And now for some truly “badazz” women…
1. Virginia Hall: Allied Spy
“She is the most dangerous of Allied spies. We must find and destroy her” was an actual thing the Gestapo said about Virginia Hall, an American operative in Vichy France, who helped gather vital intelligence for Britain in the early years of the war.
Despite the fact that her country — the United States — had yet to enter the war. Despite the fact that women weren’t generally considered spy material by the prevailing dudes in charge. Despite walking with a limp on a prosthetic leg, which made her as easily identifiable as, say, James Bond in every movie ever. (Seriously, does anyone in the world not know James Bond is a spy? How is it even possible he’s still undercover at this point? Who can I talk to about this?)
When America did finally enter the war, Hall was forced to escape by herself, on foot, over the Pyrenees mountains, all while still only having one leg. Upon arriving in Spain, she promptly pleaded to be sent back, which she ultimately was — this time to occupied France, where she helped train the French resistance, cut Nazi supply lines, and generally cause mass chaos in preparation for the Allied landing at Normandy. While being literallyhunted by Nazis.
Hall is pictured above receiving an award for her service, probably wondering how many Gestapo agents the old dude giving her the award has fled while wearing heels.
3. Sophie Scholl: German Dissident
…Disgusted by the rumors of mass slaughter on the Eastern Front and the deaths of an ever-growing number of her countrymen, Sophie — only 21 at the time — her brother Hans, and their friend Christoph Probst began distributing leaflets at the University of Munich denouncing the Nazis and calling for resistance among the German people. Their flyers eventually spread around Germany to the University of Hamburg and beyond, and into one of the few genuine flare-ups of internal political resistance against Hitler during the war.
Unfortunately, the Nazis, as you may have heard, were known for being a tad tough on dissent.
Sophie, Hans, and Probst were eventually captured by the Gestapo, tried, and executed for treason. Her last words were: “What does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”…
5. Faye Schulman: Partisan Fighter
After her whole family was massacred by the Nazis in the Lenin ghetto in Poland, Faye Schulman fled into the nearby woods, where she joined a group of resistance fighters. A skilled photographer, Schulman participated in a daring raid to rescue her photography equipment and proceeded to take a series of incredible photographs that captured the rarely seen daily lives of partisan fighters during the war.
As the only Jewish woman in the group, Schulman kept her identity secret throughout much of the war, all while documenting the bravery and sacrifice of her cohort. “I want people to know that there was resistance,” she said in an interview after the war. “Jews did not go like sheep to the slaughter. I was a photographer. I have pictures. I have proof.”
6 and 7. Frances Eliza Wills and Harriet Ida Pickens: Naval Officers
“Sailors?” you might be thinking. “What’s the big deal? Tons of American women served in the Naval Reserve (WAVES) during the Second World War.” Which is true.
Frances Eliza Wills and Harriet Ida Pickens, however, were the first to do it while black — and contend with the ridiculous amount of racism that came along with that.
In an era when the military was still segregated, Wills and Pickens overcame institutional barriers, a mountain of prejudice, and social expectations just to claim a job that thousands of their white peers were granted simply by showing up. They became the first black female officers in the U.S. Navy and were assigned to teach at the Hunter Naval Training Station in the Bronx.
72 black women in total served in WAVES during the war, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Wills and Pickens.
15. Lyudmila Pavlichenko: Soviet Sniper
I came here to chew bubble gum and shoot Nazis. And I’m all out of bubble gum…
As a sniper fighting the Nazis in the USSR, Lyudmila Pavlichenko recorded 309 kills — the most of any female sniper in history.
“We mowed down Hitlerites like ripe grain,” she said of her role in the battle of Sevastopol, presumably dropping a mic, kicking a door down, and speeding away in her Escalade. Pavlichenko became a national hero for her efforts and even toured the U.S. in 1942.
Eventually, the Soviets turned the tide on the Eastern Front and marched slowly but surely on to Germany. And the world was never the same.