Mackenzi Lee’s Bygone Badass Broads: 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World, is an empowering tale of struggle and success through a female historical lens. In honour of Reclaim the Night, let’s dig into the book and why you should be reading it.
Having graduated with a BA in History, Lee details 52 stories of women who have left huge imprints on society through both humanitarian acts and technological pursuits. From women living in the ancient world to women who altered the trajectory of modern times, here are some personal favourites from the collection.
Scared that women might perform secret abortions, the ancient Greeks did not permit female physicians or medical trainees. Lee writes of a woman named Agnodice who was so desperate in her mission to be a doctor, that she cut her hair and posed as a man in order to aid women in need.
After being caught, Agnodice was sentenced to death, but a rally of women who she had helped came to the rescue, not only freeing her but allowing her to continue practising medicine.
Thinking of this story from a modern-day perspective allows us to value womanhood and the ways in which women support one another. Whether it’s hyping each other up in club toilets or supporting those who need it most, Agnodice and her patients are a true example of what it means to be a woman.
Born in England, Mary Anning was fascinated by gathering and collecting fossils. During one of her endeavours, she found and identified a complete Ichthyosaur skeleton which was later sold to the Museum of Natural History.
Not only was this mind-blowing because it challenged ideas proposed by the Bible and suggested new notions of dinosaurs, but because Mary was just twelve years old at the time. The self-taught expert in palaeontology discovered more and more breakthroughs but struggled against men who fought to discredit her. Her story is both frustrating and inspiring to young women hoping to achieve their goals, especially those in male-dominated fields.
This story begins when Lakshmibai’s husband became ill and – with no heir to succeed him – adopted a son to reign after his death. When this happened, however, the East India Company refused to recognise this rule as legitimate and annexed Jhansi (the region of India in which Lakshmibai and her son were the head of).
The British did not quite plan for her open revolt and retaking of Jhansi which would come. Lakshmibai continued to lead alongside her son, exempting the poor from taxes and selling her jewellery to pay her soldiers. Though the story ends with her losing her territory to the British, Lakshmibai remains a true symbol of women, especially women of colour, rising up against systems that seek to oppress them.
These are just three of fifty-two amazing women spoken about in Lee’s book. The writing style is witty, and sarcastic and makes reading these wonderful stories all the more powerful. With the most beautiful illustrations by Petra Eriksson next to each woman’s tale, there is so much to reflect on after reading.