10 heroines of my youth

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sword girl

image by ekster

I liked these heroines so much when I was a kid. They did stuff. They held their own against huge odds. Most of all, they survived. Sacajawea’s died at age 25 (apparently) but the rest lived to a grand old age.

A clarification, these women are more-or-less presented as I saw them back then.

  1. Sacagewea (1790 – 1812 or maybe 1884) =interpreter
  2. Roane from Ice Crown by Andre Norton = archeologist
  3. The Princess from Prince and the 3 Fates by Andrew Lang = witch
  4. Mara from Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise McGraw = spy
  5. Harriet Tubman (1822 – 1913) = rescuer
  6. Esther from Behold! Your Queen by Gladys Malvern = beauty pageant winner
  7. Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603) = queen
  8. Clara Barton (1821 – 1912) = war nurse
  9. Bill AKA Billina from Ozma of Oz by Frank L. Baum = hen
  10. Aerin from The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley = dragon fighter


Teenaged Sacagewea traveled most of the way with Lewis & Clark on their expedition. Except she did it with a baby. She seemed amazingly tough and level-headed, such as the time she saved the notes when the boat overturned while the guys panicked. Her husband seems dodgy, perhaps there were extenuating circumstances.


Roane is an archaeologist on a team charged with discovering lost artifacts on an an intentionally isolated planet named Clio. Roane gets to know the people and culture of Clio. She must choose between her family and her professional standards and becoming involved in Clio’s politics. She becomes quite an action hero – you have to be careful about these archaeologists.


The Princess is from Andrew Lang’s The Brown Fairy Book, which was my favorite collection. I reread the original version for this post and it was less impressive than I remembered. In my version, she’s smarter and stronger than anybody else. For once the prince is the one locked away for his safety and waiting for his rescue.

The princess never stops. She uses her husband’s sword to decapitate the snake, never mind the subtext. She argues the talking crocodile into a situation that she can win. Even though she’s been riding and rock climbing all night, she pulls out her husband out of the water. I like it that the prince has the grace to credit her for his rescue.


Mara is a bilingual Egyptian slave who will be given her freedom but only if she spies on the young prince for the Queen. She agrees. A short time later, she is approached by a handsome but enigmatic young man who wishes her to spy for the prince. As a double agent, she soon has contradictory promises to keep and pack of lies to remember.


Harriet Tubman did not crumple under her horrifying childhood. Her wretched life as a slave made her later triumphs doubly satisfying. Not only did she free herself but she rescued hundreds of others on the Underground Railroad. She was always coming up with daring new ruses to throw off her pursers. She never lost anyone, never was caught without a plan, or just bravado.


Esther – was impressive because she basically won a beauty pageant and then risked being horribly killed to help her people from being slaughtered. Malvern made the story all girly-pink and a nail-biter at the same time. Pretty sure that’s hard to do. I also liked the intrigue going on between the various characters.


Elizabeth I,was a decent and competent ruler for her era. What captivated me was her story as a princess. She was a good student and liked having fun. But her social station made her life perilous and unhappy. She did survive the intrigue and never let go of her power. To this day, I find myself holding my breath when I read about her teenage years.


Clara Barton went out on the battlefield to rescue people. She didn’t let the horror of the soldier’s wounds stop her from tending them. She never gave up pestering the officials until she was allowed to do her job the best way. She encountered the danger of the battlefield and she was there to help. Plus, she did that American Red Cross thing.


Bill or Billina as she is sometimes known.


Aerin , another princess, was a quintessential teenage girl and yet a dauntless warrior. Everything was so hard for her but she persevered She managed to find the right spell, fight the dragon, confront the villain, and save the kingdom.

Her personal life was as impressive to me as her public life. She spends most of her life feeling unworthy and pining for the handsome Prince Tor. By the end of the book, everyone is courting her, including Tor. She barely cares. Once she’s done being a queen, she gets to reunite with her lover Luthe and have a whole other life.



2 thoughts on “10 heroines of my youth

    Littlesister said:
    April 19, 2009 at 3:59 am

    Kudos…I remember some of these chicks. They were damn awesome. I loved Esther from Melvern’s telling. And Aerin was badass as well.


    Murcia responded:
    April 19, 2009 at 7:17 am

    That’s cool that you’ve read Gladys Malvern. I wish they’d republish her. And yeah, I think Aerin pretty much kicks everyone’s butt.

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