March 8, International Women’s Day: Tough Women Through the Ages

March 8, International Women’s Day: Tough Women Through the Ages

By Natalie Taylor


Historically, women’s primary role has always been mother and keeper of the hearth. But evidence shows they have also been fierce fighters and rulers since antiquity. Perhaps the oldest such discovery is at a 9,000-year-old burial site in Peru. The skeleton, surrounded by projectile weapons and other hunting paraphernalia, was thought to be a male. Further studies, however, revealed the hunter was female. Clearly, women were not just gatherers, they were hunters too.


From Artemisia who commanded ships in the battle of Salamis in 480 BCE, or Queen Boudica whose army defeated the Romans in the sixth century BCE, to Cleopatra of Egypt who ruled over her kingdom and the hearts of two rulers, ancient women demonstrated their capacity for toughness and control. When women took to the field in battle, it was astonishing, terrifying, and shameful for the men who recorded the events.


In Mesoamerica, royal women were mainly marriage pawns, consorts, and mothers of kings. But archeological discoveries show several warrior queens in the ancient kingdoms. In what is today’s Mexico, a Mayan queen named Lady K’awiil Ajaw ruled in Cobá in the Yucatán between 600 and 800 BCE. This was unusual in the male dominated Mesoamerican society. Yet there is evidence that Lady K’awiil Ajaw set out on numerous wars of territorial expansion and ruled for more than 40 years. She ordered the construction of a 100-kilometer road in order to invade Chichen Itza because its growth was threatening her rule. Built around 700 CE, the road is an engineering marvel rivaling the Maya pyramids. Winding over uneven ground cleared of boulders and vegetation, it was covered in white plaster similar to Roman concrete. Its natural reflective capacity would have made it visible even at night. 


And what about powerful women in San Miguel de Allende? One historical figure, closely tied to the war of Independence, is Josefa Dominguez, known as “la Corregidora.” Even as a young girl, she was strong-headed and rebellious. She herself applied and was accepted at a prestigious university. While a student, she met Attorney Dominguez, almost 20 years her senior. They married and settled in Querétaro city when he was appointed Corregidor of the state—the equivalent of governor. As his wife, she became known as the “Corregidora.” In spite of bearing 14 children, Josefa became politically active as one of the conspirators to free the colonies from Spanish rule. When betrayal exposed the plot on Sept. 14, 1810, she defied her husband’s orders to not interfere. He locked her in her room but Josefa’s strong-headedness surfaced—she pounded on the walls until an official came to her door. She then ordered him to ride to San Miguel and alert Ignacio Allende. Her heroic act saved the nascent rebellion that became a full-blown war for Independence that eventually liberated Mexico. La Corregidora is commemorated in our city with a plaque and a street named in her honor. She is one of our very own tough women; another woman not to be trifled with!