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Empress Suiko (554 – 15 April 628) 

Art by Amy (tumblr, book tumblr)

Empress Suiko is the first of Japan’s seven female rulers and the 33rd monarch of Japan.  Prince Shōtoku served as her regent.  

Japan went through many changes during Empress Suiko’s reign.  Buddhism was imported to Japan during this period and Empress Suiko encouraged its spread.  Empress Suiko is also credited with the adoption of the Sexagenary cycle calendar in Japan.  During this period, Prince Shōtoku also created the Seventeen Article Constitution and Twelve Level Cap and Rank System which allowed bureaucrats to advance based on skill rather than heredity.  

Empress Suiko reigned from 593 until her death in 628.

Peseshet circa the Fourth Dynasty (2613-2494 BCE)

Art by Katie (tumblr, instagram)

Peseshet is one of the earliest known female physicians.  Like Merit-Ptah before her, Peseshet lived in Egypt.  Peseshet was referred to as the “lady overseer of the female physicians” proving that there were a number of female medical professionals working at the time.  Peseshet is believed to have been involved in gynecological and obstetrical training at the ancient Egyptian medical school at Sais.  

Peseshet is buried with a senior court official named Akhethetep who is likely her son.

Martha Minerva Franklin (1870-1968)

Art by Anna Rüth (instagram

The daughter of a black Union solider, Martha grew up in Connecticut.  She graduated from the Women’s Hospital Training School for Nurses in December 1897.  She was the only black student in her class.  Minerva began her career working as a private nurse in Connecticut.  

In 1906, Martha surveyed more than 500 black nurses.  She discovered that while the prestigious American Nurses Association was technically open to all races, many black nurses were effectively barred from the national organization because it required membership in State Nurses Associations, many of which refused to admit black members.

Martha organized a national meeting of black nurses in New York City.  The attendees formed the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses and Martha was elected president.  The organization’s goals were to improve training for black nurses, reduce racial inequality in the nursing profession, and cultivate leaders from within the black nursing community.

In 1928, Martha moved to New York City and enrolled in a post-graduate course at Lincoln Hospital.  After graduation, she qualified as a registered nurse and began working as a school nurse.  After her retirement, Martha moved to New Haven to live with her sister.  She died at the age of 98.

The National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses flourished during World War II.  The need for wartime nurses combined with the organization’s activism expanded employment and training opportunities for black nurses.   First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Congresswoman Frances Bolton provided strong support for these changes.  After the war, the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses voted unanimously to join the American Nurses Association.  The National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses disbanded in 1951.

Theodora (c. 500-548)

Art by Noni (tumblr)

While most empresses and queens are born into royal or at least aristocratic families, Theodora had a more unusual background.  Her father was a bear trainer near Constantinople’s Hippodrome while her mother was a dancer and actor.  At a young age, Theodora worked as an actor and likely as a sex worker.  She travelled through North Africa with an older male companion as a teenager.  While in Egypt, Theodora converted to Miaphysite Christianity.

Theodora returned to Constantinople as a wool spinner and soon caught the attention of Justinian, heir to the Eastern Roman Empire. The match was controversial and an old Roman law forbid government officials from marrying actresses. Although he was not officially the ruler yet, Justinian repealed the anti-actress law in 525 and married Theodora

Justinian ascended to the throne in 527 and Theodora became Empress of the Eastern Roman Empire. As Empress, Theodora shaped foreign and domestic policy.  She had her own court and her own imperial seal.  Twice her canny machinations saved her husband from possible deposition. Unwilling to forget her roots, Theodora also advocated for sex workers’ rights while criminalizing trafficking and pimping.  Many historians consider Theodora to be Justinian’s co-ruler.

Theodora was not a universally beloved figure.  There were many who felt that she intensified conflicts and encouraged more extreme solutions.  Theodora’s brand of Christianity was controversial and she overthrew a Pope who disagreed with her.  Theodora and Justinian quelled revolts with massive slaughters.  

Theodora died in 548 when she was in her late forties or early fifties.  After her death, Justinian worked to mend fences between the Christian sects of the period.  Justinian and Theodora are saints in the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Later emperors would follow Justinian’s example and marry outside of royal and aristocratic circles.

Elizabeth Abimbola Awoliyi  (1910-1971) 

Art by  Φ (tumblr)

Elizabeth Abimbola Awoliyi was the first female physician in Nigeria.  She studied medicine in Dublin, graduating in 1936.  Elizabeth specialized in gynecology and obstetrics. She eventually became Medical Director of the Massey Street Hospital in Lagos and a Senior Specialist for the Nigerian Ministry of Health.  Elizabeth was also president of the National Council of Women Societies, an important non-governmental organization in Nigeria.  

Maria Cunitz (1610-1664)

Art by Maya Escobar (personal tumblr, library tumblr)

Maria Cunitz was one of the most important astronomers of her age.  The daughter of a Silesian physician, Maria was educated at home.  From a young age, she was interested in astronomy and as a teenager she recorded the movement of the planets.  

During the Thirty Years War, Maria and her husband took refuge in a convent where Maria wrote Urania propitia, sive Tabulae Astronomicae mirè faciles. Written in both German and Latin, the book was published in 1650.  It was a simplification of Johannes Kepler’s Rudolphine Tables which calculated the position of a planet in its orbit.  The book was groundbreaking and made Maria an international leader in science.

Isabeau of Bavaria (1371-1435)

Art by IndecentsAbroad (tumblr)

The daughter of a Bavarian Duke and a Milanese heiress, Isabeau of Bavaria married Charles VI of France when she was 15 or 16 years old.  The young king adored his bride and lavished gifts on her, but within a few years Charles began suffering from severe, violent mental illness.  Although Charles had periods of lucidity and never gave up the throne, there were constant power struggles at court.  Isabeau frequently served as peacemaker and eventually led the regency council.  

As time wore on, the situation degraded leading to English invasion and a civil war.  The Treaty of Troyes was signed in 1420.  It arranged for the marriage of Isabeau and Charles’s daughter Catherine of Valois to Henry V of England and gave the French throne to Henry after Charles’s death.  The dauphin, Charles VII, was disinherited.  With her husband once again incapacitated by mental illness, Isabeau stood in for Charles at the signing of the treaty and for this one action, she became known as the woman who signed away France.  

At the end of her life, Isabeau was villainized as weak, wanton, and selfish. During the time of Joan of Arc, many said “as France had been lost by a woman it would be saved by a woman.”   Like Marie Antoinette, Isabeau was accused of infidelity and profligate spending.  But later historians have shown her to be a strong queen put in an impossible situation.  

Isabeau’s son Charles VII was crowned king is 1429 and by 1453, the French had pushed the English almost entirely out of France.  England retained only the Port of Calais on the continent.  

Hortensia circa 42 BCE

Art by Lacey (tumblr)

After the death of Julius Caesar, Rome’s leaders proposed a tax on the city’s  1400 wealthiest women to fund a campaign against those responsible for Caesar’s death.  The women were outraged by the tax and chose Hortensia as their spokesperson.  Hortensia was the daughter of Quintus Hortensius Hortalus, a well-known Roman orator.  Hortensia gave a rousing speech, questioning the government’s right to levy taxes on women who, by virtue of their gender, had no voice in government. 

According to the Greek historian Appian, Hortensia asked Rome’s leaders: 

You have already stolen from us our fathers and sons and husbands and brothers by your proscriptions, on the grounds that they had wronged you… if we women have not voted any of you public enemies, if we did not demolish your houses or destroy your army or lead another army against you; if we have not kept you from public office or honour, why should we share the penalties if we have no part in the wrongdoing? Why should we pay taxes when we have no part in the honours, the commands, the state-craft, for which you contend against each other with such harmful results?”

In the end, the tax was limited to 400 women and expanded to include all men who owned more than 100,000 drachmas. 

Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

Queen Regnant of England, Daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

Art by Tiny Tarakeet (tumblr)

The fifth and final monarch of the Tudor dynasty, Elizabeth I was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.  Her early life was full of uncertainties.  After her mother’s execution in 1536, Elizabeth was declared illegitimate.  She was returned to line of succession in 1544. Suspected of supporting Protestant rebels, Elizabeth was imprisoned for nearly a year during the reign of her half-sister Mary.

After Mary’s death in 1558, Elizabeth ascended to the throne.  One of her first acts as queen was to establish an English Protestant church.  This church was the forerunner of today’s Church of England.  Perhaps having learned from Mary’s mistakes, Elizabeth’s church was relatively tolerant of dissenters.  Elizabeth herself said, “I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls” and “There is only one Christ, Jesus, one faith. All else is a dispute over trifles.”

Elizabeth’s 45 year reign is considered a golden age.  Her long rule provided England with much needed stability.  Elizabeth generally avoided conflict both at home and abroad.  When war with Spain could not be avoided, the English defeat of the Spanish Armada gave her one of the greatest military victories in English history. Under Elizabeth’s leadership, England joined the Age of Discovery with the voyages of Frances Drake and Walter Raleigh.  At the same time, English culture flourished with the work of William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and Edmund Spenser.

Although she was expected to produce an heir, Elizabeth never married.  A foreign husband could have drawn England into conflicts abroad and an English husband could have heightened domestic tensions.  As Elizabeth grew older, she became famous as the “Virgin Queen” who sacrificed her own happiness for the good of the nation. 

Elizabeth died in 1603 at the age of 69.  She was succeeded by James VI of Scotland, son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and great-great-grandson of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York.

Eleanor of Arborea (1347-1404)

Art by Amanda Allen Niday (tumblr, instagram)

Eleanor of Arborea was the daughter of Timbora de Rocabertí and Marianus IV of Arborea.  Medieval Sardinia was divided into four zones ruled by hereditary judges.   Marianus IV of Arborea was one of those hereditary judges.  At the time of Eleanor’s birth, Marianus IV ruled over a third of Sardinia and fought to maintain his region’s independence.  After Marianus’s   death in 1376, his son Hugh III took power.  In 1388, Hugh was assassinated.

After Hugh’s death, Eleanor proclaimed herself judge.  She sent her husband to Spain in hopes of currying favor with Peter IV of Aragon, but her husband was taken hostage by the Aragonese who demanded the couple’s sons.  Eleanor refused to hand over her son and worked to solidify her power in Sardinia.  Eventually Eleanor negotiated her husband’s release without giving up Sardinia’s independence or her sons.  

Eleanor’s greatest achievement was the Carta de Logu, a set of civil and penal laws which served as the basis of Sardinian law until 1827.  Based on a previous set of laws created by Marianus IV,  the Carta de Logu attempted to enshrined the equality of all people.  Regardless of social class and nationality, all people were subject to the same punishments under the Carta de Logu.  It protected women’s property rights and the inheritance rights of orphans.  Daughters were given the same inheritance rights as sons.  Rape was severely punished.  The Carta de Logu also regulated hunting and the times at which farmers could implement controlled fires.

Eleanor died in 1402. She was succeeded by her son Marianus V.

Maria Theresa (1717-1780)

Art by Snowwhitekt (tumblr, instagram)

Maria Theresa was the eldest daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI and his wife, Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.  Fearing that he would not produce a surviving son, Charles reformed Salic Law to allow a female ruler with the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713.  Thus, Maria Theresa was born as the heir to the Hapsburg throne.

At the age of 18, Maria Theresa married Francis Stephen of Lorraine.  The couple eventually had 16 children, 10 of whom survived into adulthood. Maria Antonia, better known as Marie Antoinette, was the couple’s youngest daughter.

In October of 1740, Charles VI died and Maria Theresa ascended to the throne.  Maria Theresa had little education and inherited a financially strained country.  She faced resistance from European leaders who had previously agreed to her father’s Pragmatic Sanction.  The King of Prussia soon invaded Austria starting the War of the Austrian Succession.  The war ended in 1748 with the Austrian loss of Silesia and some Italian territories.

Despite this rocky start, the hallmark of Maria Therea’s rule is her domestic reform.  She doubled the state revenue, created a council of advisers, promoted vaccination, and instituted a form of universal primary education.  A devout Catholic, Maria Theresa was tolerant of Orthodox Christians but harsh towards Protestants and Jews in the early part of her reign though she later softened.  She increased the size of the military and by the end of her life, the Holy Roman Empire was thriving.  

Maria Theresa died in 1780 at the age of 63.  

Balthild (d. 680)

Art by Scorch Doodles (tumblr)

Although very few details of her life are known, somehow Balthild managed to go from slave to queen.  She served as regent for her three sons, all of whom were eventually crowned king, and spent the end of her life in a monastery.

Shortly after Balthid’s death, her biography was published.  This biography was likely written by a French nun who personally knew Balthild.  It refers to Balthild as a Saxon who came“from across the seas [and] … was sold at a cheap price.”  According to this biography, Balthild attracted the attention of her master who wanted to marry her, but Balthild ran away and married Clovis II, the king of Burgundy and Neustria.  This story may have been designed to emphasize Balthild’s beauty, piety and intelligence. Some historians believe that Balthild was given in marriage to Clovis by her owner who also happened to be his uncle. Balthild also may have been from a powerful Saxon or Anglian family.

As queen, Balthild was known for her charity and piety.  Clovis and Balthild had three sons together.  When Balthild was widowed, she took control of the kingdom as regnant. As queen regnant, Balthild reformed the Frankish church and promoted the work of Irish missionaries.  She forbad the selling of Christian slaves to pagans. After her son Chlothar III reached maturity and came to power, Balthild came into conflict with some members of the nobility and left court.  Balthild retired to the women’s monastery she founded at Chelles and died in 680.

Balthild was canonized by Pope Nicholas I and according to the Roman martyrology her feast day is January 26.