Anne Frank is perhaps one of the youngest and most tragic modern-day heroes. Frank was a 13-year-old Austrian Jewish girl whose family went into hiding in the Netherlands during the Holocaust. She kept a diary while in hiding, describing mundane details of her life as well as news about the world outside. The Frank family spent two years in hiding, but were discovered by German soldiers in August 1944. Frank, her sister and her mother all died in Nazi concentration camps the next year. Anne Frank left the world with one of the best records of everyday life during the Holocaust—and a courage that won’t be forgotten.
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc was another very young woman who is considered a martyr for her cause. She was a French peasant girl born to a farmer in 1412 during wartime. The Hundred Years War was a period of ongoing battles between England and France for the French throne. Joan of Arc was an extremely pious young woman, and believed she was guided by voices of French saints. At age 16, Joan felt divine guidance commanding her to join the fight against the British. Though army commanders at first dismissed her, she proved herself in battle and earned respect. Her key role in lifting the siege of Orleans established her as a French hero. In 1941, she was captured by the British, and burned at the stake. Nearly 500 years later, Joan of Arc was canonized in 1920. She is one of the patron saints of France.
Cleopatra is one of the most captivating and mysterious figures in history. She was born to ancient Egypt’s ruling family around 69 B.C. When her father died, the teenage Cleopatra ruled Egypt alongside her brothers. Cleopatra’s family was originally Macedonian, and she was the only ruler of their line who learned to speak the Egyptian language. Conflicts with her brother, as well as with outside forces, led Cleopatra to flee Egypt around 48 B.C. She had relationships with both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, two of the most important men of the Roman Empire. When the Roman emperor Octavian invaded Egypt, Cleopatra met his forces with a fleet of her own. Rome prevailed, and Cleopatra died in 30 B.C. Legend has it she took her life by inducing an Egyptian cobra to bite her, but historians believe she may have been poisoned.
Queen Elizabeth I
Of all the famous female rulers, Queen Elizabeth may have had the most difficult childhood. When she was still a toddler, her father, Henry VIII, had her mother, Anne Boleyn, executed. She received an education unusual for a female of the time, and was known to be a clever child. After successfully surviving political machinations and rivals for the crown, Elizabeth became Queen of England at age 25. She reigned until her death in 1603, and the period of her rule is known as the Elizabethan Age. During this time, England asserted itself as a powerful force in Europe, distinguishing itself in military might, commerce and the arts. Known as the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth never married. The details of her life have fascinated us for hundreds of years.
Pocahontas was a young girl when European colonists settled in the Chesapeake Bay area, where her father was a Powhatan chief. She befriended the colonists, and later saved their leader, John Smith, from execution by some of her fellow natives. Though relations between the Powhatan and the English deteriorated, Pocahontas married a settler named John Rolfe, and the two went to England to spread news about the colony. Pocahontas died of an illness just a few years later, but she left a legacy as an important liaison between natives and settlers.