Five women in history that all students should know - History Bombs
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Five women in history that all students should know

If you’re looking to teach your students about some exciting women in history, we’re here to help. Here are five fantastic groups of females who all had a big impact on history.

The ‘Munitionettes’

War has never been just a man’s game. In neglecting to cover women’s contributions to World War One and World War Two, we risk only telling half the story – and a story that is wholly masculine.

During World War One, the Red Cross’ Volunteer Aid Detachments (VADs) had 90,000 members working abroad and at home, and by 1918 more than 700,000 women had become ‘Munitionettes’. Among the fast-paced lyrics and explosions in our video, World War One (in One Take), women’s contributions to the ‘Great War’ has its moment, when one brave nurse proudly declares:

“But we’re here to help the best we can / And who do you think manufactured your gun? / Us girls will see this war is won”.

Likewise, during World War Two unmarried women were actually conscripted to war work. In our video answering ‘How did life change on the Homefront?’ in our World War Two series, we meet a female factory worker, who’s supporting the war effort in the munitions factory.

Female munitions workers (nicknamed 'munitionettes') manufacturing heavy artillery shells at one of the Vickers Limited factories.
‘Munitionettes’ manufacturing heavy artillery shells during the First World War (Wikimedia Commons)

Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragettes

The Suffragettes and Suffragists have enjoyed plenty of much-deserved limelight in recent years, thanks to the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act last year. The act gave the first women the right to vote in the UK.

The fight for women’s suffrage actually began in the late 19th century with the Suffragists – a group of peaceful, primarily middle-class women, who wanted to work with the government. However, as the 20th century came around with no sign of a result, women justly became frustrated.

Founded by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903, the Suffragettes were all about direct action and violent methods, such as smashing windows, attacking politicians, and starting fires. This is highlighted in the video, ‘Why did so many people risk their lives to protest at this time?’ in our Industrial Revolution series. Meanwhile, the stark difference between the two activist groups is seen in our video, ’20th Century (in One Take)’.

Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst is arrested outside Buckingham Palace in England in 1914
Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested outside Buckingham Palace in 1914 (Wikimedia Commons)

Queen Mary I & Queen Elizabeth I

As far as important women in British history go, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I both rank pretty highly. While Elizabeth I is arguably better known, the title of England’s first legitimate queen falls to her elder sister Mary Tudor, or ‘Bloody Mary’.

Eldest child of the Tudor titan, Henry VIII, Mary ruled for just five years (1553-1558) and is best remembered for being devoutly Catholic and persecuting Protestants in a bid to re-instate what she saw as the rightful religion in England.

The see-sawing status of religion in Tudor England is explored in the video ‘Did people’s religious beliefs really chop and change?’, in our Early Modern series.

The final Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I ruled for a whopping 45 years. Many claim her mighty reign was a period of stability, brought about mainly because of her (relative) religious tolerance. She was Protestant, but tended to turn a blind eye to Catholics.

Both Tudor queens argue their cases and achievements in the video Tudors & Stuarts (in One Take) in the Early Modern series.

George Gower's Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I at Woburn Abbey
A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, made to commemorate the Spanish Armada (Wikimedia Commons)

Jane Austen

The face of the £10 note and one of the world’s best-selling novelists, Jane Austen may have lived more than two centuries ago, but she more popular now than ever. Born into a large family in a Hampshire village in 1775, Jane was never destined for literary fame – and sadly didn’t live long enough to enjoy much during her lifetime.

Initially published under the title ‘By A Lady’, Jane’s novels are famously full of wit, satire, and most famously, romance. The great British author only published four novels before she fell in and died in 1817. Her brother released her final two novels soon after.

Jane Austen is the star of two History Bombs videos. The History of Jane Austen (in One Take) is a whirlwind tour of her life and work in under six minutes, while the Pride and Prejudice author also explored the world of modern courtship in an episode of The History Bombs Show.

An 1869 engraving showing a young Jane Austen, based on a sketch by Cassandra Austen
An engraving of a young Jane Austen based on a sketch by her sister Cassandra (Wikimedia Commons)

The ‘Night Witches’

The nickname, given to them by German forces, was never meant as a compliment, but the so-called ‘Night Witches’ claimed it with pride. Formally known as the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, these daring Soviet female pilots flew thousands of bomb raids and helped push the Nazis back during World War Two.

In 1942, Hitler’s forces were dangerously close to Moscow. In desperation the Soviet powers finally allowed their famous pilot Colonel Marina Raskova to form her all-female regiment. The brave pilots pushed back German forces, bombing Nazi headquarters, all while flying outdated, plywood bi-planes under the cover of darkness.

The little-known 588th Night Bomber Regiment are worth teaching and feature, however briefly, in our classic ‘History of Aviation (in One Take)’.

Captain Polina Osipenko, Deputy to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR Valentina Grizodubova, and Senior Lieutenant Marina Raskova posing in front of a plan right before take off.
Captain Polina Osipenko, Deputy to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR Valentina Grizodubova, and Senior Lieutenant Marina Raskova before take off (Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)

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