Help me find some historical role models for my daughters.

Disney has a lot to answer for. Apparently every girl’s wish and destiny is to get married. Its all about finding a handsome prince. Even Belle, the book-loving heroine in Beauty and the Beast, is doomed to marry the handsome prince as her just reward for being nice and studious.

We have recently read a book called "Princess Smartypants’, in which the mud-loving, dirtbike-riding princess with her monstrous pets manages through gile and a bit of magic to get rid of unwanted suitors and live her own life. Its a good book and I’m trying to follow that path.

So now I’m trying to find some good historical role models for my two little girls, preferably some leadership types and especially women who were first to do things.

But its tricky:

a. Theodora, Empress of Byzantium, despite her famous stirring speech to inspire resistance to rebellion, has a slightly dodgy past in starting off her career as a bawdy actress and courtesan.

b. Dido, Queen of Carthage, apparently did not even exist and, so the story goes, suicided over a man. Cleopatra, as a suicide victim, is in a similar boat (a single-seat ferry across the Acheron, no doubt).

c. Atalanta, the female warrior of myth who was rejected as a crew member of the Argos for being too beautiful, was busted by Zeus for fornicating in a temple and magically changed into a lioness.

d. Catherine the Great of Russia was a prolific and clever writer who corresponded with Voltaire and tried to reform the serf system, but there is that nasty business with her husband (she overthrew him for the throne and her followers murdered him) and those prsistentrumours about the horses.

e. Elizabeth I of England was apparently a shocking procrastinator and skinflint.
I know we all have our faults, but I’m seeking candidates with less obvious ones.

I have found the Soong sisters, Charlotte Cooper (first woman to win a modern Olympic event), Aida de Acosta (first female pilot) and Valentina Tereshkova (first woman in space), and other standard candidates like Florence Nightingale and Marie Curie.

But that has meant moving into more modern times. Disney princesses are, more or less, historical, and I’m seeking era-based competition to them.

Someone here recently mentioned Hildegard von Bingen, who I’d not heard of and for whom I’m grateful. Any other ideas?

Just a few thoughts I came up with, not in any particular order:

Joan of Arc, the maid of Orléans; a leadership type of woman, patron saint of France and officially canonized by the Catholics Church.

Isabella the Catholic of Castile. Has considerable historic importance due to her sponsorship of Columbus’ voyages and still very much reverred in Spain.

Pope Joan might be another interesting pick, but she belongs to the realm of myth and fiction as well.

Boudica, Celtic tribal warlord, routed the Romans in Britain, burned Colchester and London to the ground, until the Romans finally rallied and defeated her in the midlands.

Boudica. Not a pretty story, or a happy ending, but one tough lady who would not accept defeat.

Maggie Papakura, She looks like an antipodean Pocohantas, but she was way more than just a guide.

If you can get past the thing with the king, Madame_de_Pompadour had some admirable qualities.

Jane Austin never married, supporting herself through her writing.

Women in World History might have some useful info for you. I haven’t looked through it myself - it’s late in this corner of the world and I haven’t the concentration for it.

Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley

If you keep it to the headlines, anyone looks pretty good. In depth study, however, will reveal warts on the most beautiful backside.

I’d like to put in a bid for Cecily Saunders, a woman who practically invented the hospice industry as a medical (as opposed to religious) field.

Elizabeth Fry is another good one: a British women who worked for prisoner’s rights in the 1800’s.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton is a classic of course. Women’s right and suffrage in the US.

I assume you can include women like Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie and Florence Nightingale - although those are the ones likely to be mentioned at school, so I wouldn’t waste too much time there unless she shows a specific interest.

One thing I’d encourage is that you include both women who succeeded in traditionally “male” roles (Elizabeth I, Earhart, Curie, etc.) and those who were outstanding in traditionally “female” roles (Saunders, Fry, Nightingale). My mom, out of nothing but good intentions, focused only on the "male"ish ones, and as a result I felt ashamed for years that I wanted to be a nurse - only stupid old-fashioned unliberated women were nurses, obviously! :smack:

Harriett Tubman is best known for her work with Underground Railroad, her spy and mapping work during the Civil War (she was buried with Military honors), her work as an early suffragette working with Susan B Anthony et al. just gets lost. She was a major contributor in time and place.

She lived an incredible life born a woman, black and a slave in a time and place when all were major, major handicaps to a kind of active public life. Oh and her early slave life had left her with disabling seizures, headaches, and spells of falling asleep suddenly - by our standards you could make the case that she was semi-disabled.

The story of Rosa Parks is an awesome example of civil disobedience. Can’t link to anything for some reason, but please include Rosa Parks.

From recent history, how about Margaret Thatcher and Emiline Pankhurst?

I got no mention of the Curies (hey, her husband and daughter got Nobels too!) until 6th grade. Maria Skłodowska had been my heroine for years by that time, tho, thanks to a book which I sadly don’t have here called “when great women were children.” Her story is absolutely fascinating without even having an interest in science.

Isabel de Castilla has been mentioned; there were a number of Blancas de Navarra, including Isabel’s aunt-by-marriage (Queen Consort of Castilla) and the aunt’s mother (who was Queen Regnant of Navarra and had a lot of problems with her husband King Juan of Aragon because he refused to accept that she and not him was the “King” of Navarra). All princesses, but none of them what Disney sells.

Doña Toda of Navarra was Queen Consort (not born a princess) and mother of a King (Sancho el Creso, Sancho the Fat) who lost his throne for being too fat and food-obsessed to fulfill his duties. Parliament said he’d get it back if he got himself in shape, so Doña Toda had him carted all the way down to Córdoba, slimmed down and then he did regain his throne.

Any Roman might be a bad idea, uh?

Saint Teresa de Jesús (I find her as both Teresa of Jesus or Therese of Jesus in English) has quite an interesting and complex biography, although of course depending on how you feel about the religious angle it won’t be appropiate. Another interesting one is Saint Clare of Assisi, with a very different story to tell.

Teresa de Jesús brings us to the Princess of Eboli, definitely no saint that one but also not what one thinks of when the word “lady” is mentioned. She lost an eye in childhood in a swordfighting accident, had a hand in many of the intrigues of the Spanish court and owned a temper that would have made Vulcano hire her to lit up his fires.

What about Queen Christina of Sweden? By all accounts she was a strong-willed and educated woman, patron of the arts and sciences, and acquainted to Renée Descartes among others. She refused to marry and produce a heir despite repeated pressure from her counsellors before converting to catholicism and abdicating from the throne to live in Rome, where she was finally buried in St. Peter’s Basilica.

There are several prominent women in Roman history, but as with other ancient civilizations it’s difficult to distinguish early history from mythology. For example, there are Veturia and Volumna, the mother and wife of highly decorated Roman general Coriolan who had been banished from the city and therefore defected and beleaguered his home city commanding an enemy army. Veturia and Volumna secretly entered Coriolan’s camp and dramatically convinced him to end the siege. It’s one of those heroic Roman legends about how the city was saved in times of peril.

Ada Lovelace! The first computer programmer. This bookis currently sold out but suitable for young readers.

Gertrude Bellwas manipulative and anti-suffrage, but boy, was she powerful. There are several books about her; don’t know of any for young readers.

As a nurse, I wouldn’t recommend Florence Nightingale. If you’re going to toss out Elizabeth I for ‘proscratination’, then Flo should be off the list for her neuroses, mental problems, and general bad temper. (This is the woman who spent decades of her life in bed for reasons no one has ever been able to quite figure out…and was very abusive to those taking care of her during this period.)

Frankly, Elizabeth is a good candidate and deserves a second look. What may look to modern folks like procrastination was often a tricky political dance balancing opposing forces. A really interesting book contrasting her with her nearest equivalent contemporary, Mary Queen of Scotts, is “Elizabeth and Mary, Cousins, Rivals, Queens” by Jane Dunn.

Another candidate - how about Admiral Grace Hopper?

Margaret Thatcher, Joan of Arc, and Bodica had previously occurred to me.

Thatcher is a figure of such controversy, with the poll tax and the Falklands War, I have really hesitated using her as a role model.

Joan was, of course, burned at the stake, a fairly horrible end.

Even worse is Boudica’s story, with the rape of her daughters by the Romans, the destruction of the three largest Roman cities, and her poison by suicide, do not lend themselves well to young girls.

Thanks for the link - it helped me find Nana Asma’u.

I came into this thread to recommend Elizabeth I, and I agree with GythaOgg. Elizabeth got things done when she wanted them done, there’s no doubt about that. She famously used procrastination for political gains. There’s a lot of evidence that suggests that she never meant to marry (having Henry VIII for a father does that to a girl). It was unheard of that a woman wouldn’t marry in those times, and stomping her foot and saying NO! was sure to just piss people off. Instead, she played a complex dance over and over again, coming close to marriage then backing off for various reasons. Her “procrastination” got her exactly what she wanted - no husband, and no civil war over it either.

I’m not sure I’d count her dealings with Mary, Queen of Scots as procrastination at all. She genuinely believed that royalty ruled because God wanted them to, and for her to kill a fellow royal - one very closely related to her - would endanger her soul. Keeping her locked up for 20 some years was not ideal, but at least she wouldn’t have to fear going to Hell over it.

As far as a skinflint - I’m not sure where that comes from. Sure, she didn’t spend England into the gutter like some of her fellow rulers. But she was generous with her gifts, and other than not wanting to get into expensive wars, I can’t think of where she’s been accused of being a skinflint. Anyone?

Elizabeth was an extremely gifted ruler, incredibly intelligent, and possessed amazing mental strength. I’d say she’d be my first choice for historical role models, for both girls and boys.

How about Eleanor of Aquitaine? A very powerful personality!

And - if not Florence Nightingale - Mary Seacole, another nursing hero of the Crimea.

Once again, feeling the need to inject Indian stuff into a conversation, here I am. But really! We have culture and history too! And tough women! Some of the toughest around!

How about Jhansi Ki Rani, Lakshmibai (Queen of Jhansi)? She was determined to resist the British rule:

India reveres her, though her reputation is exaggerated. But her bravery is not in doubt. She actually donned warrior’s clothing and rode into battle.

Phoolan Devi (The Bandit Queen) is another one but it’s pretty dark and I would be judicious in what you tell your daughters.

And lastly, no list of powerful women in India would be complete without Indira Ghandi. Much has been said about her and much criticism has been leveled at her but she was still something great.

She was, however, a pioneering medical reformer and statistician who is credited with inventing a form of pie chart. (cite cite)

I won’t argue with any parent who dislikes the Disney Princess obsession many little girls have.

Still, I’m inclined to think feminist parents should lighten up. Ask a female doctor. lawyer or scientist, and more often than not, you’ll find they played mostly with Barbie and My Little Pony. It didn’t stop them from succeeding in school or in life later on.

Kids of BOTH genders love all kinds of stereotypical things their parents wish they wouldn’t. But if you try to tell your daughter, “No Barbies in this house- here, read this book about Barbara McClintock,” she’s going to think you’re unreasonable and crazy. And she’ll be right.

Look, my wife made sure there are no toy guns in our house, and we don’t keep any violent videos, either. Fat remains, my son makes guns out of Tinkertoys or Legos, or even a piece of toast!

How far do you think I’d get if I tried to make Gandhi his new role model?

Little kids will eventually get over their childhood fixations on their own. Don’t make yourself look like an old meanie who won’t let your daughter have any fun.