The unsung “Roaring Girls” of history celebrated International Women’s Day


From Anne Lister to Mary Prince, author Holly Kyte tells the stories of eight women who changed society but were forgotten by history

Mr. Jack
Anne Lister has become a household name thanks to the hit series Gentleman Jack

As we approach International Women’s Day on Tuesday, an author delved into the lives of “history’s unsung heroines” to celebrate the achievements of women forgotten by time.

Holly Kyte’s Roaring Girls follows the extraordinary lives of eight women who revolutionized the way we see women today.

“If these women were men, they would already be household names,” Holly tells the Sunday Mirror.

“The history of women was not written because it was not considered interesting or important enough to record.”

Here are Holly’s Roaring Girls…

1. Maria Frith

Mary was one of the most outrageous and controversial women of the 16th and 17th centuries, earning her living as a thief deep in London’s underworld and earning her the role of Moll Cutpurse.

But Holly argues that Mary is a roaring girl because she refuses to succumb to conformity, uses cross-dressing to enrage society and is a “bold and irreverent woman”.

Mary Frith was known as Moll Cutpurse

2.Margaret Cavandish

Margaret was a 17th-century poet and philosopher who wrote under her own name at a time when most women writers remained anonymous and challenged the societal belief that men were inferior to women.

Holly says it’s hard to overstate “how daring it was” to publish her own lyrics.

Margaret Cavendish published her own writing

3. Maria Astell

Mary was a 17th- and 18th-century poet and philosopher who was often referred to as “the first English feminist” for her work on the education of women.

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She never married, arguing that women should be given equal education with men and should be able to forgo marriage if they so wish.

Holly says she is a “pioneering thinker, exemplary polemicist and tireless advocate for women”.

4.Charlotte Charke

Charlotte was an 18th-century actress, theater manager, and crossdresser, at a time when it was highly unusual for a woman to run a theater.

Holly says her role in British theater history has been ignored as she made “her own living as a woman in a man’s world”.

Charlotte Charke’s role in the theater world has been largely ignored

5. Hannah Snell

Hannah was an 18th-century artist who dressed up as a man and became a soldier.

For almost five years she lived and fought as a man, sailing to Lisbon with the 6th Regiment of Foot.

Hannah Snell disguises herself as a man and becomes a soldier

For hundreds of years, the rule that women were not allowed in the army meant that their role in the armed forces had to be unofficial or covert.

Holly says Hannah proved women are just as capable of fighting as men centuries before they were finally allowed to.

Author Holly Kyte has written about eight Roaring Girls from the story

6. Maria Prince

Mary was an 18th- and 19th-century slave who became the first black woman to publish her life story in Britain – despite being illiterate.

Holly says she not only published her story, she “made history.”

Mary Prince was the first black woman to publish her life story in Britain

7. Anne Lister

Made famous by Suranne Jones’ acclaimed performance in Gentleman Jack, Anne was “the first modern lesbian”.

Anne Lister is considered the “first modern lesbian”


Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council)

8. Caroline Norton

Caroline was a 19th-century writer and women’s rights activist whose work led to the passage of the Custody of Infants Act 1839, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 and the Married Women’s Property Act.

She also left her husband George Norton, who was suing her close friend Lord Melbourne, then Whig Prime Minister, for adultery, and she was denied access to their three sons.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in our comments below…

An 1832 painting by Caroline Norton

Holly says, “Every woman, every mother, every divorced and separated woman who faces her own George Norton owes Caroline a debt of gratitude.”

  • Howling Girls: The Extraordinary Lives of the Unsung Heroines of Holly Kyte is now available in paperback (HQ, £10.99).

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