This International Women’s Day some of the SANDEMANs cities will be offering special female-focussed tours, shining a light on some of the truly remarkable heroes (she-roes!) who made their mark on the cities we call home. While we’ll be collectively highlighting hundreds of amazing women, we put together a list of 7 of the kick-ass women you might not have heard about, but will definitely want to learn about. Enjoy!
1. Amsterdam – Hannie Schaft
Also known as “the girl with the red hair”, Hannie Schaft is well-known in the Netherlands but perhaps not so well-known in other countries. She was strongly opposed to the occupying Nazi’s anti-Jewish actions, and worked to sabotage and even assassinate strategic Nazi targets. After being arrested delivering communist newspapers, she was imprisoned, interrogated, and tragically, executed by the Nazis just three weeks before the end of the war. Apart from being a brave and impactful resistance fighter, her final words showed just how tough she was – when one of the Nazi soldiers sent to execute her merely wounded her, she apparently said “I shoot better than you do”, before she was finally killed by his colleague.
2. Copenhagen – Lili Elbe
One of the world’s first recipients of gender reassignment surgery, Lili Elbe was born Elnar Magnus Andreas Wegener in 1882. Gender reassignment surgery was still highly experimental in 1930, when she underwent the first of four surgeries, and in 1931, her body rejected a transplanted uterus and she died from infection. As her surgeries took place in Germany, many of the medical records relating to her story were burnt during the Nazi book burnings, however the best-selling book (and now film) The Danish Girl offers a fictionalized account of her life.
3. Dublin – Constance Markievicz
Constance Markievicz was born into a wealthy family in London, but bravely took part in the 1916 Easter Rising on the side of the Irish republicans. While many of the male republicans she fought alongside were sentenced to death, she was given a lesser sentence for being a female, and eventually went on to become the first woman elected to the UK House of Commons (although she didn’t take her seat), and later, the first woman in the world to hold a cabinet position. When she died aged 59 from appendicitis, she had given away the last of her wealth, and was in a public hospital ward among the poor, where she wanted to be.
4. Edinburgh – The Edinburgh Seven
We’ll give you more bang for your buck on this one, with not just one but seven kick-ass women. The Edinburgh Seven were the first group of females to be enrolled in a British university in 1869, and although they studied medicine, they were prevented from graduating and qualifying as doctors. While their campaign to be allowed to graduate attracted a large number of supporters (including Charles Darwin), they never did gain permission, with the argument given that they shouldn’t have been admitted in the first place (despite the fact that they all passed the entrance exams; four even passed with honors). These women weren’t quitters though, and eventually, five of the seven gained their MDs abroad.
5. Hamburg – Domenica Niehoff
Domenica Niehoff had a rough start in life – her mother fled her husband with young Domenica in arm before getting arrested for petty crimes, which meant Domenica was sent to an orphanage. When she was 17, she met her husband (a brothel owner), but she was widowed at age 27 when her husband committed suicide. She became a prostitute herself, eventually known as “the Queen of the Reeperbahn”, but rather than hide in the shadows, she campaigned for the legalization of prostitution, and founded a project to support young prostitutes and drug addicts. When she died in 2009, she was given a place in Hamburgs Garden of Women, the first prostitute to be buried in an area that has been reserved for distinguished women.
6. Lisbon – Carolina Beatriz Ângelo
Not only did Carolina Beatriz Ângelo defy the odds by becoming a doctor at the turn of the 20th Century, but she really cemented her place on our kick-ass women list by finding a loophole in the law that allowed her to become the first woman to vote in Portugal in 1911. As well as being a leader in feminist and suffragette circles, she noticed that the law around elections was ambiguously written, not specifically saying men had the right to vote, but rather, heads-of-households over the age of 21 did, and as she was a widow, she was the head of her household. While she did manage to get her vote in in 1911, sadly after she exploited that loophole, the Portuguese law was changed to specify that voters must be male – a ruling not overturned until 1976. Find out more about Carolina Beatriz Ângelo on the Lisbon International Women’s Day Tour.
7. Madrid – Clara Campoamor
Clara Campoamor was born in Madrid into a working class family, and started out as a seamstress at age 13, before earning a number of government jobs, and eventually getting into law school. As if that wasn’t impressive enough in the early 1900s, in 1931 she was elected into a government position, at a time when women weren’t even allowed to vote. She worked to make changes to the constitution, which included fighting against discrimination based on gender, the right to divorce, and for children born within and outside the marriage to have equal rights. When the Spanish Civil War broke out she was forced to flee the country, and was barred from returning under Franco, and she died in exile, in Switzerland, in 1972. Find out more about Clara Campoamor on the Madrid International Women’s Day Tour.