POPSUGAR Love & Sex

Scandalous Women in History

Mar 7 2014 - 12:30pm

This International Women's Day, it's important to pay tribute to the commendable women who've made a difference [1] for the better — but what about the bad girls in history, who are notorious for their sexy, shocking, and sinister deeds? Here are 15 scandalous women who have become legendary for everything from stripping to having lesbian affairs to naked horseback rides. Get a tawdy history lesson on these controversial female figures now!

Bettie Page

Who she is: An American pinup model from the '50s who has been called the "Queen of Pinups."

Why she's scandalous: Besides being one of the earliest Playmates of the Month for Playboy magazine (Miss January 1955), Bettie Page [2] was famous for her fetish and sadomasochistic modeling. In fact, she's considered the first famous bondage model.

Source: Wikimedia Commons [3]

Bonnie Parker

Who she is: One half of the notorious criminal couple Bonnie and Clyde, American outlaws during the Great Depression.

Why she's scandalous: While Bonnie was a part of a gang that robbed and killed their way through the United States, she may not have ever been one of the shooters. But she gained her sexy gun-slinging rep thanks to this snapshot of her holding a gun with a cigar in her mouth (something quite shocking for women at the time). Not to mention that the public was titillated by the idea that Bonnie and Clyde were young and unmarried, so they were probably having dirty, illicit sex.

Source: Wikimedia Commons [4]

Sidonie Gabrielle Colette

Who she is: Known simply by her pen name, Colette, she was a French novelist and performer in the early 20th century.

Why she's scandalous: Colette had various affairs with both men and women, including Mathilde de Morny, with whom she performed in "Rêve d'Égypte" at the Moulin Rouge. The pantomime was banned, after their onstage kiss almost caused a riot. She later had a notorious affair with her stepson Bertrand de Jouvenel, which began when he was only 16 years old and she was in her late 40s.

Source: Wikimedia Commons [5]

Cleopatra VII

Who she is: The legendary last pharaoh of ancient Egypt known for her power, seduction, and ruthlessness.

Why she's scandalous: Cleopatra knew how to use her sex appeal to get what she wanted, including having herself delivered to Caesar rolled up in a Persian carpet before becoming his mistress. She then famously became Mark Antony's lover — which ended with him taking his own life and her allegedly killing herself with a snake bite.

Source: Wikimedia Commons [6]

Wallis Simpson

Who she is: An American socialite whose third husband was Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor.

Why she's scandalous: Two-time divorcée Wallis made a controversial name for herself when she became the mistress of the future King of England. But she really shocked the world when Edward abdicated his throne to marry her. She was also suspected of being a Nazi sympathizer along with Edward.

Source: Wikimedia Commons [7]

Joanna Hiffernan

Who she is: An Irish model and muse from the 19th century who was known for getting involved with the artists she posed for.

Why she's scandalous: It was scandalous enough at the time that Joanna was an unmarried artists' model for her boyfriend, American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler [8]. But the real shocker came when she started modeling for (and having an affair with) Whistler's friend, French painter Gustave Courbet. It is also strongly believed that Hiffernan is the model for Courbet's controversial "L'Origine du monde [9]."

Source: Wikimedia Commons [10]

Marchesa Luisa Casati

Who she is: Italian heiress, muse, and patroness of the arts, Luisa Casati Stampa di Soncino, Marchesa [11] di Roma captivated Europeans for decades and has since inspired painters, authors, fashion designers and moviemakers with her eccentric lifestyle.

Why she's scandalous: She was known for strolling with leashed cheetahs in nothing but a fur coat, wearing live snakes as jewelry, and throwing outlandish parties with nude servants gilded in gold and wax mannequins seated at the dining table. She inspired Cartier’s Panther design, is the namesake behind the Marchesa fashion house, and is said to be the inspiration behind many novel and movie characters.

Source: Wikimedia Commons [12]

Lady Godiva

Who she is: An 11th century Anglo-Saxon noblewomen known for her legendary naked horseback ride.

Why she's scandalous: According to legend, Lady Godiva felt bad for the people suffering from being heavily taxed by her husband. So in order to convince her husband to give the people relief from the taxes, she stripped naked and rode a horse through the town with nothing but her long hair covering herself. The term "Peeping Tom" stems from this story, as it was said one man watched Godiva through a hole in his shutters and was struck blind.

Source: Wikimedia Commons [13]

Evelyn Nesbit

Who she is: Evelyn Nesbit was an artists' model, chorus girl, and Gibson Girl immortalized in E. L. Doctorow's historical fiction novel, Ragtime.

Why she's scandalous: Evelyn's photos are mesmerizing, but her story is much darker than her innocent images portray. First, there was her relationship with Stanford White, which began when he was 47 and she was 16. Then she married Harry Thaw, a cocaine addict and physical abuser who killed White out of jealousy. And finally, she was a major player in the two sensationalized murder trials of Thaw's "Crime of the Century."

Source: Wikimedia Commons [14]

Mary I of England

Who she is: The Queen of England and Ireland from July 1553 until her death in 1558.

Why she's scandalous: A Roman Catholic, Mary earned her nickname "Bloody Mary" for her persecution of Protestants. During her five-year reign as Queen, Mary had more than 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake.

Source: Wikimedia Commons [15]

Madame Pierre Gautreau

Who she is: Parisian socialite and artists' model, Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau was the model for John Singer Sargent's painting "Portrait of Madame X."

Why she's scandalous: Known for her avant-garde style and numerous affairs, Madame Pierre Gautreau gained notoriety from Sargent's painting, but not in the manner she had hoped. Originally, the right shoulder strap was hanging off the shoulder, and the combination of this and the "erotic" suggestion of her dress, pale skin and pose caused viewers to be shocked and Gautreau to retreat from the public's eye.

Source: Wikimedia Commons [16]

Mae West

Who she is: An American actress, playwright, and screenwriter who got her start in Vaudeville before becoming a movie star and comedian in Hollywood.

Why she's scandalous: As a writer, many of Mae West's screenplays were heavily censored, like her film Belle of the Nineties that was originally titled It Ain't No Sin. The controversial sex symbol was also known for her double entendres, like: "I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it."

Source: Wikimedia Commons [17]

Isadora Duncan

Who she is: An American dancer who brought the world modern dance.

Why she's scandalous: Isadora bucked tradition in her tragically short life, being bisexual, possibly Communist, bearing children out of wedlock, and marrying a Russian poet 18 years younger than herself.

Source: Wikimedia Commons [18]

Alma Mahler

Who she is: During the early 20th century, Alma Maria Mahler Gropius Werfel was an Austrian socialite, muse, and composer who married and had affairs with prominent men in society.

Why she's scandalous: At 17, Alma had a fling with famous painter Gustav [19] Klimt, who was 35 at the time. While she had various affairs over the years, her most notable was with painter and playwright Oskar Kokoschka. After she refused to marry him, he commissioned a life-sized sex doll in her likeness!

Source: Wikimedia Commons [20]


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