From the spirits of famous female historical figures, to the girlish ghouls of urban legend, female ghosts are some of the scariest spirits out there. In fact, stories about female ghosts can be found across the globe, and many of these international tales of terror have chilling similarities. For instance, why do so many places have stories about women in white, or vanishing hitchhikers? These connections make us wonder what universal trauma or shared truth has made these stories take root in our collective consciousness.
Regardless, we know one thing for sure: these female phantoms are capable of chilling us to the bone. Step aside, ghost bros: these lady wraiths are redefining the scare game.
1. The Vanishing Hitchhiker
Chances are you’ve heard this story before and perhaps thought of it uneasily while driving alone late at night. You may have even had an encounter with the vanishing hitchhiker herself. Although the story varies slightly based on the teller, it generally goes something like this: a man is driving alone late at night during a storm, when he sees a young, beautiful woman on the side of the road.
Concerned for her safety, he gives her a ride and might even offer her his jacket to keep her warm. He drives her to her home, but once they arrive, she disappears. Confused, he rings the doorbell, and is told by whoever answers that yes, a young girl lived there once—but she died years ago in a car accident, on a stormy night much like this one.
The Kuchisake-onna, also known as the Slit-Mouthed Woman, is a Japanese ghost who terrorizes children. She is said to wear a face mask, which she removes when she approaches her victim, revealing a smile that has been grotesquely slit. She then asks the child, “Do you think I’m beautiful?” If they answer no, she kills them; if they answer yes, she gives them a mouth just like hers. The best answer to give the Slit-Mouthed woman, should you be unfortunate enough to cross her path? Just run for your life.
3. Anne Boleyn
The ghost of King Henry VIII’s second wife is said to haunt the Tower of London and surrounding buildings to this day. Given how grievously Anne was mistreated by her husband, it’s not surprising her spirit hasn’t been able to rest: the king divorced and beheaded Anne when she didn’t produce a male heir to the throne.
Henry’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, is also said to haunt the Hampton Court, where she was arrested before being beheaded.
4. The Crying Woman, or "La Llorona"
In Latin American folklore, La Llorona is a weeping entity often found in or around bodies of water. Legend says that she drowned her children to punish her husband for infidelity, and that she killed herself afterwards out of remorse. To this day, she is believed to walk waterways searching for her lost babies. Some variations of the tale believe La Llorona takes living children that she finds on her wanderings, while other iterations claim that those who hear her ghostly wails will soon die. There are some commonalities between the legend of La Llorona and female spirits from other cultures, like the banshees in Gaelic legend or the baby-gobbling demigoddess Lamia from Greek mythology.
5. The Ironed Lady, or La Planchada
The famous Mexican ghost “La Planchada,” or The Ironed Lady, is the spirit of a nurse who many claim to have seen at hospitals across Mexico. There are many iterations of her origin story; some believe she was killed by a patient, and others say she killed herself after a romance with a doctor ended in tragedy. But La Planchada may not be a spirit to fear: According to legend, many of the patients that she visits find themselves mysteriously healed the next day.
6. The Bell Witch
The Bell Witch legend is based on ghostly goings-on that were experienced by the Bell family in their home in 1817. They believed the phenomena they experienced—flying furniture, mysterious noises, frightened animals—were caused by the ghost of a witch named Kate Batts. It was later revealed that Betsy, the Bells’ young daughter, caused much of the commotion. But the Bell Witch legend endures to this day and was even a key inspiration for the Blair Witch movie franchise.
7. The White Lady
The White Lady is an iconic female ghost who has been reported in stories across the globe. She is often described as wearing a white, blood-soaked dress and frequents rural areas where tragedy has occurred, doomed to wander forever in torment until she can receive some closure.
8. Bloody Mary
Who among us hasn’t tried to conjure Bloody Mary at a sleepover or during a spooky night at summer camp? The enduring legend of Bloody Mary has its roots in several different women: Queen Mary I; a rumored child killer; and a young girl believed to have died in a gruesome train accident. No matter who Bloody Mary is, the rules for summoning her are relatively consistent: Dim the lights, say her name three times while looking in a mirror, and then wait for the bloodletting to start.
9. Dolley Madison
First Lady Dolley Madison played an influential role in making the White House the social center of politics in early America. Legend has it that she continues to take her duties as First Lady seriously to this day—her ghosts reportedly frightened gardeners away when they were trying to make changes to a rose garden Dolley had planted.