25 Bravest Leading Ladies and Real-Life Heroines

Posted by , Updated on April 20, 2014

Pixar just celebrated the release of its newest film, Brave, starring its first-ever female lead. With female empowerment at an all-time high in recent decades, gutsy role models have been appearing onscreen, in books, and in real life. It’s a bit surprising that Pixar didn’t have a female star sooner. Although Princess Merida does seem pretty hardcore, there have been plenty of women in fiction and throughout history who rival her when it comes to being brave. To prove it, here are the 25 bravest leading ladies and real-life heroines in recent memory.

25

Amelia Earhart

Amelia-Earhart

Adventurous aviation pioneer and author Amelia Earhart won the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Although she disappeared in 1937 while attempting to fly around the world, she still serves as an intrepid role model for girls to this day.

24

Jane Eyre

Jane-Eyre

Perhaps literature’s earliest feminist heroines, Charlotte Bronte’s enduring character remained honorable and unwavering despite the many hardships she faced.

23

Rosa Parks

Rosa-Parks

Ms. Parks stood up for her rights by remaining seated, and in doing so, sparked a movement that led to long-overdue equal rights for African Americans.

22

Hermione Granger

Hermione

Let’s face it—neither Harry nor Ron would’ve survived their first year at Hogwarts without clever, resourceful Hermione. Even the most frightening situations, she always had a solution.

21

Lisa Ling

Lisa-Ling

This fearless journalist travels around the world and back to deliver news coverage on controversial international and domestic issues.


20

Lisbeth Salander

Lisbeth-Salander

Don’t let her outward appearance scare you. This plucky protagonist fights on the side of good. Her photographic memory, computer skills, and excellent sense of observation make her terrific at bringing corrupt individuals to justice.

19

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen-Elizabeth-I

It must’ve been tough being a female monarch in patriarchal sixteenth century England, but Queen Elizabeth I successfully ruled for 44 years. Her reign became known as a “golden age” because drama, music, literature, architecture, and exploration flourished during that time.

18

Scarlett O’Hara

Scarlett-OHara

Transforming from a Southern belle into a strong, independent plantation owner took chutzpah. Left with nothing, she picked herself up, dusted herself off, and reminded us all that tomorrow is a new day

17

Mindy Macready

Hit-Girl

Forget Bratz dolls and ponies—this 11-year-old fictional crime fighter prefers butterfly knives. Any other kid would probably be afraid to fight just one hardcore criminal, but Hit Girl takes on several at a time and makes it look easy.

16

Joan of Arc

Joan-of-Arc

As an adolescent peasant girl in fifteenth century France, Joan of Arc was the ultimate underdog. But even in the face of adversity, her determination and audacity helped her lead her army to victory during the Battle of Orleans.

15

Lyra Belacqua

Lyra-Golden-Compass1

When her friend was abducted by a mysterious organization, Lyra Belacqua set out to help find him and other missing children even though she risked being captured herself.

14

Mulan Fa

Mulan

She disguised herself as a man so she could get down to business and defeat the Huns. In doing so, she saved China at a time when women were greatly underestimated.

13

Yevdokiya Nikolayevna Zavaliy

Yevdokiya-Nikolayevna-Zavaliy

When this 17-year-old WWII nurse was mistaken for a man on the field, she didn’t protest. Instead, she fought in several battles and was appointed as the leader of a reconnaissance squad. Even after being wounded four times and her gender was discovered, her platoon continued to fight. She received more than 40 medals of Honor for her act of valor.

12

Jo March

Jo-March

As the spunky heroine of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Jo had the courage to defy social conventions of her day, not care about others’ assessments of her, and still manage to be a lady.

11

Harriet Tubman

Harriet-Tubman

This heroic abolitionist escaped from slavery herself at the age of 29 and helped others obtain their freedom by leading 13 Underground Railroad missions. She was later employed by the Union Army, becoming the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war and liberating more than 700 slaves in South Carolina.

10

Matilda Wormwood

Matilda

Would you be brave enough to take on a hammer-throwing Olympian? Roald Dahl’s clever protagonist found justice for Miss Honey and saved everyone at Crunchem Hall Elementary from the Chokey by outsmarting the evil Ms. Trunchbull.

9

Lucy Pevensie

Lucy-Pevensie

This faithful little heroine saved all of Narnia and earned herself the title of Queen Lucy the Valiant by fighting for what she believed in and convincing her older siblings to fight for the cause too.

8

Anne Frank

Anne-Frank

Forgiveness takes courage. Despite her circumstances, Anne found peace by forgiving the Nazis for their anti-Semitic atrocities and still having faith in the goodness of humanity.

7

Miep Gies

Miep-Gies

For two years, this courageous woman risked her life by providing the Frank family with food, news, and friendship. She continued to fight for the family after their capture by bribing the police to release them, but to no avail. Had she not safeguarded the diaries, Anne’s story might have never been published.

6

Clara Barton

Clara-Barton

Known as the “Angel of the Battlefield,” this young nurse tended to wounded soldiers on the front lines during the grittiest Civil War battles. Her experiences led her to found the Red Cross in 1881. In addition to her nursing accomplishments, she also taught school at a time when most teachers were male.

5

Katniss Everdeen

Katniss

This girl’s on fire. Not only did she volunteer as tribute to save her little sister from almost certain death, but she also survived The Hunger Games and found a way to show the Capitol she wasn’t just a pawn in its games.

4

Maria Von Trapp

Maria-Von-Trapp

Being sent away from home to work as a governess for seven notoriously difficult children is enough to make anyone afraid. Add some angry Nazis into the mix and you have a surefire horror story. No matter what problems she and her family faced, Maria’s confidence and optimistic attitude never faltered.

3

Helen Keller

Helen-Keller

Imagine living in a dark, quiet world. This was the only reality Helen Keller knew after a fever left her deaf and blind as an infant. In spite of these obstacles, she learned to communicate using signals and was eventually able to speak, going on to become a famous speaker and author.

2

Ruby Bridges

Ruby-Bridges

Would you be willing to face insults and threats from a screaming mob to obtain an education? Ruby Bridges did just that at the tender age of 6 when she became the first African-American student to attend an all-white elementary school in the South. Only one instructor agreed to teach Ruby, who was the only child in her class because parents threatened to send their children elsewhere, and four federal marshals escorted her to and from class each day. Through her act of valor, she paved the way for integration in other schools.

1

Irena Sendler

Irena-Sendler

It sounds like something out of a work of fiction, but this courageous woman’s story is indeed real. During World War II, Irena Sendler smuggled more than 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto, where she worked as a plumbing and sewer specialist. The Nazis eventually caught her, broke her arms and legs, and beat her severely. She had kept a record of all the children she helped and buried it in a glass bottle under a tree, which she later dug up and used to help reunite family members who had been torn apart.

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