There are lots of silent films that featured female leads, sometimes as the hero, more often than not as the damsel in distress and sadly most of the movies have been lost. The only other major film would the brilliant Les Vampires which I’ve previously done.
Despite the pre-code era with several strong female lead roles, there isn’t really any action roles for women other than supporting or again the damsel in distress. Sadly we have to jump to the 1940s action serials before we see a female lead.
But before we get there first let’s take a brief look at the jungle girl genre. The jungle girl actually manages to predate Tarzan by almost 10 years. The 1904 novel Green Mansions is set in Venezuela where a young man discovers Rima, a young woman living in the jungle. She’s much more of a gentle jungle protector than say Tarzan. In 1922 The Jungle Goddess is made about a young woman who is raised by a tribe in the jungle after crashing into the jungle in a hot air balloon. The surviving footage of that film was used for the 1935 adventure serial Queen of the Jungle.
In 1931 Trader Horn was released about the exploits of real life adventurer Alfred Aloysius Horn (played by Harry Carey) Edwina Booth starred as a fictional white blond jungle queen who runs a tribe that rescued her when she was young. The film was shot in Africa and Booth got so sick that it took her six years to recover and eventual sued MGM because of it and retired from acting. These films would eventually lead to some action serials of the 1940s.