We’re celebrating Women’s History Month by rounding up 12 famous cat ladies, from empresses and suffragists to authors and abolitionists. Of course, these famous women in history are remembered for much greater reasons than their love of cats—but in our book, that fact makes them all the more notable!
12 Famous Women in History Who Loved Cats
The Brontë Sisters, Victorian Novelists & Poets
Emily Brontë, champion of cats, wrote a French essay called Le Chat (“The Cat”) in which she defends cats against those who despise them. Discerning fans of Victorian literature will also remember that cats are referenced multiple times in Emily’s novel Wuthering Heights. But she wasn’t the only Brontë sister who adored felines: Both Charlotte and Anne wrote about cats in their personal diaries, and you’ll find a cat featured in Anne’s novel Agnes Grey.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, American Abolitionist & Author
Abolitionist and famous author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe owned a grey-blue cat called Calvin (after her husband). Calvin the cat showed up mysteriously one day, and promptly attached himself to Stowe. She reportedly allowed the cat to perch on her shoulder as she wrote. Whether or not Calvin was Stowe’s muse, we’re glad she had the furry companion!
Florence Nightingale, Founder of Modern Nursing
British nurse and social reformer Florence Nightingale once reportedly said that “cats possess more sympathy and feeling than human beings.” According to Mental Floss, she owned over 60 cats throughout her lifetime, or as many as 17 at once! In fact, some of her historical letters display inky paw prints left by her cats. She was certainly ahead of her time with spoiling her kitties: She gave her cats specially prepared food on china plates in her room.
Clara Barton, Founder of the American Red Cross
Clara Barton was not only a pioneering nurse in the Civil War, she actually founded the American Red Cross. Known as the “Angel of the Battlefield,” Barton was sent a kitten by U.S. Senator (and eventual Vice President) Schuyler Colfax. According to NPS.gov, her beloved pet of 17 years was a black and white cat named Tommy—and a portrait of the feline still hangs in the Barton house in Glen Echo, Maryland.
Louisa May Alcott, American Novelist
We see American author Louisa May Alcott’s love of cats through her most famous novel Little Women, the coming-of-age story loosely based on her life and the lives of her three sisters. The novel features a cat and kittens, and even includes a poem called “A Lament (For S.B. Pat Paw)” eulogizing a beloved pet cat: “We mourn the loss of our little pet, / And sigh o’er her hapless fate, / For never more by the fire she’ll sit, / Nor play by the old green gate.”
Alice Burke & Nell Richardson, American Suffragists
During the women’s suffrage movement, cats were sometimes used symbolically in anti-suffrage ads. (Cats were thought to represent women as simple, delicate, and passive. Puh-lease!) So in 1916, suffragists Alice Burke and Nell Richardson began a cross-country road trip to talk about the importance of women’s rights. Along the way, they adopted a little black kitten they named Saxon as their unofficial mascot!
Vivien Leigh, British Actress
Of all the famous women in history on our list, Vivien Leigh, Academy Award-winning actress best known for her role as Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, may be the most noted cat lover—particularly of Siamese cats. Her first Siamese cat was called New Boy, a gift from her then-husband actor Laurence Olivier. Leigh’s Siamese cats shared her life in the limelight, appearing in photographs with her and accompanying her on travels. Her favorite Siamese, Poo Jones, even had his own luggage.
Julia Child, American Cooking Pioneer
Beloved culinary icon and PBS chef Julia Child brought French cooking into American homes. She also loved cats! She befriended felines wherever she went, helped rehome strays, and attended cat shows regularly. Reportedly, a kitten named Minou was sleeping on her pillow to keep her company when she passed away in her California retirement home at age 92.
Catherine the Great, Empress of All Russia
The Winter Palace in St. Petersburg has employed cats as pest control since 1745. But it was Catherine II the Great (r. 1762-1796) who elevated felines to their rightfully royal status in Russia. Her personal favorite was the Russian Blue cat, a breed she gave to ambassadors as gifts for other sovereigns (reportedly including the British Royal Family). The Russian Blues had the run of the upper palace, while the cats on pest duty below were promoted to guard status, complete with salaries and additional food rations!
We hope you’ve learned a few surprising facts about these famous women in history! Of course, during Women’s History Month (and every other month!) we appreciate all women who’ve contributed to shaping a better world for women today.