Search form

Home > Books in Education Center > Archives > History > Books in Education Article

B O O K S   I N   E D U C A T I O N     A R T I C L E

Meet History's Most Outrageous Women!

Many of their names don't just roll off the tongue, but their stories must be told! Meet the most outrageous women of ancient times in a book from author Vicki Leon and publisher John Wiley & Sons. Outrageous Women Book Cover

Who are the brightest, most inspiring -- totally awesome -- women today? What names come to mind?

Now think back 2,000 years or more. Who were the smartest, boldest, most outrageous women of ancient times? Who's on your short list?

Having a difficult time coming up with a few names? That's probably because most history text focus on a few big names -- and most of those names just happen to be men!
That's what Vicki Leon learned in school:

"As a kid, I loved history, but teachers who rattled off history as a series of dates and wars left me cold. What I craved were flesh-and-blood people. Since half the kids in my class were girls, I expected that half the people we'd hear about would be female, too. Was I ever wrong!."
So Leon set out to right that wrong. She dug deep to find the boldest, most inspiring women of ancient times, and she told their stories in Outrageous Women of Ancient Times.

Look for another book from Leon -- Outrageous Women of the Middle Ages.

Leon tells the stories of 15 women of ancient times made famous by their deeds. And not all those women are famous for their good deeds! Take Locusta of Gaul, for example. She was an ancient-day herbalist turned professional poisoner! She conspired with Agrippina, the fourth wife of the Emperor Claudius, to do in ol' Claud so her son by a previous marriage, Nero, would be crowned emperor of Rome.

Leon's subjects aren't all household names, and their names don't all roll off the tongue! You might recognize the names Sappho and Cleopatra, but have you ever heard of Hatshepsut of Thebes? She reigned as pharoah of Egypt for more than 20 years. When she was succeeded, most of the temples and monuments carved by artisans and sculptors to recognize her achievements were rubbed out by the new pharoah -- a man, of course!

Leon's "outrageous women of ancient times" were leaders and artists, writers and warriors, sports stars and scientists. And their stories are as varied as their interests. In the pages of her book, Leon introduces readers to women such as

  • Hortensia of Rome, who with a band of women pushed her way into the Roman Forum to have her say against a new tax. (In 42 B.C., women were seldom allowed into the Forum, except by request.)

  • Deborah and Jael (circa 1200 B.C.), two daring women with a plan to save Israel from the Canaanites.

  • Enheduana of Sumer (2300 B.C.), the earliest author known by name.

  • Semiramis of Assyria (800 B.C.), sometimes called the "builder queen" and the brains behind the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Many great roads and monuments were built in her day.

  • Pan Chao of China (90 A.D.), a scholar and author who championed equal education for women.

  • Three sisters of Tralles (45 A.D.), the "track trio of Tralles," who did the racing circuit and won many prizes in running and chariot races.

  • Trung Trac and Trung Nhi (39 A.D.), a sister act that battled against China for the independence of Vietnam. Today, the Vietnamese people still celebrate Trung Sisters Day!
Leon has done her research and she tells these women's stories with an historian's dedication and a writer's awe. She writes for 10- to 14-year-olds in a vocabulary they'll understand, her text sprinkled with "outrageous modern" words such as boondocks, fuddy-duddy, and catfight and terms such as dream team, going platinum, payback time, and been there, done that. Did you realize that Cleopatra had an "Internet-sized goal" to link the countries around the Mediterranean into a new world order? You'll also learn the origin of some modern-day expressions, such as "rest on your laurels."

Leon's text is divided by region. Biographies focus on the famous women of Rome; Greece and Turkey; Egypt and Northern Africa; the Middle East; and the Far East. Each section includes a map to help students place some long-gone place names. Works of art help to define the accomplishments of Leon's women and an occasional silly cartoon helps to lighten up some serious material.

Yes, the people of ancient times had their Princess Dianas and Toni Morrisons and Mother Teresas and Jackie Joyner-Kersees. They were just hidden deep in the dusty archives of history. It took Vicki Leon to bring their "herstories" to life in the pages of Outrageous Women of Ancient Times!

Outrageous Women of Ancient Times and Outrageous Women of the Middle Ages are published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 605 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10158-0012. Wiley books are available at your local bookstore or by calling 1-800-225-5945. In Canada, call 1-800-567-4797

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1998 Education World