught. Although she did not talk during the interrogations, the Gestapo (German secret police) found her notebooks. She was executed but received many honors posthumously.

Khutulun Was A Fierce Mongol Warrior

In this art piece, Khutulun wrestles a male suitor.
Maître de la Mazarine/Wikipedia Commons
Maître de la Mazarine/Wikipedia Commons

Did you know that one of the strongest Mongol warriors was a woman? Although she is known by many names, most people called her Khutulun, the cousin of Emperor Kublai Khan and great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan.

Throughout the 13th century, Khutulun fought in many battles against the Yuan Empire. Marco Polo claimed that she was “so strong, that there was no young man in the whole kingdom who could overcome her.” She also insisted that any man who wished to marry her must beat her in wrestling. No man earned her hand; instead, she earned hundreds of horses in exchange for winning.

Cynane, Alexander’s Half-Sister, Became A Warrior Ruler

In this ancient stone engraving, Cynane battles while riding a horse.
Daria Kester/Pinterest
Daria Kester/Pinterest

Cynane was the half-sister of Alexander the Great. As an Illyrian princess, she was trained in the “arts of war.” Cynane was one of three royal Macedonian women to fight for the ancient Greek kingdom in the 300s BC. She also led several armies.

After Alexander the Great died, his half-brother Arrhidaeus took over. Cynane thought that he was too dim-witted to rule and saw her chance. She led an army into Babylon and overthrew Arrhidaeus, taking the throne herself. Unfortunately, she was back-stabbed by an old friend and did not rule Greece for long.

The Trưng Sisters Rode Into War On Elephants

This Đông Hồ painting shows the Trung sisters riding into war on elephants.
Lucky-Birdie/Wikipedia Commons
Lucky-Birdie/Wikipedia Commons

The Trưng sisters, which translates to “the Two Ladies,” were Vietnamese military leaders during the 40s AD. During this time, the Chinese occupied Vietnam for the first time. The rule was tense, and women received fewer rights than before. Sisters Trung Nhi and Trung Trac took matters into their own hands.

While riding elephants, the sisters led a rebellion by garnering a large army. According to some sources, they recruited 80,000 soldiers, including many women. After chasing away the Chinese occupiers, the sisters ruled Vietnam for three years. They established a new capital, Me Linh, and are regarded as legendary.

Queen Boudicca Became A Folk Hero In Ancient Britain

Boudica of the British Iceni tribe leads an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

In 60 AD, the British Celtic Iceni tribe was an ally of the Roman Empire. But when King Prasutagus passed away, Rome ignored this treaty. They invaded the tribe and ruthlessly ruled over the Celtic Britons. This is where Queen Boudicca came in.

Boudicca gathered the Iceni Army, the Trinovantes, and others who were against Roman rule. She led a rebellion against Rome, defeated them, and burned down the cities Londinium and Verulamium. After this, Queen Boudicca was heralded as a folk hero, especially in Renaissance and Victorian England.

Artemisia I Of Caria Commanded Persian Naval Battles

In this painting, Artemisia I of Caria toasts with a golden cup.
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Artemisia I of Caria was the Queen of the ancient Greek city-state, Halicarnassus. As an ally of Xerxes I, the King of Persia, she fought in the second Persian invasion of Greece. Unlike other leaders in 480 BC, she personally commanded her troops and participated in battle.

Artemisia specialized in naval battles. She commanded five ships during the battle of Artemisium and the Battle of Salamis. Today, she is best-known from the writings of Herodotus (also from Halicarnassus), who praised her for her courage and expert commanding.

Edith Cavell Would Treat Soldiers On Both Sides

Edith Cavell pets her dogs in this early 1900s photograph.
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

Edith Cavell was a British Army nurse during World War I, but she was no normal nurse. Cavell believed that “any wounded man must be medically treated; each was equal at the point of need.” During the German occupation of Brussels, she treated wounded soldiers on both sides.

But Cavell was still loyal toward the Allied Powers. Cavell founded a secret network that smuggled British and French soldiers to safety. When she was discovered, she was executed by a German firing squad. The night before, she famously said, “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

Cut Nyak Dhien Led Revolts To Free Indonesia

Cut Nyak Dhien is photographed in 1908.
Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

Cut Nyak Dhien was an aristocratic woman in the Great Aceh Regency, in modern-day Indonesia. In 1873, the Dutch declared war against the Aceh. Dhien’s husband, Teuku Cek Ibrahim Lamnga, died in battle. Following this, Dhien swore revenge and fought against the Dutch for 25 years.

Dhien leads a troop in guerrilla warfare and fought off invaders until 1901. After she got captured, her daughter, Cut Gambang, continued the resistance. Although the war ended with Indonesia under indirect Dutch rule, Dhien is remembered as a hero. In 1964, Dhien was posthumously declared a National Hero by Indonesia’s president.

Cathay Williams Disguised As A Man To Fight

Cathay Williams is pictured in her Civil War uniform in this painting.
@SecDef/Twitter
@SecDef/Twitter

Cathay Williams was born into slavery, but she escaped during a Union occupation in the Civil War. In 1866, she enlisted in the Army under the name “William Cathay.” She became the first African-American woman to enlist in the U.S. Army and the only woman to fight during the American Indian Wars.

There is some speculation that Williams also fought during the Civil War. A soldier named “Finis Cathay” enrolled in the Army in 1862 and participated in many battles. Although this is not confirmed, Williams is still honored as one of the earliest female American soldiers.

Deborah Sampson Fought In The American Revolution

Deborah Sampson is depicted in this 1797 engraving.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Deborah Sampson was born into indentured servitude and eventually worked as a teacher. But in 1782, her patriotism led her down a different path. Changing her name to “Robert Shirtliff,” she enrolled in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.

Sampson went on many dangerous missions, such as commanding a unit of 30 men and fighting in the Battle of Yorktown. During her first battle, she was shot in the leg. To avoid being discovered as a woman, she tried to remove the bullet herself and failed. She carried that bullet for the rest of her life and continued to fight with a wounded leg until she was honorably discharged.

Clara Barton Would Tend To Soldiers On The Battlefield

Clara Barton, under President Abraham Lincoln's charge for sending supplies to civil war soldiers, holds a pair of gloves next to a table and clock.
Getty Images
Getty Images

Clara Barton is best known for founding the American Red Cross. But before that, she was a nurse who tended to soldiers during several wars. Known as the “the angel of the battlefield,” she would fight off enemies to tend wounded soldiers on the battlefield.

Barton’s service started during the American Civil War. In 1870, she traveled to Europe to assist Princess Louise Marie Elisabeth of Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War. She established military hospitals and founded the Red Cross Society, which aided refugees and prisoners during the Spanish-American War. Today, Barton has many schools, streets, and buildings named after her.

Gwenllian Ferch Gruffydd Inspired A Welsh Revolution

This art piece portrays Gwenllian Ferch Gruffydd with a sword.
Leesa Exelby/Pinterest
Leesa Exelby/Pinterest

Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd was a princess in 12th century Wales. In the 1130s, Wales was struggling with frequent Norman invaders. With her family, Gruffydd would sneak into the forests and mountains and conduct “lightning raids” on the Normans.

In 1136, Gruffydd enlisted her father-in-law for help during a revolt. She and her army fought near Kidwelly Castle, but they were defeated. Although she died during the Great Revolt of 1136, Gruffydd inspired South Wales to fight. She became a martyr for their war against the Normans, and the Welsh eventually regained their country.

Surgeon Dr. Mary Walker Became A Prisoner Of War

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker is photographed wearing the Medal of Honor.
Apic/Getty Images
Apic/Getty Images

Mary Edwards Walker, later known as Dr. Mary Walker, was a rare sight in the 19th century: a female surgeon. She was an abolitionist, prohibitionist, and military surgeon during the American Civil War. Afterward, she received the Medal of Honor for her services.

Walker served the 52nd Ohio Regiment for two years. In 1864, the Confederates captured her and held her as a prisoner of war. She suffered there for four months until she was released in a prisoner exchange. Apart from her service in the Army, Walker fought for women’s rights.

The Dahomey Amazons Defended Their People Against Slavery

The women of the Dahomey Amazons are depicted in 1897.
Chris Hellier/Corbis via Getty Images
Chris Hellier/Corbis via Getty Images

Rather than honoring one woman, this represents several throughout the centuries. In the Kingdom of Dahomey, Africa, there was an elite group of women who made up the military. They were the Minon, meaning “our mothers;” European writers called them the Dahomey Amazons.

These women fought to defend the Kingdom throughout several wars, including both Franco-Dahomean Wars. They also prevented many of their people from being recruited into the slave trade. The Kingdom of Dahomey disbanded in 1904, and the final Minon passed away in 1979.