22 Strong Female Characters In Literature We All Wanted To Be

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” ―Nora Ephron

We recently asked our editors “Who was the first strong female character in literature you related to?”

1. Lizzie Bennett, Pride & Prejudice

BBC Films

Penguin Books

 

I feel like there is no one who understands me like Lizzie Bennett. She is strong, smart, and knows what she wants. More importantly her existence made me, as a young girl, feel like maybe I could grow up to be the same. I also love the fact that despite Lizzie living in a world that just wasn’t fair to women (they had to marry, they couldn’t inherit, and were often regarded as silly) she never let that stop her from speaking her mind. —Ashley Perez

2. Nancy Drew, Nancy Drew Mystery Stories

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories

Carolyn Keene/ Simon & Schuster

 

My mom got me into reading the book series. She was smart, clever, and fiercely devoted to solving crimes. (LOL but also TRUE.) Plus, she was always getting into danger, or getting kidnapped, and even when she got over those ordeals, she’d go back for more detective work. NANCYDREW4LYFE. —Erin La Rosa

3. Sabriel, Sabriel

 

Sabriel because she was a badass who fought monsters and went on adventures. —Ariane Lange

4. Matilda, Matilda

TriStar Pictures

Quentin Blake/ Scholastic

 

I always loved the idea of her overcoming adversity by reading books. But more importantly, she taught herself telekinesis and messed with people in hilariously clever ways (but only if they deserved it, because the girl had a surprisingly flawless moral compass). —Julia Pugachevsky

5. Melba Beals, Warriors Don’t Cry

Getty Images

 

I’m not sure if this counts because it’s non-fiction, but in sixth grade my English teacher suggested I read Warriors Don’t Cry. It’s the memoir of Melba Patillo Beals, who was one of the Little Rock Nine. This book details what it was actually like as one of the first black kids to integrate the Arkansas school system. Melba describes having acid thrown in her face, losing friends who were scared to associate with her, and the terror of having to be escorted to school every day by guards who may or may not have wanted her to be there either. The title alone struck me, and I remember feeling so empowered and grateful for her sacrifice after reading this. —Driadonna Roland

6. Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables

 

I identified with Anne so much. She was imaginative, ambitious, competitive, smart, loved reading and writing, and totally rocked the red hair and freckles (even if she accidentally turned her hair green that one time). She was slightly ridiculous but her flaws just made me love her more. Best of all, she made the best of bad situations and was never afraid to speak her mind or stand up for herself. She also taught me the fabulousness of puffed sleeves. —Jenna Guillaume

7. Jo March, Little Women

Columbia Pictures

 

Jo from Little Women is smart, impulsive, argumentative, and willing to do anything for her family, even cut all of her hair off to raise some cash. And obvs, she’s a writer so that’s awesome. Casting Winona Ryder in the part was just the icing on the cake. —Deena Shanker

8. Elphaba, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

 

I’ve always felt a connection to Elphaba. I love that she’s strong, opinionated, and stands up for what she thinks is right. When I read the book, I loved the idea that even though someone totally different and unique could not only succeed, but would be willing to turn her back on success for something she believed in. She was always different and would always be different, but her confidence and strength were something I have always admired. —Hannah Gregg

9. Lisbeth Salander, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Music Box Films

 

Lisbeth has one of the fiercest moral codes I’ve ever seen in books or film. She lives by her own rules and sticks to what she believes in. She’s flawed but uses it to push herself to be who she wants to be. Not who others want her to be. She understands herself in a way very few do. She isn’t afraid to take charge and is the definition of “BOSS not bossy.” —Mackenzie Kruvant

10. Hellen Keller, The Story of My Life

 

I read My Story in second or third grade and I become obsessed with her. I was equal parts fascinated with her determination as a girl to learn to communicate, but also her social role as an adult — like, one of the first women pundits?? —Jina Moore

11. Sara Crewe, A Little Princess

Warner Brothers Family Entertainment

 

I loved Sara from A Little Princess. She loves storytelling, and everyone loves her for her stories, and she uses her imagination to survive when misfortune befalls her. She’s also brave, classy, kind, and generous no matter what. —Michelle Broder Van Dyke

12. Kristy Thomas, The Babysitters Club Series

Columbia Pictures

Scholastic

 

I’d specifically mention Kristy from The Baby-Sitters Club. She was smart and she was a leader. I think I admired her too because of how she dealt with her dysfunctional family. —Sandra Allen

13. Laura Ingalls, Little House on the Prairie

CBS

 

For a girl in the 19th century, she was a huge badass. Wolves and bears outside her door, riding horses bareback, never wearing shoes or a sunbonnet, and especially luring Nellie Oleson into the creek to get eaten by crabs and leeches… Plus as a kid it was a huge thing to me that she grew up to be a famous writer! —Molly Hensley-Clancy

14. Princess Cimorene, Dealing with Dragons Series

Scholastic

Scholastic

 

My first (and probably still my favorite) fictional lady hero was Princess Cimorene from Dealing with Dragons, which, for those of you who never had the privilege of reading it, is the first in a magical and funny and rad four-book fantasy series by Patricia C. Wrede. Cimorene is a total BAMF who a) runs away from her parents when they try to make her marry a dopey prince, b) gets a job and moves into a cave with a delightfully sassy talking dragon, c) refuses to be rescued, d) makes friends with a cool witch, and e) ends up saving the day, which I won’t go into because you should find out the details for yourself. Basically, Cimorene is hella smart and hot and capable and what’s great is that she KNOWS it; she’s not some fainting ingenue who has to be convinced of her own virtue. She’s ready to take charge from page one. —Rachel Sanders

15. Karen Blixen, Out of Africa

Universal Studios

Modern Library

 

She is not really fictional but Karen Blixen from Out of Africa, the book and the movie. Although the movie has many flaws, I just love Karen’s personality. She is a badass who doesn’t take any shit from anyone. She is extremely independent and sexually confident, especially for her time. And I just love the scene where she arrives to her husband’s military camp, all disheveled after several days in the desert, and completely ignores all the scandalized looks from the men around her. —Marie Telling

16. Meg Murry, A Wrinkle in Time

Dimension Television

 

Yes, my 11-year-old self initially loved her because we shared a name, but she was so damn relatable for a similarly awkward preteen. She was stubborn and self-conscious, but so determined, smart, and caring. Plus, she got to do all sorts of time traveling and becomes a badass mathematician. —Megan Paolone

17. Madeline, Madeline

Disney Channel

 

Before I learned to read, I memorized a number of Madeline books and insisted on reciting them nightly. All the other girls (my 3-year-old self included) want to be just like Madeline, and for all the right reasons: She’s brave, outgoing, funny, and an excellent problem solver. In so many books and TV shows I consumed later, the “it” girl assumed her position because she was manipulative, or a flirt, or a suck-up, but everyone looked up to Madeline because she was actually cool. —Hillary Reinsberg

18. Lucy Pevensie, The Chronicles of Narnia Series

 

I was obsessed with Narnia when I was small so Lucy Pevensie was an early and inspirational example of a woman (well a girl) bravely going where men feared to tread. Her brother Edmund refused to believe she she had discovered a magical land via a wardrobe, and looked rather silly when she was later crowned Queen of Narnia. I’ve been a bold traveller ever since. —Simon Crerar

19. Ramona Quimby, Ramona Quimby Series

Scholastic

Scholastic

 

Overall as a female character, she wasn’t focused on being pretty and she wasn’t afraid to play with the boys and get messy. There is a kind of physical joy in how she’s portrayed, inhabiting her own body and embracing that messiness rather than staying neatly within the lines. She just can’t help herself when something looks like fun and I love that! She’s always portrayed in contrast to her sister Beezus who’s proper and usually cares what other people think — and some of the other girls in Ramona’s class are also more proper. Even when I was little, I felt/made those comparisons with my peers too since I was a tomboy. Basically, these books are saying there are different ways you can be a girl and you don’t have to be a perfect little doll to be loved. —Susie Armitage

20. Hemione Granger, Harry Potter Series

Warner Brothers

Scholastic

 

I loved Hermione Granger from the moment she introduced herself on the Hogwarts Express. Here was a girl my same age who wasn’t afraid to openly declare her love for studying and reading, a badass who found a group of true friends who accepted her as she was. Hermione helped me embrace my inner nerd, and I never again felt too embarrassed to put my hand up in class to answer a question. I’m now 25 and I still consider her to be one of my role models. —Ellie Hall

21. Egwene al’Vere, The Wheel of Time Series

 

She’s this random girl from a backwater town who’s thrust into an exciting world. Her entire life had been planned out — what her job would be, who she’d marry, etc. But then this huge wide world opens up to her and all of a sudden there are so many possibilities! She realizes that she can be her own (amazing, stunning) person, that she can have her own life that’s not dictated by anyone else, and that she can choose her own direction. When I first stared reading the WoT series in 1990 I was 9 years old, and the series just ended in 2012. Her character development was stunning. —Cates Holderness

22. Charlotte, Charlotte’s Web

Paramount Pictures

 

She teaches that strength, compassion, bravery, love, and courage are the basis of true strength. I don’t recall thinking much of them being women as a kid, but as I got older, I did notice that there were few strong lead female characters in a lot of literature. —John Stanton

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