There were a lot of women considered eccentric in their time because they wanted crazy things like the ability to vote or work or love another lady.
This list is not about those women, because history is littered with examples of eccentric women who were really were just plain weird. They were usually rich: wealthy people get to be eccentric, while weird poor people tended to end up in asylums.
Here are nine eccentric women who made being strange a lifestyle.
Hetty Green loved money in the same way most people love breathing. Born in into a wealthy family in 1834, her idea of fun as a child was reading financial reports and doing accounting for the family business.
When her father decided it was time to marry his weird daughter off, he bought Green a bunch of expensive dresses, so she’d look pretty for rich suitors. Instead, she sold the clothes and bought government bonds with the proceeds.
Green was afraid men only wanted her for her money (to be fair, they did). She was 33 when she finally married and took the then-almost unheard-of step of drawing up a prenuptial agreement to protect her wealth. When her husband tried to spend her dough anyway, she threw him out of the house.
Despite being so rich at this point she was compared to people like John D. Rockefeller, Green was pathologically stingy. She lived in cheap, unheated, rented rooms and her children wore second-hand clothes.
Her son’s leg had to be amputated because she refused to pay for medical treatment after he injured it in an accident. But she was equal-opportunity terrible when it came to health care. Green lived with her own painful hernia for years because she thought doctors were just trying to rip her off when they told her to do something about it.
When her husband died, Green wore black for the rest of her life. She’d walk around NYC in a tattered dark dress (and dirty underwear), earning her the fabulous nickname “The Witch of Wall Street.”
The Witch swore she wasn’t as stingy as everyone said, but that’s debatable. When her aunt died, leaving a fortune to charity, Green challenged the will, forging documents to try to make it looked like she deserved the millions instead.
Lady Hester Stanhope had good reason for wanting to leave England in 1810. Two fiancés ditched her, then when she finally found one who didn’t dump her he was killed in battle, plus her brother and favorite uncle died, all in just a few years. So, she got the heck out of Dodge.
Stanhope set off for Constantinople with a convoluted plan that she would take down Napoleon (who was not in, or anywhere near, that city). When that understandably went nowhere, she stayed in the Middle East and traveled extensively, always wearing Turkish-style men’s clothing, meaning she was constantly mistaken for a young boy.
Once she finished with traveling and settled down in Lebanon, in a house full of secret passages and chambers, things got really weird. Stanhope claimed she’d been crowned “Queen of the Desert” in an elaborate ceremony (she hadn’t) and made her servants treat her like royalty. She believed the fabled redeemer of Islam was about to appear, and thought she was obviously the logical choice to be his bride.
Stanhope took up alchemy and astrology, dumping weird potions on unsuspecting guests while she talked manically. She kept one of her horses in a stable that was lit up 24-hours a day and fed the mare ice cream and other human treats.
At one point, Stanhope managed to start a war between two local tribes and at least 300 people were killed. Then she believed she’d found a treasure map, and set out to dig it up, but the expedition was a “complete fiasco.”
Stanhope also stopped paying for stuff. When debt collectors finally came for their money, she just walled up the entrance to her house so they couldn’t get in. Of course, that meant she couldn’t get out, either. She stayed in her home until she kicked the bucket in 1839.
Mrs. Giacometti Prodgers found her one true love during her divorce in 1871. It wasn’t a new man: it was taking people to court.
Over the course of her life, Prodgers was involved in over 50 lawsuits. Despite being extremely wealthy, a lot of them were over refusing to pay people. Her ex-husband and a secretary both dragged Prodgers through the legal system for not paying them what she owed (the ex had to do so repeatedly).
But going to court over money was way too pedestrian for Prodgers; she could get way more creative than that. She sued someone who accidentally ripped her dress, a watchmaker for mistakenly returning the wrong watch to her house, and a cook she’d fired for singing too much.
Even when Prodgers wasn’t suing people, she was rude to almost everyone she met, except, for some reason, the famous explorer Sir Richard Burton.
It was her pathological hatred of cab drivers that made her infamous, though. Prodgers memorized the fares for exact distances and would take a cab (the horse-drawn kind) right up to the edge of where the price increased. If the cabbie tried to charge her the higher amount, she would refuse to pay, picking a fight until the cabbie was screaming and cursing. Then she would sue him for both being overcharged and the verbal abuse.
Soon, cab drivers fled at the sight of “Mother Prodgers.” One of them was arrested for burning her in effigy. During one lawsuit, a judge pointed out that with her wealth, it would be cheaper to buy her own horse and carriage than to keep taking cabbies to court.
An entire occupation rejoiced when her obituary bluntly declared, “Mrs. Giacometti Prodgers, the terror of London cabmen, is dead.”
Gwyneth Paltrow has nothing on Helena, Comtesse de Noailles when it comes to alternative medicine. Born in 1826, Helena spent her life experimenting with increasingly bizarre health fads.
The comtesse was the basically the original antivaxxer, against vaccination when vaccinations were barely a thing yet. She also believed in walking barefoot everywhere, something some people embrace today. But not all her ideas caught on.
Helena slept with dead squirrels tied around her neck if she was at home; if she was staying a hotel, she made the staff tie a string of onions outside her door so she wouldn’t get sick (vaccines would help with that, too.) When she caught bronchitis, she “cured” herself with a diet of caviar.
For reasons that remain unclear, the comtesse believe breathing methane gas was good for her. She kept a herd of cows under her bedroom window, so she could inhale their health-giving farts and burps.
It wasn’t enough to inflict these bizarre treatments on herself. Helena had no biological children, so she adopted (some say bought) a young Spanish girl named Maria.
The poor child was sent to a convent school, where her mother ordered Maria to wear a Grecian tunic and sandals, instead of the uniform the rest of the students wore. Maria could only drink milk from cows selected by the comtesse and learned grammar through a system she’d invented.
Helena did live to be 82 though, so maybe she was onto something with those dead squirrels and cow farts.
Marchesa Luisa Casati was the archetypal eccentric aristocrat. From a young age, she had a “horror of the mundane.” Or you could see it as a desperate cry for attention.
Saying she wanted to be “a living work of art,” Casati spent huge amounts of money on clothes. And not normal clothes: her regular outfits included a suit of armor pierced with hundreds of electric arrows and a headpiece made of peacock feathers covered in chicken blood. If someone noticed her necklace moving, that was probably because it was really a live snake wrapped around her neck.
Sometimes the decision of what to wear must have overwhelmed her, so Casati just went naked. The residents of Venice were used to seeing her strutting around in nothing but a fur coat—while taking her two cheetahs for a stroll.
Clothes and exotic animals were just two of the many things Casati threw money at. By the time the Greta Depression rolled around, she was $25 million in the hole, having spent her entire fortune on “palaces, parties, antiques, cars, clothes, jewels, travel, and art.”
Casati ended up losing everything and spending her last days in a cheap apartment in London. She’d gotten into spiritualism and visited mediums in her youth, so she spent her old age casting spells on the people she thought had wronged her.
The famous campaigner against alcohol, tobacco, and Freemasonry, Carrie Nation was born in 1846 into an equally eccentric, or rather completely crazy family. Nation’s mother thought she was Queen Victoria and would wave to slaves on their plantation from a gilded carriage.
Nation’s first husband was a drunk, chain-smoking Freemason, and she hated him so much that when he died, she tried to stamp out everything he loved. This included sex: whatever they’d done in the bedroom, it made Nation so angry started stalking young couples and attacking them with her umbrella, seemingly to scare the libido out of them.
She firmly believed in ghosts and her powers as a clairvoyant, claiming she had her first vision age 8. Nation tried to heal sickness using hocus pocus, used charms to protect buildings from fire, and claimed she used her powers to end droughts. In her autobiography, Nation wrote she regularly conversed with Jesus and called him her “big brother.”
When she was 53, famous wine-drinker Jesus told her to do something about all the boozing in America. The 6-foot-tall teetotaler grabbed a sledgehammer, went into a drugstore, and smashed its whiskey barrels to bits. More destruction would follow, with Nation moving from town to town, smashing up saloons with bricks, hammers, rocks, billiard balls, and her cane, which was specially designed for easy destruction.
But when Nation started destroying bars with a hatchet, she became famous. She even had her own catchphrase, “Smash! Smash! For Jesus’ sake, smash!” She sold mini-hatchets as souvenirs, and the proceeds helped pay the legal bills from more than 30 arrests.
Soon Nation was a media sensation. People wrote songs about her. She starred as herself in a play (complete with hatchet) and went into vaudeville. Crowds flocked to her speaking tours.
Her downfall came when she traveled to England and tried to destroy pubs. Unlike Americans, Brits were never going to give up their booze.
Anne Lister is known as the “first modern lesbian.” Obviously, there’s nothing weird about being a lesbian now, but in early 1800s England it was not talked about. Being gay was totally illegal.
Lister wasn’t down with laying low, though. An “unmanageable tomboy” as a child, at school the teachers separated her from the other girls so she wouldn’t corrupt them with her unfeminine cooties. She started hooking up with other women as a teenager and boasted she’d “never been refused by anyone.”
The landowner and businesswoman always wore black, even in the summer, with boots and a hat. She thought it was a compliment that people said she looked like a man. She got the nickname “Gentleman Jack” and received hate mail from anonymous trolls.
“Jack” kept an exhaustive diary, where she recorded everything about her day in minute, boring detail. This included lots of stuff about her sex life, although those bits were written in code. She was “promiscuous and arguably predatory,” going through ladies like tissues. When she got tired of someone, she threw them away without another thought. These days she’d probably ghost you on Tinder.
Lister did fall deeply in love with Mariana Belcombe and was pissed off when Belcombe got married to a man. Lister was at the wedding and even went on the honeymoon with the happy couple. In her diary, Lister called the marriage “legal prostitution.”
Lister had her own money, but she was a complete gold digger. She wanted a rich wife and found one in heiress Ann Walker. Lister informed her family she was going to live openly with a woman, but they were all the opposite of shocked by that point.
The women moved in together, changed their wills, and even had a church ceremony where they exchanged rings. Everyone in Yorkshire freaked out, but the word “lesbian” didn’t exist yet, so they couldn’t accurately describe what they were so disgusted by.
Lister died from an insect bite while traveling with Walker. When her diaries were decoded by a distant male relative in the 1890s, he was so shocked by all the talk of lesbians that he hid the journals for decades.
The weirdest thing about how strange writer Edith Sitwell was is that she was desperately trying to rebel against her equally bizarre mother and father. Her review, which would have gotten one star on Amazon, was succinct and bitchy: “They weren’t parents I would recommend to anybody.”
Sir George Sitwell wrote a bunch of strange books, including a history of the fork. He hung a sign on their estate that said, “I must ask anyone entering the house never to contradict me in any way, as it interferes with the functioning of the gastric juices and prevents my sleeping at night.” Sir George, in a nutshell, “did not like real life … so he avoided it.” Rich people can do that.
Lady Ida made her daughter wear a brace on her nose to fix her features and ended up in prison for fraud. The couple could only have relations after Sir George read a book to get him going, and then he would announce, “Ida, I am ready.” They were very upset when after all that effort their first child was a girl.
Edith was a brat as a kid, once announcing she was going to grow up and be a genius. She left home as soon as she could.
When the poetry she wrote started becoming successful, Edith’s father said she had made “a great mistake by not going in for lawn tennis.” Erstwhile sporting career aside, Edith is credited with the first rap performance, when she recited a bizarre, almost gibberish poem onstage to music. It was so strange, audience members complained they’d been punked.
Besides her strange poems, Edith was known for being “fabulously rude,” plus always wearing flowing robes, a turban, and tons of jewelry, to the point she would make “Lady Gaga look tame.”
Edith never got married, probably because she fell madly in love with a Russian painter who was openly gay. Whoops.
The famous traveler and author Alexandra David-Neel wrote that her wanderlust started in 1873, when she was 5. It probably didn’t help that her parents were upset she was a girl and paid virtually no attention to her. At 16, at a time when women traveling alone was scandalous, she ran away for the first time to do some exploring.
After a few years, her father got tired of all his kid’s disappearing acts and sent her to train as an opera singer. David-Neel was actually really good and managed to combine singing and traveling by touring with an opera company.
In between all this, she started studying the occult. That lead to an interest in Buddhism, which doesn’t seem odd now, but at the time she converted, David-Neel said she was “the only Buddhist in Paris.”
Despite the fact David-Neel was probably “repulsed by sex,” she finally got married at 36. She then proceeded to avoid her husband Philippe for the next 40 years.
They spent the beginning of their marriage apart while she worked on her writing career. He didn’t understand her desire to travel, and in 1910 told her to take a trip to “get it out of her system.” David-Neel took him up on it, not bothering to come back to Europe until 1924.
David-Neel had a fabulous time in the Far East, doing cool stuff like meeting the 13th Dalai Lama, but also living in a cave for a year eating one meal a day. She disguised herself and snuck into Tibet illegally, becoming the first Western woman to see Lhasa. The journey took two months, in the winter, mostly at night. She was attacked by robbers, had to boil her boots for food Charlie Chaplin-style, and almost died numerous times.
When David-Neel finally came back to Europe, she brought an adopted son with her, and her husband was extremely confused. Living together wasn’t working out, so she ditched him again, moving into her own house with her adult kid. She wrote books about her exploits and became super famous.
At the age of 100, she asked for a new passport so she could go back to Tibet. But dying finally put an end to her wanderings.