MARY SHELLEY Gothic greatness

Scan of a print. Original housed at the National Portrait Gallery: NPG 1235

Nearly everyone in Mary Shelley’s life was a writer. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was one of the first feminist writers and thinkers; her father, William Godwin, wrote philosophical theory. Their home in England was a regular gathering place for the radical elite; Charles Lamb and Samuel Coleridge were among their regular visitors. Politically, her parents were revolutionaries who disapproved of marriage, but still went through with the legalities to legitimize Mary upon her birth in 1797. Mary Wollstonecraft died eleven days after the baby was born, and Godwin fell apart, neglecting his daughter terribly, perhaps even blaming her for his beloved wife’s death. He later remarried and let relatives, nannies, and his new wife take whatever care of Mary they chose. Mary recalled learning to write by tracing her mother’s name on her gravestone at her father’s urging.

At seventeen, Mary met the married playboy poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and ran away with him to Europe, returning after a few weeks to London as he was drowning in debt. By 1816, the couple had a more secure financial footing and headed for the continent again, this time to Switzerland’s Lake Geneva, to a party with Shelley’s friend Lord Byron. A bout of ghost stories told around the fire as a distraction from an unusually cold summer inspired nineteen-year-old Mary to pick up a pen. Written in one year, Frankenstein is now hailed as the first Gothic novel as well as a seminal work of science fiction.

In 1818, Frankenstein was published, and Mary and Percy Shelley returned to London and married after the death of his wife. What proved to be a watershed year for the pair because of the publication of her book was an extremely difficult one; Mary’s half-sister Fanny and Percy Shelley’s wife both committed suicide. Their marriage was met with extreme disapproval, and the newlyweds fled to Italy to escape the controversy. Mary had three children; all but one, a son, died. Mother and son survived husband and father when in 1822, an exiled Shelley and fellow rebel poets drowned in the Bay of Spezia in Italy.

His young widow and surviving son were left behind, virtually destitute. Mary managed to scratch out a living to support her father and two-year-old child, but she was an outcast from society. Mary wrote other romances, including The Lost Man, Lodore, and Valperga, but none reached the level of success or acclaim of her first. She idolized her late husband and memorialized him in her fiction, in addition to editing the first volume of his poetry in 1839. Mary Shelley died in 1851 of a brain tumor. Now, more than 150 years after her death, the book she wrote at the age of nineteen continues to inform, inspire, and amaze.

My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me.

Mary Shelley, from Frankenstein


This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Calamity Jane

By imprint of C.E. Finn, Livingston, Mont. – Cowan’s Auctions, Public Domain, Link

Calamity Jane was born in 1852 and remains a household name
for her skill as a sharpshooter, muleskinner, midwife, gambler,
and horseback scout. Her real name was Martha Jane Canary,
and she died a pauper in 1903, even though she herself would
give the shirt off her back to the needy or sick. She also wouldn’t
think twice about shooting the hat off any man who disrespected her!

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Belle Starr

By Unknown author{F00C96A1-3EBC-4D9D-8B6F-EAB8825DFF4E}&DE={76856A80-3D4F-4318-B102-30278C59AFD0}, Public Domain, Link

Belle Starr fought for the Yankees as an underground
guerilla on the other side of the Mason Dixon Line.
Unfortunately for her and a few hundred others, these guerilla
groups were outlawed and Belle was on the lam, unable to go
home. Forced to a life of crime as an accidental fugitive, Belle
showed a flair for stickups and cattle rustlings, and generally
supported her bad self as a gun-for-hire. Belle has gotten a
bum rap as a colorful criminal; she and the others from
the underground were patriots who served their country
well in extreme danger only to have the rug (or flag, as it
were) pulled out from under them.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Poker Alice Ivers

By The black-and-white photo is courtesy of the South Dakota Historical Society –, CC0, Link

Poker Alice Ivers was one of the special breed of “Wild West
Amazons” who ran a casino, smoked cigars, and sported a
six-shooter she used with skill. In the 1880s, she ran across a
card dealer in Pecos who cheated; she waited and
watched until the pot was worth taking, held her gun to
his head and then made off with the $5,000 prize,
shouting, “I don’t mind a cheat, it’s a clumsy cheat
that I can’t stand.”

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Pauline Cushman

By Part of the Brady-Handy Photograph Collection (Library of Congress). –, Public Domain, Link

Pauline Cushman was a gypsy woman of great beauty who
fought in the Civil War and gained the rank of major for her
courage in fighting behind enemy lines in Tennessee. Her
life was incredibly colorful—after the war, she went out west
and gave speeches in full Union uniform. She also acted,
amazing audiences, favoring the role and costume of an Amazon.
For a time, she settled in Arizona where she ran a hotel
and kept the peace with her trusty Colt 45. Upon moving
to the Wild West outpost of San Francisco, she took the
law into her own hand again and bullwhipped a man in
public for libeling her. No doubt, people thought twice
before speaking ill of gypsy soldier gal Pauline Cushman
after that!

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Elizabeth Custer

By Mathew Brady – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection. CALL NUMBER: LC-BH831- 702 B[P&P], Public Domain, Link
Elizabeth Custer was the very independent wife of the famous
Major General George A. Custer who traveled west after the Civil
War. “Libbie” rode with the Seventh Cavalry beside her
husband and other notables such as Wild Bill Hickok and
Medicine Bill Comstock. She was an extraordinary
horsewoman, able to ride forty miles a day easily. Her
overprotective (to say the least!) husband instructed his regiment
to kill her themselves rather than let her fall into enemy hands.
This never happened, because she and her sister missed out on the
Battle of Little Big Horn when they left the fort for some horseback
adventures of their own. Libbie also traveled to India and
rode a horse through the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan. She
lived to the ripe old age of ninety-two and was buried in
West Point’s military cemetery beside George.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


Found on the Twitter of Saïd Bouamama. Original artist unknown. 

Weetamoo, the Squaw of Sachem of Pocasset, lived in the
area of what is now Tiverton, Rhode Island, from 1650
for a quarter-century of legendary awesomeness. She
commanded an army of 300 women warriors and stunned
all who encountered her with her incredible beauty and
charisma. She was a good tactician and courageous in
battle. When her husband, Wamsutta, was poisoned by the
English, Weetamoo went native in a big way and decided
to try to eradicate the white invaders from her land. She
joined her brother-in-law Metacom and their armies
fought side-by-side against the English in King Phillip’s
War. During the Great Swamp fight of 1675, she drowned
in the Tetcut River while being chased by Brits. The
Redcoats fished her body out of the flood-swollen river,
cut off her head, and put it on display.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Qiu Jin – ‘A Heroine Among Women’

By Unknown author, Public Domain, Link

Qiu Jin was called a “Heroine Among Women” by Sun
Yat-Sen. She was simply amazing! Born in 1874, her
hobbies included cross-dressing and riding through the
streets of Chinese cities and villages. She founded the first
newspaper for women in China, founded a school for girls,
and escaped from her arranged marriage to pursue her
revolutionary goals of overthrowing the Qing Monarchy.
Quite the intellectual, she wrote poetry and took a vow
of silence during her imprisonment upon being arrested
for plotting the assassination of the Qing governor. Her
daughter followed in her mother’s pioneering footsteps by
becoming China’s first aviatrix.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Lakshmi Bar, the Rani of Jhansi

By Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi – Gallery, which that says it is from the British Library’s ‘Images Online Collection’, but the provided link to the Collection is dead., Public Domain, Link

Lakshmi Bar, the Rani of Jhansi is one of India’s
national heroines. Raised in a household of boys, she
was fearless and brilliant as a military strategist. When
her husband died, she came out of purdah to fight the
British, becoming the key figure extraordinaire who
trained women for her army with special care. These
women came to be known as the “amazons of Jhansi.”
Lakshmi herself was famous for calmly taunting enemy
generals, “Do your worst, I will make you a woman.”
Her fame spread like wildfire throughout India, making
her their national shero when she broke through an
encircling ambush of British soldiers during battle and
escaped in horseback to a hundred miles away in just
twenty-four hours with a ten-year-old boy clinging to
her back. She and the boy were the only two survivors of
the slaughtered Indian troops. It should also be noted that
Lakshmi was in full armor in sweltering 120 degree heat.
She died on the battlefield in Gwalior when she was barely
thirty; a British general called her the “greatest hero”
he’d ever known.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


By Yoshitoshi – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs divisionunder the digital ID jpd.01786.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information., Public Domain, Link

Hangaku was a medieval noble’s daughter with topnotch
archery skills. Born to the Taira shogunate, she fought
beside the men to defend the family’s castle. She was fully
acknowledged for having superior bow and arrow skills
in comparison with her father, brothers, and husband,
“shooting a hundred arrows and hitting a hundred
times.” In 1201, a fateful attack on the familiar fortress
occurred, during which Hangaku dressed like a boy and
stood, unhidden, raining arrows down upon the attackers.
Even her flawless archery couldn’t save the Tairas that
round, and she was felled by an arrow and captured as a

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.