Is Dorothy Gale (Oz) the first female adventure hero?

I heard a point made secondhand by someone who’d seen it in a documentary or read it an article that Dorothy from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was the first female character to lead a group and be the center of an adventure story. That doesn’t sound right to me, but I can’t think of a counterexample. There are female protagonists way back to fairy tales, but they mostly exist to be victims. Usually their purity, goodness, or dumb luck leads to their success/survival rather than their cleverness or heroics.

Dorothy (of the book) is a bit of a ditz, but she definitely thinks through her problems or takes direct action against them. Her friends try to protect her, but ultimately, she’s the one calling the shots.

The only prior possibility that comes to mind right away is Alice (of Wonderland fame). Baum was partly inspired by the Alice stories. Alice doesn’t lead a group, but she does have adventures.

Take a look at what Nellie Blywas doing a decade before TWOOz was written.

Vera, the main character inMizora, (published 1890) certainly has her share of adventures and calls her own shots, but the novel itself is a political tome.

What about Jane? She was always going off by herself.

and Pauline in the Perils of Pauline?

There’s always Mulan, sort of.

The Rifle Queen was a dime novel from 1887 about Annie Oakley and her (fictional) adventures.

It looks like there were dime novels featuring female protagonists as early as 1845, including one about Fanny Campbell, a female pirate captain.

I can’t believe I forgot about Alice in Wonderland. Alice is a bit like Dorothy in character. Tarzan and the Perils of Pauline come, I believe, after the Wizard of Oz, but most of the other examples are spot on.

I’m not familiar with the original, un-Disneyfied Mulan, but that reminds me that several Vietnamese stories that I *have *read have female heroes … notably Thúy Kiều from Truyện Kiều, which is absolutely the centerpiece of Vietnamese literature, so :smack:. There are also the quasi-historical stories of the Trung sisters and Miss Trieu.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm was leading Emma Jane Perkins and Minnie Smellie (!) around by the pigtails right about the same time Dorothy landed in Oz.

What about Deborah, from the Old Testament?

The Blazing World, sometimes called the first science fiction story, was written in 1666 by a woman and has a female protagonist. Don’t think she has a name though. Starts off as The Lady, then later the Empress.

It’s available online, doesn’t seem too long. Never got around to reading it myself.

In some fairy tales the protagonist (female or male) succeeds by her industriousness and generosity. She makes friends of people, animals, and things that don’t look like they’d be a valuable part of her social network, by doing work for them or sharing scarce food. They end up helping her in surprising ways.

The moral being work hard and be cheerful, rather than goldbricking or complaining and be willing to help whoever needs it, rather than just the folks you think can pay you back.

Deborah hell; Judith from the eponymous Book of Judith, which is generally counted as both apocryphal and a work of fiction, has a pretty good claim to being one of the earliest action heroines: she was out there being a femme fatale on Holofernes, getting him drunk and then sawing his head off.

And Thomas Heywood’s Jacobean play The Fair Maid of the West has about a barmaid turned swashbuckling pirate queen who leads a crew against the Spanish.

She was more of a solo operator, but Atalanta was a pretty badass mortal Greek warrior. She comes complete with a tragic backstory (abandoned on a mountain because her dad wanted a son, raised by bears) and was the favored huntress of Artemis. She did things like kill two centaurs with one arrow, beat Peleus in a wrestling match, and she was the only one who could hit the calydonian boar (who was kicking the collective asses of a a laundry list of summoned male heroes before she showed up).

She was super fast too. She offered to marry any man who could beat her in a foot race but the catch was if she won she’d kill you. Men came from all over and they all lost handedly. She lost eventually, but only because Aphrodite felt sorry for the lovesick men and gave a dude some magic golden apples to cheat with.

If I’d had a daughter(I’m childless) my first choice of a name would have been Judith. I can’t understand why they haven’t made a movie out of this, except for the fact she was a widow who never remarried. So no romance.

When I was young, I started collecting the Grace Harlowe series of books. For comparison, the first OZ book was published in 1900 - the first Grace Harlowe book in 1907.

The series starts with Grace’s first year in High School and follows Grace and her friends through as they do homework and solve crime all the way through college, Grace’s years working as a college housemother, and her eventual marriage to her high school sweetheart. When the Great War breaks out, Grace and her girlfriends follow their husbands to France in various professional capacities. Grace becomes an ambulance driver. Upon their return, they form a club of sorts, called the Overland Riders, who dash about the nascent National Park systems having adventures (and solving crime, natch).

Throughout the series Grace is described as a natural leader and, while not officially a scout of any sort, an eager participant in all sorts of sports (including basketball!) and wilderness activities.

The reason I’m mentioning all this is that the Grace Harlowe books exist as a counterpoint to the Boys Own Adventure style of books which were popular with young men at the time. But the main thing is - there were lots of these series aimed at girls. In the back of the books, there’s always advertisements for other book series. Series aimed specifically at girls included The Moving Picture Girls (there’s a separate Moving Picture Boys series), The Automobile Girls, The Campfire Girls, The Outdoor Girls.

Many of these books were written by the Stratemeyer Sydicate which would go on to publish the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (the ultimate adventure girl!) By today’s standards they’re hopelessly outdated but also at times surprisingly advanced. Grace, even while she’s serving in France, makes a point of insisting that ladies should not be allowed to vote - it’s a very odd statement from a lady ambulance driver. Even though the language of the books ultimately reinforce the ideals of American middle class privilege, they consistently push the boundaries of acceptable female behavior. There was a clearly a huge market for these stories and an audience that was redefining what it meant to be a modern American women.

Anway, Dorothy Gale - she does seem to have beaten Grace and the rest by a couple years but her contemporaries were have adventures that were even more astonishing compared to the books their mothers would have grown up with.

All of these books are available at Project Gutenberg and in Kindle editions, for the interested.


Dorothy and Alice (formerly in Wonderland) sit down for a little chat.

Louisa May Alcott was publishing adventure stories with female protagonists several decades before Dorothy Gale saw print:

This was the same period in which Carroll’s Alice appeared (1865), but of course Alice was more of an observer of what happened around her, than she was an ‘action heroine.’

Oooh. I just downloaded it from the Gutenberg Project. They have all the formats, with and without images.

I believe I read a story about a young French girl who heard voices and lead an army some time before Oz had any inhabitants.