Claim to Fame: This nurse is a big reason that medical care is as sanitary and standardized as it is in the world today. Florence Nightingale saved countless lives—both during her lifetime and, through her work, beyond.
Why She's a Badass: "Without Florence Nightingale, modern nursing would not exist. Before Ms. Nightingale, there was no formal training for nurses. She revolutionized medical care by discovering what was happening on the battlefields firsthand during the Crimean War; she single-handedly reduced mortality rates in the medical tents from 42 percent to 2 percent. Plus, Florence wrote the book on nursing—literally. Her textbook, Notes on Nursing, established guidelines for sanitation and care practices in hospitals, including things as simple as requiring hand-washing rules, and is still in use today."
Claim to Fame: Harriet Tubman was one of the most incredible humanitarians in history. As a worker on the Underground Railroad, she risked her life to rescue hundreds of slaves.
Why She's a Badass: "Oh, Harriet. She was the one woman I researched who caused me to break down in a long ugly cry after reading her life story. Born into slavery, she had the incredible courage to escape her abusive master and the unbelievable compassion to return illegally to the South, risking capture every time, to help 70 more slaves escape."
"She was also the first American woman to lead an armed assault during the Civil War—a raid that helped rescue over 750 slaves. In the face of insurmountable obstacles, Tubman was never discouraged from helping others or exhibiting great kindness. Even upon her deathbed, Harriet's last words were, 'I go to prepare a place for you.' Harriet Tubman was a true gift to humanity."
Claim to Fame: In Jewish folklore, Lilith is Adam's first wife, who was created at the same time as him—unlike Eve, who was formed from Adam's rib. As the myth goes, Lilith left Adam and the Garden of Eden because she refused to be subservient to him.
Why She's a Badass: "As a teenager in the '90s, I grew up with Lilith Fair. So when I looked into the origins of the eponymous Lilith, I was fascinated with the myth of Lilith as Adam's first wife," says Shen. "She gets kicked out of the Garden of Eden for demanding to lie next to him instead of beneath him, as he wanted. It doesn't get much more badass than getting kicked out of paradise, does it?"
Claim to Fame: Born before women had the right to vote, Eleanor Roosevelt used her position as First Lady to advocate for the rights of the disadvantaged.
Why She's a Badass: "Eleanor Roosevelt was an outspoken advocate for women and civil rights, at a time when change was stirring for both. Her actions did even more talking: for one, she would only permit female reporters to be at her press conferences, hence requiring newspapers to keep women on staff. Roosevelt was also unapologetically human in her position as public figure, writing a daily newspaper column that detailed her days in the White House. After losing a nationwide popularity poll to burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee, Roosevelt sent her a congratulatory note that read, 'May your bare ass always be shining.' I love a clever lady with a great sense of humor."
Claim to Fame: This beloved chef is proof that you can change your career later in life: she didn't even learn how to cook until her 40s!
Why She's a Badass: "Julia Child's devotion to a new craft and major shift later in her life is the true spirit of defying expectations. After serving as a secretary (and as some rumors would suggest, spy) for the OSS, predecessor of the CIA, Julia moved to Paris with her husband, Paul, and discovered a passion for cooking that would lead her to publish one of the most influential cookbooks, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, at the age of 49. She became a television star at the age of 51. Not to mention, the love story between Julia and Paul is the stuff that proves fairy tales are real, especially if you write your own story and make your own path. As Julia Child would say, 'People who love to eat are always the best people.'"
Like what you see? There's more illustrated goodness in the book!
Bad Girls Through History (Chronicle Books) is available September 6.