This compilation of notorious female historical figures in Bad Girls from History is intriguing. Some are so infamous they are still well-known today, such as Bonnie Parker of Bonnie and Clyde, but most were new to me. The chapters are divided into “Courtesans and Mistresses,” “Madams, Prostitutes and Adulterers,” “Serial Killers,” “Gangsters, Thieves and Con-Artists,” and “The Rebel Collection.” It was fascinating to note how many of the ladies in the murderous category had life insurance policy payouts as their motive! Apparently there weren’t any fraud divisions at insurance agencies back then?
I was in awe of some of the rebellious ladies such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Grace O’Malley, and Fanny Campbell. Each of these defied conventions of the time and led the lives they wanted. I wish I could have known more about the lady pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read but perhaps there are scant historical records.
As I began reading each biography in the first chapter, I noticed similarities between them. It became clear that in the paternalistic systems prevalent in most societies for millennia, women had fewer rights and opportunities to earn a decent living than men. It was a blessing to be born beautiful and it would appear beauty was one of the few marketable and profitable characteristics one could bank on. So many women in this chapter became mistresses or courtesans to men of high society as the most advantageous route to earn a living. It also became clear that child marriages as well as lack of government oversight of children led to abuse, child-trafficking, and even murder.
Since this writer is British, I found a few phrases and references unfamiliar but overall I enjoyed the book. Gordon did an excellent job with her extensive research and the result is an interesting peek into the lives of misbehaving (Western) women throughout history.