In the immortal words of Cyndi Lauper, "Girls just wanna have fun." The two-time Grammy winner wasn't wrong, but the curious thing about fun being had by girls is that historically speaking, it's rubbed a lot of men the wrong way. Of course, that didn't mean that it stopped girls - and women - from having it! Join us, as we explore just how right the phrase "Well-behaved women rarely make history" really is.
First Rule of Lady Fight Club Is Not Talking About Lady Fight Club
When we woke up today, we didn't know our world would expand to include the existence of an all-female rooftop fight club. Guess life's full of surprises. Now, full disclosure - they're probably pretend boxing rather than actually fighting, but it's still radically candid. The photo's from 1938, showing the roof of the Ball Building, on what today is the Paramount studio lot but back then was owned by RKO Pictures.
Those ladies are wearing dance shoes, so they're likely variety show performers. They're on the roof because it was simply much more pleasant practicing in the open air before the days of decent air conditioner.
We Think They Missed the Point of 'The Tortoise and the Hare'
We almost hate to ruin this amazing photo by giving it context, but it's a burden we're going to have to bear. These lovely ladies are the Lusty sisters - yes, really. When this photo was taken - January, 1936 - the Lustys were pretty famous in English show jumping circles. Naturally, Diane and Zena usually rode horses rather than green sea turtles, but we guess this was too good to pass up.
This is where it gets slightly depressing - the turtles were imported to the U.K. by their owner, who supplied them regularly to the Royal Family's household as they're the main ingredient in turtle soup.
Trading a Date for Tattoo Lessons Really Worked Out for Her
If this photo wasn't sepia toned, you could've fooled us into thinking it was taken sometime in the last few decades. We mean, a woman this inked is STILL not all that common a sight today - just imagine what it must've been like for Maud Wagner to walk around a century ago! This photo's from around 1911, four years after Maud traded a date with a guy for tattoo lessons.
Both lessons and date must've gone well, as Maud and Gus ended up marrying - and she became the U.S.'s first recognized female tattoo artist. Their daughter, Loretta, stayed in the family business and also became a tattoo artist.
If She Wore That Costume Today, PETA Would Assassinate Her
As the 19th century wound down, the Vanderbilt family was one of the richest in the U.S. Having made their fortune in shipping and railroads, they were nonetheless deemed low-class outsiders by the snobs in New York City's high society. Well, in 1883 Alva Vanderbilt decided she would change all that - with a single costume ball. Vanderbilt spent $250,000 (nearly $6 million in today's money) on it - but it worked.
About 1,200 of the city's most important debutantes and moguls attended. Among them was socialite Kate Fearing Strong. Somewhat disturbingly, her costume consisted of a taxidermied cat headpiece, accentuated by seven real cat tails sewn onto her skirt.
Photos More Than a Century Old Shouldn't Be This Goofy
If you've seen many Victorian-era photographs, you know almost all of them have one thing in common - the folks pictured look like they're attending a funeral. The funny thing is that some of them WERE, technically, because taking photos with deceased relatives was pretty popular. Even when everyone in the photo had a pulse, though, smiles were rare. It might've had something to do with long exposure times, measured in minutes.
Or maybe it was photos being just too darn expensive to goof around in. Whatever the case, people usually looked as gloomy as undertakers. Except this woman. This woman's VIBING.
One of Them Was Among the 20th Century's Most Notorious Criminals
If you don't know anything else about this photo, it seems like just a random old snapshot of a bygone era. Once you know, though, you can't help but gasp. Allow us to set the stage, then. The photo was snapped at Marco's Cafe in Dallas, somewhere around 1929. Just ignore the man - he's not really important. Look at the woman. Even if you don't recognize her, you've heard of her.
Give up yet? Alright, that's 18-year-old Bonnie Elizabeth Parker. The following year, she'll meet a man named Clyde Barrow, and they'll embark on one of history's most notorious crime sprees.
Imagine a Time Where Going to the Beach Might Get You Arrested
Ooh, is this photo from a rehearsal for a very, very, very early version of Dancing With the Stars? Oh Lord, it isn't, right? Nope. Sure, the 1920s were known as the Roaring Twenties because they were a time of unprecedented progress and change that turned many things on their heads. They were, arguably, the first truly modern decade of the 20th century. Unfortunately, all that progress would skip women's bodies.
This photo's from 1922 Chicago, and the lady isn't ballroom dancing - she's being arrested. Her crime? Baring those legs. "Abbreviated bathing suits" were illegal at the time, and women would routinely get jailed or fined for wearing them.
We've Heard of C and D Cups but T Cups Are New
There's really no way to verify this one way or the other, but this photo was captioned, "Fanny Barker - kitchen maid, 1875." This lady's first name being "Fanny" is probably a little too good to be true, but you know what? We're okay with not knowing the real story. Honestly, it'd probably only ruin it if we knew. We'd much rather Bosom Teacup Lady remain a mystery to us forever.
This enigma's singlehandedly shattering the popular perception of Victorian people being snooze fests. Just look at her, posing for an expensive 1800s photograph just to show off her silly parlor trick. You go, Fanny Barker.
Just Snapping a Photo on the Chrysler Building's 61st Floor
Considering everyone's so obsessed with taking photographs, it's a travesty that Margaret Bourke-White isn't a household name. She really should be. The first American female war photojournalist, she was also the first foreign photographer allowed to take pictures in Soviet factories. Well, at least Bourke-White was famous in her day. In fact, she was so wealthy she could afford an apartment on the infamous 61st floor of Manhattan's Chrysler Building.
Okay, so Time Magazine had to co-sign the lease because they wouldn't rent to women, but still. Outside the 61st floor is where this 1934 photo was taken, with Bourke-White perched on a gargoyle, snapping a photo.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - Especially If They Pump Some Iron, Apparently
No award for figuring out who this gym rat is. She is, after all, one of the 20th century's biggest stars. Going by Norma Jeane Baker in childhood, you know her as Marilyn Monroe. This photo's great, isn't it? We're used to seeing Monroe in dresses or really tight sweaters, but we don't often see her in jeans and a terry cloth bikini top pumping iron. Nevertheless, there she is.
This 1952 photo was part of a shoot for LIFE magazine, taken at her sparse two-room apartment just outside L.A. Only one photo from that shoot was used, on the magazine's cover, and it made Monroe a superstar.
She Was Tony Hawk When Tony Hawk Was in Fourth Grade
Are you a fan of the Tony Hawk's video game series? Don't be afraid admitting it makes you look old. While the first game was released in 1999, the latest one came out in 2020. Well, in an alternate timeline, you may have been able to spend childhood afternoons performing grinds and ollies in a game called Ellen O'Neal's Pro Skater. She's pictured here, effortlessly skating on two boards simultaneously.
O'Neal was one of the world's first female pro skaters. More than that, though, she helped make it mainstream in the 1970s, even skating on one episode of the Wonder Woman TV show. Her only downfall? Being born a decade too early.
Miss Atomic Bomb Is Positively Radiating - Hopefully Just with Charm
Let's just say there's a reason for the old saying, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." Back in the early 1950s, though, Sin City had a peculiar kind of tourist attraction that you got to take home with you - whether you wanted to or not! See, in 1951 the U.S. government detonated an atomic bomb in the Nevada desert - the first in a long series of nuclear bomb tests.
Vegas's reaction was, predictably, to lean into it - the blasts were promoted as a unique tourist attraction, and calendars were handed out citing detonation times. Wouldn't be Vegas without showgirls, though. Enter Lee Merlin, a dancer from the Copa, better known as Miss Atomic Bomb.
We Wouldn't Even React Like That to Winning the Lottery
This girl's a whole entire mood all by herself. It's pretty obvious that she's at a concert of some sort. By the looks of her - and the girl plugging her ears in the background - we might've guessed they were attending a Norwegian black metal concert. They, uh, aren't. Actually, the performer those people are watching in this April, 1957, photo is Elvis Aaron Presley. You may have heard of him.
Fifty-seven was a pretty good year for the King - he had four number-one songs AND it's the year he bought Graceland. Clearly, though, the best thing to happen to him that year was this girl's reaction.
She Better File That One Under T for 'Tired (Very)'
At first, we were convinced this was a still from some terrible '70s movie about a female cop who finds a baby in her desk drawer one morning. It isn't, but the real story behind the photo is actually slightly crazier. On July 8, 1971, that nine-month-old girl was abandoned in a downtown Los Angeles hotel room. The hotel manager called the police after receiving complaints she'd been crying for hours.
Taken in by the LAPD, policewoman Pat Johnson gave her Jell-O and some cottage cheese, before placing her in her drawer for a nap. She was later put into foster care. Now THAT could be a movie.
First Live-Action Portrayal of Wonder Woman? Um, Sort Of, Actually
If it wasn't for the fact that Wonder Woman's first appearance in comic books came in October 1941, we would've told you that this had to be someone dressed up as her. In a spiritual sense, that might not actually be that far off the mark. This March, 1913, photo is of Inez Milholland. Though not very well-known today, she was one of the most famous women of her era.
The photo was snapped before she led a suffragette march in Washington D.C. Milholland, the figurehead of women's fight to vote, passed away aged 30 - four years before her battle was won with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.
We Wish Showgirl Spaghetti Swooshing Contests Were Still a Thing
There are two things you need to know about this 1949 photo. Number one: the ladies were all showgirls at New York's Minsky Carnival. The Minsky family operated burlesque shows in the Big Apple before they were quite literally run out of town for being too scandalous. The second thing you need to know about this photo is that the girls are taking part in an exciting spaghetti swooshing contest.
Apparently, the 1940s were pretty wild, and these contests were quite popular. The rules were simple - polish off a plate of spaghetti using only your lips and tongue. To sate your curiosity, the girl second from right won.
Before Putting on That Blanket, She Made Women's Sports History
Some of the world's most successful athletes today are women. Seems something almost not worth mentioning, but it is - because that wasn't always the case. This woman helped change that. The Boston marathon is one of the world's most famous foot races. Until 1972, though, no woman officially ran it. Bobbi Gibb wanted to be the first in 1966, but when she asked the race director he refused, saying women were physiologically incapable of running marathons.
Gibb then made a three-and-a-half-day cross-country bus trip just to prove him wrong. She ran, albeit unofficially, and finished ahead of two-thirds of the other (male) runners.
Guess It's True - Blondes Really Do Have More Fun
This photo makes the rounds online every so often, but do you know its backstory? Let's start with the principal players. On the left is arguably Italy's biggest film star, Sophia Loren. The woman she's giving legendary side-eye to is Jayne Mansfield - less famous for her movies and more famous for being a Marilyn Monroe-esque blonde bombshell. In 1957, Loren was the guest of honor at a Beverly Hills event.
Mansfield, reportedly the last to arrive, wore-- that. "In my face you can see the fear," Loren recounted. "I'm so frightened that everything in her dress is going to blow and spill all over the table."
Good Lord, We Think She Glared That Fish to Death
Let's give some props to Mrs. E. N. Dickerson of New York City, who caught this giant sea bass off the coast of New York in 1901. That sucker weighed in at 363 pounds, and Mrs. Dickerson supposedly needed 55 minutes to bring it in using her bladed gaff stick. You might think that 363 pounds is quite a bit for a fish to weigh, and you wouldn't be wrong.
But that's nothing compared to the 560-plus pounds of other basses! Unfortunately, by the '70s these guys were fished to near extinction. They're still listed as Critically Endangered today, putting them in the same category as black rhinos.
Think THAT'S Weird? You Haven't Heard What They Used to Paint Pantyhose
World War II was hard all around. While most of the attention was focused on the brave G.I.s fighting on the frontlines, though, we shouldn't forget the gals who stayed home. "Normal" life when the U.S. was at war overseas was actually far from normal, as their existence was impacted in many ways, great and small. One of the more serious disruptions had to do with a sudden pantyhose shortage.
As nylon production was diverted to making parachutes and other wartime necessities, pantyhose were in short supply. So, women made do with literally painting their legs, sometimes even using gravy! Then, they'd draw the seams with eyeliner pencils.
This Could Be Either Adorable or Horrifying, Depending on Context
It seems like the hottest thing for celebrities to do today is either own a vineyard or a winery. Seriously, if we listed every celeb involved in winemaking we'd be here all day, so let's just list an eclectic Californian top four - Dan Marino, Drew Barrymore, the Black Eyed Peas' Fergie, and Motley Crue's Vince Neil. Despite all these famous Johnny-come-lately's, wines actually have a long, proud history in Cali.
Back in 1930, Californians celebrated their state's $50 million grape yield with the Burbank Grape Festival. Naturally, a "Queen of the Vineyards" was crowned. We have no idea whether this lady, Wilma Smith, won - but she should've.
Just Imagine Getting a Splinter Wearing One of Those
For the first quarter of the 20th century, the Grays Harbor region of Washington was the biggest hub of lumber production and shipping in the world. Wood wasn't just big business - it was HUGE business. Well, as you might imagine, this situation led to all kinds of marketing ploys. Some may have been clever. Others may have been like New Coke. The "Spruce Girls" probably belong to the latter group.
Predating the whole DIY esthetic by about nine decades, in 1929 a group of local girls got together to model their homemade swimsuits. Why Spruce Girls? Because the suits were made of thin spruce veneer. Shocking, but wooden bathing suits never caught on.
These Nuns Got into Some Pretty Bad Habits (Not Sorry)
Man, literally EVERYBODY lit up back in the day! Nah, we're going to have to be the bearers of bad news here. These ladies were most likely not actual nuns. The photo, snapped in August, 1931, was taken during a pageant in Walmer Castle, which is in Kent, England. They're probably just regular women dressed up as nuns, but that does bring up a fascinating question - can real nuns smoke?
Nun ya business! Okay, that was awful. To apologize, here's what we found. While orders differ in law and practice, nuns are probably not barred from smoking, even if buying packs goes against their vow of poverty.
Before Desktops and Laptops, These Were the Only Computers Around
If you've seen the movie Hidden Figures - and if you haven't you should - you already know about computers. No, we're not talking about the things you're reading this on right now. We're referring to the human kind - people whose job it was to make computations. The movie's about the African-American ladies who crunched numbers in the '60s to get astronaut John Glenn into Earth orbit, but computing's been around since the 17th century.
Before actual computers and calculators, doing calculations by hand was all there was - and it was usually women doing it. This photo, from the '50s/'60s, shows them doing just that at a brokerage house.
A Ghost of Aviation Who Was Swallowed by the Sky
Women, like men, Amelia Earhart once said, "should try to do the impossible." In everything she did in her all too brief life, Earhart followed that example. Maybe that's why she's still remembered so well - and so fondly - today. Born decades before her time, she still managed to become the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She summed it up perfectly: "Adventure is worthwhile in itself."
Of course, part of the legend may be linked to her 1937 disappearance over the Pacific, which remains officially unsolved to this day. Or does it? In 1940, bones were found on a Pacific island that modern analysis contends were PROBABLY hers.
She's Liable to Put Somebody's Eye Out with That Thing
You may have seen a photoshopped version of this image making the rounds. Sorry to rain on anybody's parade, but it's fake. While the undergarment sported by actress Merry Anders was indeed a "bullet bra," it wasn't quite nearly as pointy, as you can see in the original image. Still, that doesn't mean that the REALLY pointy numbers, popularized by starlets like Marilyn Monroe and Lana Turner, weren't a thing.
They totally were. Anders was just wearing a more chill model. We can see why they were popular, though - before the days of, ahem, augmentations, they were the only thing ladies could do to go up a size.
There's Something Thoroughly Modern About This Southern Belle from the 1850s
History's awesome. Real history - the kind you can touch and smell. We're not talking about snoozefest school classes, but about the remnants left behind by the people who came before us. The most fascinating people aren't the Thomas Jeffersons, though - they're the complete "nobodies" who never made it anywhere near a history book. Take this woman, for example. The only information we have is that she was from Richmond, Virginia.
By her clothes and hair, we assume the photo's from the 1850s - but that's it. This Southern belle, with her braided hair and scandalous bare shoulders. We'll never know who she was, but we'd pay money to.
1940s Dallas - Where Every Meal Came with a Side of Beef
At a superficial glance, you might think men are the focal point of this photo. They actually aren't - they're just eye candy. Yes, despite the time being 1940 and the place being Dallas, Texas, those men are being seriously objectified by those three ladies. They were carhops - waiters bringing food to people's cars. You might call them "Booters," as there's no hooting owl in sight. The backstory is pretty simple.
Apparently, one lady wrote the local paper, complaining about how she and her friends were tired of looking at women's legs when they got drive-thru. 'Why can't men be carhops?' she complained. Well, she got her wish!
All That Ice Must Be for the Burns They Casually Spout
This photo just made us laugh - both because the job those two ladies are doing is so ancient it might as well be prehistoric, and because they look so bada** doing it. As you may already know if you listened in history class, women came into the workforce out of necessity rather than by design. During both world wars, there were simply not enough able-bodied men to work - because they were off fighting in a global conflict.
Women stepped in to replace them, like these ladies delivering ice - something that would never have been done by a woman back then otherwise.
The Woman Louis Armstrong Called the World's Second Best Trumpeter
In this 1934 photo, Valaida Snow is conducting an orchestra at London's The Coliseum. "Valaida who?" you might be asking. Well, Louis Armstrong certainly knew who she was - he called her the world's second best jazz trumpet player, after himself. It's a crime, then, that Snow - dubbed "Little Louis" - is almost lost to history. Besides singing and dancing, she could play ten different instruments by the time she was 15.
Despite being obviously immensely talented, her being a woman meant she got a lot fewer chances to shine. Instead, Snow toured in places like Europe and even China - in the 1920s! She passed away aged 51, underappreciated, in the middle of a show.
One Small Step for a Woman, One Giant Leap for Mankind
No, this isn't a pretentious black-and-white photo from the set of an episode of The Big Bang Theory you can't seem to remember. What it IS, though, is the woman all those dorks on Big Bang Theory wished they could be. Not only was Margaret Hamilton a software engineers - in the 1960s! - but she may have actually coined the phrase "software engineering." We dare you to say that's not cool.
That stack of binders she's standing next to, as tall as she is? That's all the code she wrote, by hand, for the on-board flight software that made it possible for Neil Armstrong to walk on the moon in 1969.
Look Closely at Those Stickers - They Reveal Where She's Been
There's something about the way this woman's looking at us that makes us know we don't want to mess with her. In 1982, when she was 24, Englishwoman Elspeth Beard finished three years of her architectural studies. What'd you do on breaks between school years? Whatever it was, we can guarantee it wasn't half as cool as what Elspeth did. You see, that beast of a BMW motorcycle is hers.
She saved up some money, had her bike shipped from England to New York, and embarked on a motorcycle trip around the world that took her to Canada, Mexico, Australia, Singapore, India, Turkey, and then Europe again.
Well, at Least She's Down to Just One a Day
Say what you will, there is something to be said for this girl's efficiency. If you need lung cancer, like, yesterday - this device is probably for you. Invented in 1955, it allows the frankly deranged individual who uses it to take in an entire pack all at once - that's right, there are 20 of those bad boys on there. Yeah, we counted. It's kind of crazy, thinking about it now.
We mean, you used to be able to light up in movie theaters, on planes, and probably in church confession booths. People under 35 don't realize how much the world used to be hazy with smoke.
For a Moment We Thought They Were Rebooting The Beverly Hillbillies
We have no idea if anyone under the age of 60 even remembers it, but The Beverly Hillbillies used to be the biggest thing on TV. The show ran for nine seasons, and was so popular that it inspired two more shows set in the same universe - Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. It was also a classic example of something professional reviewers absolutely hated, but the people at home adored.
The reason, we think, is that it rang true. If you didn't live on either coast, you probably had relatives that resembled the Clampetts. What we're trying to say is, this elderly lady really reminded us of Granny.
This Girl Did Tom Cruise Stunts 11 Years Before He Was Born
This photo conclusively proves there's really no limit to what you can achieve when you don't mind critically endangering people's lives. Okay, we're exaggerating - no one forced Marilyn Rich to perform this stunt. The 27-year-old was a circus trapeze artist whose specialty was dangling from helicopters and performing various routines. This photo is from August 1951, and shows Rich dangling over Manhattan's skyscrapers, at a height of about 600 feet.
It was for a good cause - a charity collecting clothes for Koreans caught in the war's crossfire. "New thrills for old clothes - it's a fair exchange!" the old timey newscaster lectured viewers.