Joan of Arc was a French peasant girl who heard the voice of God instructing her to expel the hated English from France. According to her own words (which nobody ever bothers to consult), she actually never killedanybody, though she did courageously lead armies into battle. Eventually she was betrayed and burned at the stake, but her legend lives on.
Artemisia of Caria was one of Xerxes' allies and chief commanders during the second Persian invasion of Greece. Herodotus speaks highly of her intelligence and decisiveness; if Xerxes had listened to her advice to avoid fighting at Salamis, he might have won the war. She fought at the Battle of Salamis herself, commanding five Persian ships against the Greeks; when her ship was nearly captured by the Greek navy, she turned and rammed one of her own fleet's ships, convincing them she was on their side so she could escape. Nevertheless, she was praised by Xerxes for her ruthless ingenuity.
The poetic quote from Xerxes: "My men have become women and my women have become men."
Two Soviet female fighter aces of World War 2: Lydia Litvyak and Katya Budanova. The whole of the 586th Fighter Regiment who were all female pilots.
The top-scoring female fighter pilot of the war was Olga Yamshchikova (17 kills), a former flight instructor.
Then there was the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, who made use of obsolete and generally pacific but nimble wooden biplanes Po-2 to fly under the veil of night and drop bombs. And since the carrying capacity of the planes was rather poor girls would leave the parachutes to take some more bombs aboard. Germans called them "night witches".
Not having parachutes wasn't really an issue. They were generally operating at too low an altitude to be able to use parachutes effectively. They also were almost immune to most types of air defense due to their low speed, almost entirely wooden aircraft, and tactics like shutting down their engines and gliding in on nearly silent attack runs.
Many Yamato Nadeshiko of samurai extraction were expected to at least know the basics of self defense in case their households were under attack when the samurai and guards were out in the war. The naginata was considered especially well-suited for women: its length allowed the Yamato Nadeshiko to keep attackers at bay easily then stab/slash them with the pointy tip.
As a bonus, whenever a girl of a samurai family left her home to work in the city, she was given a tantodagger before her departure. She was expected to use it to commit seppuku (or better said, jigai) if her honor demanded it, or self-defense.
Yim Wing Chun. You know someone's an Action Girl when she has a martial arts style named after her.
Flora Jessop was born and raised in the polygamist FLDS cult. When faced with an arranged marriage and after years of horrific abuse, she escaped from the cult and is now an advocate for women and children trying to escape as well. She is Bad Ass. She's a good marksman and always carries a gun (or two) to fend off the many cultist enemies she has made and to protect the innocent women and children she saves from the desert compounds. She risks her life on a regular basis to save these kids and put their abusers behind bars. Also, she has a very nice leatherjacket. And she's beautiful to boot!
Lakshimibai, Rani of Jhansi. Queen of a small Indian principality, the British tried to disinherit her and take over, invoking the "Doctrine of Lapse" allowing them to do this in case of a female heir. She fought back, and to the death. Now often seen in statue form in cities around India.
Really, any woman in the military is an Action Girl by default. YOU probably know one or two!
Bushi Matsumura, one of the founders of modern karate, was married to a woman named Yonamine Chiru, who had set up a real-life Engagement Challenge that any man asking for her hand had to defeat her in hand-to-hand combat. Matsumura, one of the most feared fighters in Okinawan history, only just managed it. After they were married, he would sometimes send her to deal with bandits around the island.
Kenau Hasselaer, a widowed saleswoman of wood, who fiercely fought the Spaniards at the Siege of Haarlem. During the seige, she led a band of three hundred women in battle armed with burning hay and boiling water, and provided wood for Dutch ships. She wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty herself; historical accounts often speak of how "manly" she would behave in battle, wielding spears, swords and guns. She had a reputation of being fierce out of battle as well (she had a habit of suing everyone, including the very city she helped defend), and her name "Kenau" has become a slang term for either a bitchy or manly woman in Dutch.
Grace O'Malley, "The Pirate Queen of Connaught". She got her own page on Badass of the Week.
Nusaybah bint Kaab, 7th century Muslim warrior who fought beside the Prophet Muhammad at the Battle of Uhud and saved his life by acting as a human shield. And in case that wasn't badass enough, while lying at death's doorstep after the battle, she heard Muhammad call for volunteers to pursue the retreating enemy and got up to answer, whereupon she passed out from blood loss due to the approximately 12 wounds she had sustained the day before. She survived.
Though the Mongols have a history of badass lady empresses, Mandukhai Khatun is perhaps better known. Freshly widowed, she had the choice of marrying her well-beloved general or a rival Muslim warlord, and chose to rule in her own right until her adopted heir came of age. In that time, she reunited her people, reconquered chunks of their lost territory, and fought off both encroaching tribes and the Ming. She frequently went into battle with her men, most notably on one occasion while pregnant.
Archeologists have uncovered a number of Scythian/Sarmatian tombs of armed women; these have been speculated to have inspired the legend of the Amazons.
Hippocrates wrote that Sarmatian/Scythian women could not give up their virginity until they had killed at least three enemies. He's also wrote that they would burn their right breast in childhood to prevent its growth to better be able to use a bow. Pretty hardcore, if true.
Countess Markievicz was a politician, suffragette and freedom fighter. Having fought during the 1916 rising, she was captured and sentenced to death, but had it commuted due to her being a woman. Her response? "I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me".
All the women of the Special Operations Executive. They were sent into occupied France during World War II as radio operators to help the Resistance. Several of them were captured. None of them talked. Noor Inayat Khan, in particular, fought so fiercely when the Nazis caught up with her that they were afraid of her and she was classified as "highly dangerous"!
Qiu Jin, Chinese feminist and martial artist who ran a girls' athletic school secretly dedicated to anti-imperialist military training. That's right, she ran a whole school full of Action Girls!
Ms Kauser said she grabbed one of the militants by the hair and banged his head against the wall. When he fell down she hit him with an axe, before snatching his rifle. "I had never touched a rifle before this, let alone fired one. But I had seen heroes firing in films on TV and I tried the same way. Somehow I gathered courage - I fired and fought till dead tired."
Louise Michel, a prominent feminist and socialist active in the Paris Commune of 1871, a failed attempt by the city of Paris to secede and form a leftist republic after France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. During the war, she organized the women's complement to the Eighteenth Arrondissement Vigilance Committee, essentially a citizen militia. During the Commune, she fought on the barricades defending the Commune from the French army's attempts to retake Paris; she combined this with serving duty as an ambulance nurse, and those who fought with her were impressed by her energy and ferocity. She proposed assassinating the prime minister of France, but her fellow Communards considered this too rash and extreme. After the defeat of the Commune and the execution of her lover Theophile Ferre, one of its leaders, she confessed to arson and the assassination of two generals and specifically asked for the death penalty. (It's not clear whether she wanted to join her lover in death, take blame so that other people wouldn't be punished, or become a martyr for the revolution.) The court exiled her to the colony of New Caledonia instead...where she supported a rebellion against the French colonial authorities by the indigenous Kanak people.
A Hooker with a Heart of Gold named Miljuschka once whored herself into a Nazi camp during World War II, and then blew the whole thing up. Most. Badass. Prostitute. Ever.
Policewomen, by default.
Basically, all sportswomen can be considered that, especially soccer, basketball, volleyball, and American football players, particularly if they get very agressive while playing any of those games.