Skip to the end to watch the video.
From spies to factory workers to bomber pilots to snipers, women filled all kinds of essential roles during wartime, and the courage, skill, and determination of these fifteen amazing women ranks them among the baddest asses of them all.
1. Virginia Hall — Allied Spy
The Nazi secret police organization the Gestapo once labeled her as the most dangerous of Allied spies, and she appeared on wanted posters with a reward offered a reward for her death.
Her codename was Germaine, her alias was Brigitte LeContre, but her real name was Virgina Hall, and she was truly badass.
Did we mention she also only had one leg?
Originally an American diplomat, her intelligence, moxie, and ability to speak five languages made her the idea spy. The British recruited her and sent her into France under the cover or being a journalist.
She spent over a year operating in German-occupied Vichy France, and along with her wooden leg she’d nicknamed Cuthbert, Hall did everything you would expect from a superspy: she blew up bridges, helped downed Allied pilots, recruited resistance fighters, organized jailbreaks, and generally raised the badass bar to the highest level.
Then her cover was blown, and after escaping to Spain and then home again, the Americans sent her back to Paris where she spent a few more years operating under cover.
After the war, she was recruited into the fledgeling CIA where despite her experience and success as a field agent, she was slotted into the usual role held by women at the time: a desk job.
2. Jacqueline Cochran — Aviator
She may be best known as the first woman to break the sound barrier, but Jacqueline Cochran did a whole lot more than that. She originally learned to fly as a way to be more competitive with her beauty products business, but aviation soon became her passion and she became a successful air racer.
When WWII broke out, she proposed creating a women’s flying division, and after being the first woman to fly a bomber over the Atlantic, she became the first director of the Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) program.
Stationed in England, she trained female pilots for the duration of the war, earning the US Distinguished Service Medal for her efforts.
After the war, she continued to fly and race, setting new records all the time. After breaking the sound barrier, she worked with NASA to test the feasibility of women as astronauts in the Mercury space program.
3. Sophie Scholl — German Dissident
Not all heroes have happy endings, and poor Sophie Scholl’s story is as tragic as they come. Born in Germany in 1921, when she was 14 the ruling Nazi party passed the Nuremburg Laws, which among other things began the official persecution of Jews. Her opposition to this started her on a path of rebellion against the Nazis that would ultimately be her doom.
After WWII began, she joined the White Rose movement, an anti-Nazi group. In 1943, she and her brother were caught distributing anti-war propaganda leaflets, interrogated for four days, and found guilty of treason.
She was executed the next day by guillotine.
Although her time was short, she became a symbol to the German anti-war movement, and inspired many to take up the fight at home against the Nazis.
4. Susan Travers — French Foreign Legion Soldier
Susan Travers was bored with her life. Born to well-to-do English parents, she was educated in France and spent her young years gallivanting around Europe. That is, until WWII changed all that.
Seeking a little adventure, she joined the French Red Cross and became an ambulance driver. After France fell she was back in England, and bored again. So she joined the Free French legionnaires in Africa as a nurse and eventually as driver to one of its leaders, General Koenig. She also became his lover.
During Rommel’s rampage across North Africa, she helped the General escape through enemy lines. She won the Criox de Guerre for her bravery in the face of several barrages of intense artillery fire, numerous bullet strikes of her vehicle and pitch blackness” as she drove Koenig to safety.
In 1945 the Free French legion was being demobilized, and Travers didn’t’ want to leave. Life back home with her family would be too dull.
So, even though she was a woman, the French Foreign Legion recruiting officer signed her up.
She was the only woman to ever be a French Foreign Legionnaire.
5. Faye Schulman — Partisan Fighter
Faye Schulman was born a Jew in Poland. In 1942, when she was just 23 years old, the Germans killed her entire family, but left her alive because she was a skilled photographer. They made her develop their photos of the massacre.
She later escaped and joined up with a group of Soviet freedom fighters, whom she worked with as a nurse. Her only medical credentials were that her father had been a doctor.
But since the group’s own doctor was a veterinarian, that was good enough.
During a raid on her old home, she liberated her photographic equipment, and over the next few years she took some of the most striking images of the war, capturing some of the only scenes of the Jewish and Russian partisans ever taken.
6. and 7. Francis Wills and Harriet Pickens — Naval Officers
Francis Wills and Harriet Pickens were two very special women. To be the first African-American women commissioned as officers in the United States Navy, they had to be.
Before the war, Frances Wills earned an MA in social work, and helped place children in foster homes at an adoption agency. Harriet Pickens was a public health administrator with her own Master’s degree in political science. She was also the daughter of William Pickens, one of the founders of the NAACP.
At the time, all branches of the US military were racially segregated, and no service fought the growing calls for desegregation more than the Navy.
Yet the determination and sheer awesomeness of these women helped break down the racial barriers, and earned them a place in the history books.