Amazing Women Who Led Rebellions

Margarita Neri

The Mexican Revolution began on November 20, 1910, and raged well into the 1920s. It was an attempt by revolutionaries to overthrow the ruler and dictator Porfirio Diaz Mori and implement a constitution, which would aim to ensure fairer life for the farming classes. The conflict was bloody, with around 900,000 people losing their lives. Such vast death and destruction meant that both sides were more than willing to involve women and children in combat.
One army of 5,369 revolutionaries inspected by US officials included 1,256 women and 554 children. Whilst the children mostly foraged and cooked, the women were usually armed and fought alongside the men. Despite facing constant inequality and sexism, women were still willing to play a major role in Mori’s eventual downfall. Those female soldiers that the revolutionary side brought into action were called soldaderas. Perhaps the most famous of all the soldaderas was Margarita Neri, who not only fought in the war, but also acted as a commander. A Dutch-Maya from Quintana Roo, from 1910, she commanded a force of over 1000 which swept through Tabasco and Chiapas, looting, burning and killing. Neri was so effective in her slaughter of anti-revolutionary troops that the Governor of Guerrero hid in a crate and fled the town upon hearing of her approach. Whether Margarita fought for the revolution directly, under Francisco Madero’s command, or whether her unit worked independently remains unclear. However, what is clear as day is that she and her soldiers were a serious threat to the Government, with Neri vowing to decapitate Diaz herself.

Countess Emilia Plater

Countess Emilia Plater, born to Polish patriots, grew up resenting Russia, which was ruling swathes of Poland and suppressing Polish customs during the 19th century. Born in Wilno on November 13, 1806, Emilia’s parents separated when she was young and her father the Count had little to do with her. She learned to fight from her male cousins, becoming a good fencer. In 1831, news of the Warsaw Insurrection in February, 1830, reached Wilno. Polish patriots in Wilno began planning their own rebellion, not allowing Emilia into their meetings because of her gender. Plater cut her hair and prepared a uniform for herself so that she could join the revolution. At her own expense, she set out and assembled a force of 500 Lithuanian fighters. On March 30, 1831, her army battled a Russian horse patrol. Later, on April 2, she forced an infantry division to retreat. In her greatest feat, Emilia and her group seized the town of Jeziorosy. Later, she joined forces with Karol Zaluski, a revolutionary leading unit of his own. Along with Konstanty Parczewski’s men, Emilia proved herself at the Battles of Kowno and Szawle, earning the rank of Captain in the field. On December 23, 1831, the Countess of the Revolution passed away after becoming fatally ill during the ultimately unsuccessful uprising.

Laskarina Bouboulina

Laskarina Bouboulina was a Greek naval commander and revolutionary captain who fought in the successful Greek War of Independence against the Ottomans. In May, 1771, Laskarina was born during her mother’s visit to a Constantinople prison. The baby girl was the daughter of a Greek naval captain who had been incarcerated and separated from his pregnant wife during a failed coup against the Ottoman Empire . Upon her father’s death, Laskarina moved with her mother to the island of Spetses. It was here that she married twice, both times into wealthy families. Using the money that she had received from these relationships, she built four ships, including the Agamemnon, one of the largest vessels of the time. Bouboulina became the only female to join the Filiki Etairia, a Greek revolutionary movement planning to oust the Ottomans. On March 13, 1821, 12 days after the group began their War of Independence, Laskarina raised the first revolutionary flag of the conflict over her island home of Spetses. On April 3, Spetses joined the revolution, followed by the islands of Hydra and Psara. Now commanding eight ships, Laskarina joined the blockade of the Ottoman fortress at Nafplion. She later attacked Monemvasia and Pylos, spending almost her entire vast fortune in only the first two years of the ultimately successful war which saw the creation of a Greek state. As Greece became fragmented into factions, Laskarina was twice arrested before being exiled to Spetses. She was later shot in a family dispute. There is no doubt, however, that without her ships, money and command, the revolution might not have been successful.

Yaa Asantewaa

Yaa Asantewaa, described as the African Joan of Arc, was Queen Mother of the Edweso region, part of the former Asante Kingdom and now modern-day Ghana. Born around 1830, she was the sister of Kwasi Afrane Panin, who became chief of Edweso when Yaa was young. From the nearby Gold Coast, the British led a campaign of control against the Asante Empire, taxing, converting and taking control of large areas of their tribal land, including gold mines. When the Asante began to resist British rule, the British Governor, Lord Hodgson, demanded that they turn over their Golden Stool, used as a throne and symbol of independence. To enforce his demands, Captain C.H. Armitage was sent to bully the population. Armitage went from village to village, beating children and adults alike in the hopes of obtaining the stool. Eventually, the King of Asante, Nana Osei Agyeman Prempeh I, along with 55 of his chiefs and relatives, were forced into exile. Shortly after, on March 28, 1900, what was left of the monarchy was assembled and the British Captain demanded the Stool. Yaa, the only woman present, gave a famous speech to the British in which she stated that she refused to pay any more of their taxes. She also offered her undergarments in exchange for the loinclothes of any male Asante chief not willing to fight tyrannical Imperial rule. This speech caused the Yaa Asantewaa War for Independence to break out on the same day. As the revolution’s leader, Yaa assembled a personal army of more than 4,000 soldiers. For three months, she was able to lay siege to the British fort at Kumasi. After sustaining casualties in the initial fighting, British reinforcements from Nigeria had to be called in to deal with the troublesome Yaa. Through superior technology, scorched land tactics, and financial rewards for traitors, the Queen Mother was arrested on March 3, 1901. She was sent into exile where she eventually died at 90.