Bygone Badass Broads and Books: Sarah Breedlove, Grace O’Malley, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Ursula Nordstrom, Edith Garrud


It’s time for Bygone Badass Broads and Books! If you’re not familiar with the series, every Friday at 1 pm EST, I take to my Twitter and wax poetic about the story of a forgotten badass woman from history and why you should know about her.

Today, I am delighted to be sharing a wrap up of the women I talked about this month as well as some book recommendations to go with them!

Sarah Breedlove

Sarah Breedlove, aka Madam CJ Walker, was America’s first self-made female millionaire who dedicated her life to creating products for black women and then using her success to create opportunities for others. She lived from 1867 – 1919.

outrun the moon stacey leeOutrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
When single-minded Mercy Wong decides she’s going to talk her way into attending a white girls school in turn of the century San Francisco so she can start her own business and give her family a better life, nothing is going to stop her. Not even the San Francisco earthquake. Mercy, like Sarah, is a determined woman of color with a head for business and a heart for her community.

iron cast destiny soriaIron Cast by Destiny Soria
More business-minded ladies like Sarah at the turn of the century.Corinne and Ada, best friends and hemopaths with special blood magic, help run an underground club to create a safe space for fellow hemeopaths to practice their magic….and also run the occasion grift on the side. Theses BFF’s fierce loyalty and determination to survive (as well as Ada’s African roots!) would probably lead to them inviting Sarah into their squad.

the winner's curse marie rutkoskiThe Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Both Kestrel and Sarah prove that you don’t have to kick literal ass to be an ass kicking lady. Pretty sure they’d be at a stalemate when it came to a game of Bite and Sting.


Grace O’Malley

This wild ginger pirate queen, protector of her beloved Ireland, made the 17th century seas her bitch and lived from 1530 – 1603.

bloody jack l.a. meyerBloody Jack by L. A. Meyer
To escape the slums of eighteenth century London, Mary “Jacky” Faber dresses as a boy and joins the navy as a midshipman, embarking upon a sailing career that spans twelve books and hours of awesome. One of my favorite series of all time, led by one of my favorite leading ladies–spunky, spirited, and sassy Jacky!

Dust of 100 Dogs A.S KingThe Dust of 100 Dogs by A. S. King
Famed teenage pirate Emer Morrisey is on the cusp of escaping the pirate life with her true love when she’s cursed with “the dust of one hundred dogs,” dooming her to one hundred lives as a dog before returning to a human body-with her memories intact.

the true confessions of charlotte doyle aviTrue Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
When Charlotte Doyle takes passage on a ship from England to America, she doesn’t expect mutiny, murder, or to become one of the crew. A perfect MG/YA crossover title for those who crave books about girls kicking ass on tall ships.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine was the power bitch of Medieval Europe who ruled both France and England and kept the men around her in their place. She lived from 1122 – 1204.

lion heart a.c. gaughenThe Scarlet series by A. C. Gaughen
A retelling of Robin Hood that recasts Will Scarlett as Scarlett, a girl at the center of Robin’s Merry Men. And the best part – Eleanor of Aquitaine herself is a character in these books! And she’s just as sassy and straight talking as you’d want.

into the dim janet b taylorInto the Dim by Janet B. Taylor
Another YA historical with Eleanor of Aquitaine as a character! When shy Hope learns she comes from a long line of time travelers, she must travel back to in hopes of rescuing her lost mother – all the way to England under Eleanor’s rule.

grave mercy robin lafeversGrave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
A few hundred years later than Eleanor, but with the sort of courtly intrigue, backstabbing, political alliances, and subterfuge that Eleanor would have loved. This series follows three young women from the convent of St. Mortain, assassin nuns who worship the god of death. As a possible assassin herself, Eleanor probably would have signed the hell up.

Edith Garrud

This turn-of-the-century martial arts master stood at just 4’11” and used her skills in Baritsu and Jiu-jitsu to teach suffragettes to defend themselves against police brutality. She lived from 1872 – 1971.

the cure for dreaming cat wintersThe Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters
Olivia Meade – headstrong, independent, suffragist in turn of the century Oregon – is bewitched by a hypnotist when her father fears she might be getting too many radical ideas about women being equal. But even a mesmerist’s power can’t keep Olivia from the strength of her convictions. Had she been a young woman in England, she probably would have been in Edith’s suffrajitsu classes.

A Mad Wicked Folly sharon biggs wallerA Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller
Vikki doesn’t think she’s a suffragette, and isn’t interested in getting wrapped up in their marches around London. But she’s definitely interested in using the suffragettes as her art models. And the closer she gets to the movement, the more fired up about it she gets… and the more she realizes feminism is for everyone.

truthwitch susan dennardTruthwitch by Susan Dennard
Two ass kicking best friends–and just like Edith, they kick both literal and figurative ass–hold the fate of their continent in their hands. A fantasy novel for readers who like their magic with an extra dose of high octane girl power.

Ursula Nordstrom

The most literary addition to this list, Ursula Nordstrom was the queer editor and publisher behind dozens of the best selling children’s books of all time, fearless innovator who changed the way the world reads to their children. She lived from 1910 – 1988.

dear genius ursula nordstrom leonard marcusDear Genius, edited by Leonard Marcus
For those who want the real story of Ursula in her own voice, children’s lit scholar Leonard Marcus has compiled all her letters into this incomparable collection. There’s a brilliant Ursula letter for every occasion–when your books are challenged, when you have writer’s block, when you’re pretty sure there’s no point to writing if you can’t write like Tolstoy. A must-read for everyone who has ever read Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon, Harold and the Purple Crayon, or any of the many books Ursula edited.

fangirl rainbow rowell berryFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
A novel about writing, books, and finding your own voice. As a young woman entering the workforce who couldn’t spell, had a terrible memory, and was bad at making decisions, Ursula and Cath might have had a lot in common. And if nothing else, they were both really into books. And I’m sure Ursula would have shipped Bas and Simon.

georgia peaches and other forbidden fruit jaye robin brownGeorgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown
As a queer woman in a time when being out could be dangerous, Ursula’s story has a lot in common with Jo’s, a young woman growing up in the conservative south. Both passionate, headstrong girls who like girls, and both unafraid to say what they believe, Jo’s story is a great companion to Ursula’s as a queer icon.

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About Author

Mackenzi Lee

Mackenzi Lee is a reader, writer, bookseller, unapologetic fangirl, and fast talker. She holds an MFA from Simmons College is the author of THIS MONSTROUS THING, a steampunk reaimgining of Frankenstein, and the forthcoming THE GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE, both from HarperCollins. She loves Diet Coke, sweater weather, and Star Wars. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. She currently calls Boston home.

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