Book Review: Women Warriors in History: 1,622 Biographies Worldwide from the Bronze Age to the Present


by Mary Ellen Snodgrass

Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2023. Pp. viii, 505. Gloss, appends., biblio., index. $95.00 paper. ISBN: 1476693056

Women as Warmakers

Snodgrass, the award-winning author of Encyclopedia of Utopian Literature, and many other works, gives us a valuable biographical dictionary of women who served as soldiers, assassins, commanders, spies, bandit chiefs, aviators, pirates, saboteurs, and more, across the ages.

The work is arranged chronologically. Given the sparseness of evidence about many of the individuals, entries vary from a line or two to several paragraphs.

Some of the women mentioned may be thought mythical, but their deeds perhaps echo oral traditions of actual persons. For example, Queen Shammuramat of Assyria (fl. 850-800 B.C.), included in the book, is believed to have been the inspiration of the ancient tales of Semiramis, whom Snodgrass oddly fails to mention.

There’s a host of interesting women here, suggesting the extent to which the role of women in warfare and related activities has been overlooked. So many, in fact, that despite her diligence Snodgrass quite understandably missed some, such as Mapressa of Tegea, a Greek city-state with several warrior women in its history (Sixth Century B.C.), Catherine of Aragon, who as regent for the absent Henry VIII directed the repulse of the Scottish invasion of England in 1513, or Sarah Aaronsohn (1890-1917), who ran a major espionage ring in Palestine during World War I. This is not to say Snodgrass was careless, but rather that it’s clear there’ve been a great many more women who played prominent roles in warfare than is commonly believed, and much more research is needed on the subject of women warriors.

And by the way, Snodgrass also omits some of the more dubious persons often claimed to have been women warriors, such as Edmonia Gates, often cited as “the drummer girl” of the 6th New York during the Civil War, or the “French artist” known as “Madame Arno,” who is said to have raised a regiment of women in Paris in 1915, for neither of whom is there any positive evidence.

The principal flaw with Women Warriors in History is that it could use a better index.  A very good book.




Note: Women Warriors in History is also available in e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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