100 Women in History
From Marie Curie to Pocahontas, here are some extraordinary women who helped shape our world.
We invite you to dive into the annals of the past with us to discover these women in history who inspired countless generations. From queens to philosophers to authors to leaders and activists, this list showcases women trailblazers who shattered glass ceilings, kicked butt, and took no prisoners. Each has left an indelible mark on the world and an enduring legacy that still inspires us today. Ready to find out who these OGs of girl power are? Buckle in for a rollercoaster ride through their lives, which will have you in turns cheering and sobbing, because their stories are just that extraordinary.
Also, cutting this list to only 100 names was incredibly tough, but know that they are by no means the only women who’ve contributed towards shaping the world as we know it. What are you waiting for? Let’s get started!
Inspirational Women in History
One of the first women to study mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy, Hypatia of Ancient Alexandria was also this era’s last great female scholar, and her passion for learning inspires even today. She’s been the inspiration for Charles Kingsley’s novel and Rachel Weisz even portrayed her in 2009’s Agora. A long-lasting legacy indeed!
Hypatia’s fictional portrait from Wikimedia Commons.
Simone de Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” challenged the concept of femininity; she’s credited with launching the second wave of feminism around the globe with this book. During her lifetime, she passionately contributed to gender equality, the fields of ethics, existentialism, and feminist philosophy. She continues to inspire, whether it’s in the field of feminist theory, philosophy, or beyond.
A photo of Simone de Beauvoir from Wikimedia Commons.
Sally Ride was the first American woman to travel to space, smashing the “all-male astronaut” stereotype. She also boasted an award-winning academic career, and sat on two NASA boards investigating space accidents, becoming the only person to ever do so. Later, she started “Sally Ride Science” a nonprofit dedicated to encouraging young girls to take up STEM fields.
A NASA photo of Sally Ride from Wikimedia Commons.
Becoming the first Indian-origin woman in space wasn’t easy, but Kalpana Chawla had already beaten the odds before. She’d immigrated to the U.S. for a chance at a career in space. After her first successful trip, NASA chose her for another, which ended tragically. Her legacy lives on, however, and she’s also been honored with posthumous awards.
A NASA photo of Kalpana Chawla from Wikimedia Commons.
After earning her international pilot’s license in 1923, a distinction held by only 15 other women globally, Amelia Earhart flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean, breaking records. She later set out to fly across the world, but was never seen again. Her mysterious disappearance, side by side with her legacy in aviation and breaking gender norms, lives on.
A photo of Amelia Earhart from Wikimedia Commons.
She’s officially the world’s first female fighter pilot, and flew combat missions in the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Over a remarkable career spanning three decades, Sabiha Gökçen played a huge role in shaping Turkey’s Air Force. The Sabiha Gökçen International Airport in Istanbul is named in her honor.
A photo of Sabiha Gökçen from Wikimedia Commons.
‘Evita’ as she was fondly called, was the First Lady of Argentina, and the country’s unofficial leader. She created countless social reforms for the poor, including funding schools, orphanages, hospitals, and other social programs, and supported the women’s suffrage movement. For this reason, she gained a devoted following among the working class, which has lasted until this day.
The official state portrait of Eva Perón from Wikimedia Commons.
Princess Di, as she was lovingly dubbed, captivated the world with her grace, empathy, and style. She used her celebrity status to shed light on topics like AIDS, mental health, landmines, and children’s welfare. The “People’s Princess” also made sure her sons experienced a world outside royal privilege, taking them to orphanages, shelters, and hospitals.
A photo of Princess Diana giving a speech from Wikimedia Commons.
Mother Teresa devoted herself to caring for the poor and homeless in the slums of Kolkata, India, and beyond, eventually gaining permission to start her own order — The Missionaries of Charity. Her selfless acts earned her global recognition, the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize, the Nobel Peace Prize, and many more.
A photo of Mother Teresa from Wikimedia Commons.
She’s called the founder of modern nursing and with good reason. Her work during the Crimean War saved countless lives, she established the first scientifically based nursing school, set up training for nurses and midwives in infirmaries, was the first woman to be given the Order of Merit, and has a day, International Nurses Day, commemorating her birth.
A photo of Florence Nightingale from Wikimedia Commons.
The nurse who founded the American Red Cross, Clara Barton first provided medical care and relief to soldiers during the American Civil War. Later, she set up and led the Red Cross. She tirelessly advocated for the wounded and because of her, today, the American Red Cross can provide relief efforts to anyone in need.
A photo of Clara Barton from Wikimedia Commons.
Mildred “Babe” Didrikson
Track, golf, basketball, baseball, tennis, and more — there wasn’t a sport Babe Didrikson didn’t excel at. Quitting school to join the Amateur Athletic Union hoops team, she became a three-time All-American. She represented the Employers Casualty team as the sole participant at the U.S. amateur track-and-field championships, and has been called the greatest female athlete of the 20th century.
A photo of Babe Didrikson playing golf from Wikimedia Commons.
The tennis player who broke the color barrier in international tennis and the first African-American to win a Grand Slam, Gibson also made history as the first Black person to compete on the Women’s Professional Golf Tour. She inspired countless athletes — notably Venus Williams and Billie Jean King — with her unswerving determination to win against racial and gender inequality.
A photo of Althea Gibson from Wikimedia Commons.
Junko Tabei made history as the first woman to summit Mount Everest and later become the first woman to climb the Seven Summits. She pursued her expeditions independently, refusing corporate sponsorships, and earned money via teaching, guiding, and public appearances. At the time of her death, she had climbed more than 70 mountains in the world.
A photo Junko Tabei ascending Communism Peak in 1985 from Wikimedia Commons.
One of the greatest artists of all time who is celebrated for Mexican cultural influences in her paintings, Frida Kahlo painted deeply personal experiences. Overcoming polio and a near-fatal bus accident, her physical and emotional pain, and her defiance of societal norms inspired her work. Today, her works are among the world’s most valuable artistic treasures.
A portrait of Frida Kahlo from Wikimedia Commons.
Best known for her Depression-era photography, Dorothea Lange was a highly successful portrait photographer by the time the Depression hit. Her photographs of migrant farmers during this period shed light on the hardships of this era. She continued to work as a documentary photographer, documenting the Pearl Harbour attack, creating a number of photo essays, and photographically documenting various countries.
A photo of Dorothea Lange from Wikimedia Commons.
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc believed God chose her to lead France to victory against England in their long-running war. Persuading the crown prince to let her command an army against a besieged city, she achieved victory despite no military training. Though she was later captured and killed, she was canonized, inspiring art, literature, and plays showcasing her bravery and religious convictions.
An oil painting of Joan of Arc from Wikimedia Commons.
Haviva Reik, a courageous fighter, joined the Palmach and later the paratroopers to rescue Jews in Nazi-occupied Slovakia. Denied transportation by the British because she was a woman, she then got a ride with American pilots, finding her colleagues behind enemy lines. She provided aid to starving Jews, helped them escape, and led Jewish partisans.
A photo of Haviva Reik in British uniform from Wikimedia Commons.
Susan Ahn Cuddy
She was the first Asian-American woman in the U.S. Navy, the first female gunnery officer, and she trained Navy pilots in air combat. Cuddy challenged societal norms again by marrying outside her race. She continued to speak at official events after completing her service and is honored on Susan Ahn Cuddy Day, held on March 10 each year.
A photo of the Cuddy siblings from Wikimedia Commons.
Sacagawea (also Sacajawea) is best known for her role as an interpreter during the Lewis and Clark Expedition from 1804 to 1806. Her knowledge of the terrain, interpreting skills, and calming presence — indigenous people were less hostile to the explorers since a Native American woman was around — became invaluable to the expedition’s success.
A portrait of Sacagawea from Wikimedia Commons.
In 1887, a young reporter went undercover to expose the terrible conditions at a mental health hospital, thus influencing improvements in medical institutions. Soon known as a star journalist, Nellie Bly delved into other major issues like poverty and political corruption. She even circumnavigated the globe in a record-breaking 72 days, solidifying her as a force to be reckoned with.
A photo of Nellie Bly from Wikimedia Commons.
America’s first female Fortune 500 CEO and the winner of several awards including a Pulitzer, Katharine Graham is a legend in the journalism world. Inheriting the “Washington Post” after her husband’s death, she courageously chose to publish the “Pentagon Papers,” forever solidifying her reputation as a defender of the First Amendment and crusader for press freedom and integrity.
A photo of Katharine Graham from Wikimedia Commons.
Powerful Women in History
Acting as regent for her husband’s son, Hatshepsut soon became a co-ruler (a.k.a. king) with the boy. She was one of the first women to gain such unprecedented power and her rule was marked by peace, trade-based policies, and a group of loyal officials in key positions who helped her stay in power.
A statue of Hatshepsut from Wikimedia Commons.
The first reigning queen in ancient Korea, Queen Seondeok implemented progressive policies like building an observatory and granting tax relief to the less fortunate. She united the Three Kingdoms, solidifying her legacy as a revered leader who worked for her people.
A portrait of Queen Seondeok from Love South Korea.
Cleopatra became queen at 18 and controlled Egypt for 21 years. She was a shrewd politician, a silver-tongued diplomat, and a leader who reliably sustained her country for years. The last great ruler of Ancient Egypt is a poster child for defying gender norms and leaving a legacy, judging by the movies, books, and more that are based on her.
An ancient marble bust of Cleopatra from Wikimedia Commons.
Catherine the Great
Catherine II, commonly known as “Catherine the Great”, was responsible for expanding Russia’s territory, modernizing the military, and enacting legal and educational reforms. During her 34-year reign, Russia grew into a major European power. All this, despite the fact that she had no legal rights to the Russian throne at all. In fact, she wasn’t even Russian, she was Prussian!
A portrait of Catherine the Great from Wikimedia Commons.
Lakshmi Bai, queen of the princely state of Jhansi, courageously fought against British colonial rule, refusing to give in even after facing defeat. She went into battle herself and while she lost her life in combat, she became the symbol of resistance in the Indian revolt of 1857. The Indian National Army even named its first female unit after her.
A portrait of Lakshmi Bai from Wikimedia Commons.
Jijabai Mata, the mother of the legendary Maratha warrior king Shivaji, played a significant role in shaping his character. Her unwavering support and guidance were instrumental in Shivaji’s rise as a great leader. She, herself, was an able warrior and administrator, passing these traits onto her son.
A statue of Jijabai and her son from Wikimedia Commons.
Queen Elizabeth II
Our list would be incomplete without a mention of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. The first female of the Royal Family to join the Armed Services, she served in World War II. Since becoming queen, she launched significant reforms and made an effort to modernize the monarchy in the recent past.
A photo of Queen Elizabeth in 2019 from Wikimedia Commons.
A polarizing figure in British politics, Margaret Thatcher’s form of governance reshaped Britain. The first female Prime Minister of Britain, her economic policies either saved the country from decline or destroyed livelihoods, depending on which side of the debate you fall on. But you can’t deny that she was powerful in an age that still treated women as silent decorations.
A file photo of Margaret Thatcher in Israel from Wikimedia Commons.
Influential Women in History
Uninterested in the traditional role of women, the First Lady of the Republic of China used her considerable charm, eloquence, and intelligence to garner American support for China during their war against Japan. She didn’t hold any official position, yet was known as one of the most influential women in China, challenging all social constructs for women at the time.
A photo of Soong Mei-ling from Wikimedia Commons.
Israel’s first and only female head of government, Golda Meir helped found the state of Israel, navigating the country through turbulent times, notably the Yom Kippur War in 1973. She strengthened Israel’s defense and negotiated diplomatic relations with multiple countries. Such was her influence that she remained an important political figure even after her resignation as Prime Minister.
A photo of Golda Meir from Wikimedia Commons.
Eleanor Roosevelt was a tireless champion of women’s, civil, and racial rights, using her position as wife of the U.S. president to fight for her causes. She authored columns, delivered speeches, and actively participated in women-led groups. Her efforts extended beyond her husband’s tenure; she even helped write the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
A photo of Eleanor Roosevelt from Wikimedia Commons.
Nicknamed the “Mother of Democracy,” Corazon Aquino was the 11th president of the Philippines, thus bringing back democracy to a country that had seen long years of dictatorial rule. While her popularity waned after a period in office, her election marked the re-entry of democracy in the country and symbolized the power of the people’s uprising.
A photo of Corazon Aquino in 1992 from Wikimedia Commons.
In the two decades Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister, she introduced various anti-poverty measures, nationalized banks, promoted agricultural self-sufficiency, launched a green revolution in the country, and fought a war with Pakistan that helped liberate Bangladesh. Her commitment to social justice shaped her legacy as one of the most formidable figures in Indian politics.
An official portrait of Indira Gandhi from Wikimedia Commons.
Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, championed laws promoting gender and racial equality, ending the Vietnam War, and more. In 1972, she became the first Black woman to seek a major party’s presidential nomination. After retiring from politics, she co-founded the National Political Congress of Black Women, leaving a legacy as a trailblazer and catalyst of change.
A photo of Shirley Chisholm from Wikimedia Commons.
Rajkumari Amrit Kaur
Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Princess Amrit Kaur dedicated herself to liberating India from colonialism and oppressive traditions. She fought for women’s education, suffrage, and against child marriage. As the Health Minister of the newly liberated India — and the first woman to join the Cabinet — she founded the Indian Council for Child Welfare and saved countless lives through malaria prevention campaigns.
A portrait of Amrit Kaur from Wikimedia Commons.
Patsy Mink had a lot of firsts in her political life — the first Asian-American woman to serve in Congress, the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and the first Asian-American woman to run for President. She was also one of the authors and sponsors of “Title IX,” which was renamed after her posthumously.
A photo of Patsy Mink from Wikimedia Commons.
Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s first female prime minister, made history by being the first elected woman to head a Muslim-majority country. Defying the odds, she campaigned to win just three months after giving birth. Serving two terms, she campaigned for women’s rights and economic reforms. While opinions differ on her leadership, she remains an icon of resilience in a male-dominated society.
A photo of Benazir Bhutto from Wikimedia Commons.
The first female U.N. refugee chief, Sadako Ogata was called “the diminutive giant” for her short stature and her talents as a negotiator. She navigated crises from the Gulf War to Afghanistan to Rwanda, leading the U.N.H.C.R. and expanding its mandate to include all internally displaced people. She remains the only person of Japanese descent to head the U.N.H.C.R.
A photo of Sadako Ogata from Wikimedia Commons.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
A champion for gender equality, Ginsburg spent years fighting inequality before becoming the Supreme Court Justice, where she presided over countless landmark trials, most notably the 1996’s United States v. Virginia, which overturned the Virginia Military Institute’s edict that it was an all-male institution. Her brand of feminism sparked generations of women to strive for equal rights.
A photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg from Wikimedia Commons.
The first woman Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright was a champion for human rights and democracy. Most notably, she pushed for NATO intervention in the Kosovo War. She shaped U.S. foreign policy, advocating for democracy, human rights, and international cooperation.
An Official Secretary of State portrait of Madeleine Albright from Wikimedia Commons.
Women Activists in History
Challenging traditional gender norms, Xiang Jingyu devoted herself to the Chinese Communist Party. Records suggest she was the first director of the Chinese Communist Women’s Bureau and the first female member of the C.C.P. Central Committee. She fought for women’s education, organized mass labor strikes, and influenced everyone around her to fight.
A photo of Xiang Jingyu and Cai Hesen, another early C.C.P. leader, from Wikimedia Commons.
Patria, Minerva and María Teresa Mirabal
The Mirabal sisters fought against Rafael Trujillo’s regime in the Dominican Republic, enduring constant jail time for their activism. Known as “the butterflies,” they symbolized the fight for independence. Their assassination by Trujillo sparked outrage, leading to Trujillo’s downfall. November 25 is now the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and it honors their sacrifice.
A photo of the three Mirabal sisters from Wikipedia Commons.
Bélgica Mirabal Reyes
‘Dedé’ as she was called, did not join the resistance as the other Mirabal sisters. She raised her sisters’ six children after their mother’s deaths. She also later founded the Mirabal Sisters Museum and the Mirabal Sisters Foundation, thus keeping their legacy alive.
A photo of Dedé Mirabal in 2016 from Wikimedia Commons.
An innovator in the intelligence industry, Virginia Hall evaded capture time and again through her clever disguises and resourcefulness; she also trained other resistance cells during the French Resistance. Credited with developing spy tactics that are used even today, Hall was responsible for convincing British and American militaries to use women as spies — a major win for women.
A photo of Virginia Hall from Wikimedia Commons.
Sojourner Truth was a former slave who became a prominent speaker and activist against racial and gender injustices. Her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech challenged gender norms, highlighting the struggles of Black women. She continued to fight for women’s suffrage, abolition, temperance, and civil rights well into her twilight years.
A portrait of Sojourner Truth from Wikimedia Commons.
First, she escaped. Then, she led rescue missions to free 70 other slaves. During the Civil War, she made history again, this time becoming the first woman to lead an armed raid. She was a spy, nurse, and scout, and later, founded a nursing home for African Americans in her home in New York.
A photo of Harriet Tubman from Wikimedia Commons.
A Yankton Dakota writer, educator, musician, and political activist, Zitkala-Ša dedicated her life to advocating for Native American voting rights. She wrote multiple books and they were the first to be shared among English speakers. She also contributed to the first American Indian opera and is recognized as one of the most influential indigenous activists of the 20th century.
A photo of Zitkala-Ša by Joseph Keiley from Wikimedia Commons.
The day Rosa Parks refused to relinquish her seat to white passengers, she sparked a national revolt against segregation, galvanizing the civil rights movement in America. She’s even been called the “mother” of this movement, and she continued to work toward racial equality and justice for the rest of her life.
A photo of Rosa Parks from Wikimedia Commons.
Ever wondered what our world would be like if we didn’t know who Anne Frank was? We have Miep Gies to thank for our knowledge about her. A courageous Dutch citizen who hid Frank and her family, Gies was also responsible for preserving Frank’s diary, ensuring its eventual publication.
A photo of Miep Gies from Wikimedia Commons.
The “Nightingale of India” was revered for her poetry celebrating Indian culture and the aspirations of her countrymen. A political activist who fought in the freedom fight against British colonial rule, she became the first woman president of the Indian National Congress as well as the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, using both platforms to pave the way for women’s empowerment.
A 1964 stamp of Sarojini Naidu from Wikimedia Commons.
She gave us the term “birth control,” opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S., and later, secured F.D.A. approval for the first oral contraceptive, Enovid. A nurse, sex educator, and writer, Margaret Sanger became a life-long advocate of women’s reproductive rights, even gaining international acclaim for her work.
A photo of Margaret Sanger from Wikimedia Commons.
Nawal El Saadawi
Egyptian feminist, physician, and writer Nawal El Saadawi fought against patriarchal and sexist views her entire life. Called “Egypt’s most radical woman” and “the Simone de Beauvoir of the Arab World,” El Saadawi was even jailed for her outspokenness. However, she continued to advocate for women’s rights, despite facing multiple court cases, death threats, bans, and exile.
A photo of Nawal El Saadawi in 2012 from Wikimedia Commons.
Founder of the Green Belt Movement, Wangari Maathai also won the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first black African woman to do so. She fought for the environment, even being dubbed “Woman of Trees.” Faced with stiff resistance in her own country, she persisted in challenging gender roles, dedicating her life to preserving the environment.
A photo of Wangari Maathai with Barack Obama from Wikimedia Commons.
STEM Women in History
Long before the computer was a thing, an English mathematician named Ada Lovelace had already created a computer language. She’s called the world’s first computer programmer for this reason. Her work laid the foundation for the development of modern computer programming, and she’s remained influential in this field.
A rare daguerreotype of Ada Lovelace from Wikimedia Commons.
She discovered two elements: Radium and polonium. Her groundbreaking work on radiation revolutionized this field of science, changing cancer treatments forever. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and is still the only person to win twice — both times in Chemistry.
A photo of Marie Curie and her husband Pierre in their lab from Wikimedia Commons.
Blessed with an inventive mind and acting talent, Hedy Lamarr wowed audiences both on and off the screen. She’s most remembered for the radio signaling device she co-created during World War II, which forms the base for all wireless communication today. So, we have Lamarr to thank for our Wifi, Bluetooth, and G.P.S. connections.
A photo of Hedy Lamarr from the film “Comrade X”, from Wikimedia Commons.
Popularly called “The Shark Lady,” Eugenie Clark was a marine biologist who dedicated her life to studying sharks. She was one of the only ichthyologists to study living specimens by conducting submersible dives, thus forever changing the way fish were studied. Her love for spending time underwater never abated, and she even went on one last dive at 92.
A photo of Eugenie Clark from Wikimedia Commons.
Albert Einstein thought she was a “mathematical genius,” and she was! She forever altered the field of algebra and even corrected a quirk in Einstein’s general theory of relativity. She fought to get a professorship, then fought for equal pay after becoming one. Exiled to the U.S., she kept teaching, and even today, the world learns from her theories.
A photo of Emmy Noether from Wikimedia Commons.
You might have seen her story in “Hidden Figures.” She was one of the women behind the complex calculations that helped NASA first fly to space. She helped figure out the path for the spacecraft to go around the Earth and land on the Moon. Later, her calculations helped NASA send astronauts to the Moon and back.
A photo of Katherine Johnson from Wikimedia Commons.
Computer Scientist Grace Hopper pioneered computer programming, contributing to the development of software programming languages. She also played a major role in the development of the first commercial computer, even writing the first computer manual. She went on to have a fruitful and long career in the U.S. Navy and the computer industry.
A photo of Commodore Grace Hopper from Wikimedia Commons.
Rachel Carson was an American marine biologist whose book, “Silent Spring,” launched a revolution in global environmental conservation efforts. It exposed the dangers of pesticides like DDT, leading to DDT being banned in agricultural usage, as well as the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
A photo of Rachel Carson from Wikimedia Commons.
She might not be a scientist, but she certainly contributed to the field. The first woman to volunteer to try an experimental technology to have children, Brown pioneered research into IVF technology, helping moms everywhere experience the joys of parenthood.
A photo of Lesley Brown and her “test-tube baby” from Nobel Prize.
Women Entertainers in History
Egyptian singer Umm Kulthūm (also Oum Kulthoum) dazzled Arab audiences for more than half a decade. She became one of the most renowned Arab singers and influential public figures of the 20th century, and her fame spread far and wide, from the Persian Gulf to Morocco.
A photo of Umm Kulthūm regaling audiences from Wikimedia Commons.
Achieving immense success for her comedic chops in the sitcom “I Love Lucy,” Lucille Ball founded Desilu Productions with her husband, Desi Arnaz. She became the first woman to own a major film studio solo upon their divorce. She mentored young female talent throughout her long career, paving the way for future comediennes and producers to shine.
A photo of Lucille Ball from Wikimedia Commons.
An uber-popular 20th century Latin singer, Cruz was the “Queen of Salsa.” Over a 60-year career, her music transcended borders and was responsible for spreading Latin American culture worldwide. The winner of countless music awards, she influenced everything from music to television to fashion.
A photo of Celia Cruz by Ibrahim Arce from Wikimedia Commons.
Bessie Smith was a gifted singer whose iconic ‘Down Hearted Blues’ sold nearly 800,000 copies, marking her as the “Empress of Blues.” She defied the norms as an African-American, openly bisexual artist during the Jazz Age. Her songs were as bold as she was — she sang about poverty and gender dynamics, telling working-class women to embrace their desires.
A photo of Bessie Smith from Wikimedia Commons.
Zenzile Miriam Makeba
“Mama Africa” used her music to become the voice of resistance against Apartheid in South Africa. Even as she was forced into exile, she continued to sing about the reality of her years under oppression. Her songs became the soundtrack of Africa and of the struggle against Apartheid.
A photo of Miriam Makeba by Paul Weinberg from Wikimedia Commons.
After a 70-year-long career, M.S. Subbulakshmi’s name has become the face of Carnatic music. A singer with a raw voice, she was the first musician to get India’s highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna, and was the first Indian musician to win the Ramon Magsaysay award.
A photo of M.S. Subbulakshmi from Wikimedia Commons.
Noelie “China” Machado’s Portuguese, Chinese, and Indian heritage made her think she wasn’t beautiful, as there were no models like her anywhere. This changed in 1958 when she became the first woman of color featured in a major U.S. magazine. She continued to break barriers, becoming the editor of “Harper’s Magazine” and then signing with IMG Models at 81.
A photo of China Machado from Wikimedia Commons.
One of the most popular, highest-paid classical Hollywood stars, Liz Taylor captivated audiences with her beauty and talent, and won multiple Academy Awards. She was a noted humanitarian who did a lot to raise awareness and money for HIV/AIDS research. She also co-founded multiple foundations for research and long-term care for AIDS patients.
A posed photo of Elizabeth Taylor from Wikimedia Commons.
Anna May Wong
The first Chinese-American actress in Hollywood, Anna May Wong rose to fame in silent films. Facing racism in the U.S., she found success in Europe and became an international fashion icon, starring in films and plays. She returned to the U.S., eventually working on the groundbreaking T.V. series “The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong.”
A publicity photo of Anna May Wong from Wikimedia Commons.
The American actress and style icon who enchanted the world, Grace Kelly was known for her elegance and grace. After 11 films, including stellar performances in “High Noon” and “Rear Window,” Kelly quit the industry to marry the Prince of Monaco. This transition from actress to princess only cemented her status as a symbol of timeless glamor.
Recolored image of Grace Kelly from Wikimedia Commons.
Audrey Hepburn is known for starring in classics like “Breakfast Tiffany’s” and “Roman Holiday.” The style, talent, and grace that made her a famous movie star and fashion icon also entered her into the ‘International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame.’ Hepburn also dedicated herself to humanitarian causes as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, mainly fighting for children’s rights worldwide.
A photo of Audrey Hepburn from Wikimedia Commons.
We have immense “R.E.S.P.E.C.T” for the “Queen of Soul,” who gave us hits like ‘Chain of Fools’ and ‘Rock Steady,’ and her iconic anthem, ‘Respect.’ The first woman ever to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, she’s remained an icon among the music greats even during her twilight years.
A photo of Aretha Franklin from Wikimedia Commons.
She’s the dancer and choreographer whose “Graham Technique” reinvented American dance. The first dancer to perform at the White House, Graham created 181 ballets in her 70-year career, receiving multiple honors for her role in reshaping the world of dance. Her choreography is still taught to dance students today.
A photo of Martha Graham from Wikimedia Commons.
Women Writers in History
Murasaki Shikibu, author of the world’s oldest complete novel written sometime between 1000 and 1012, was a lady-in-waiting. Her masterpiece, regarded as a cornerstone of Japanese literature, gives a rare glimpse into aristocratic society at the time. It’s a real treat indeed as so few written texts from a female perspective exist from that period.
An image of Murasaki Shikibu at her desk from Wikimedia Commons.
Sappho, born around 615 B.C., was one of the few known women poets of her time. She wrote about love, desire, and human passions. The majority of her work is lost, and only a few fragments survive, but even this has been enough to have readers and critics alike embrace her words for their personal and emotive nature.
Portrait of a young woman presumed to be Sappho from Wikimedia Commons.
The founder of the “rom-com,” Jane Austen only wrote six works during her lifetime. Her timeless works like “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” are praised for their wit, fiery female characters, and sparkling dialogue. Masterfully crafted though they were, her books only became popular posthumously, so much so that all of them have rarely been out of print since.
A sketch of Jane Austen from Wikimedia Commons.
Helen Keller was hearing and sight disabled since childhood but she didn’t let that stop her from communicating with the world. Learning sign language and Braille, she expressed a strong desire to go to college. She became the first deaf-blind person to get a Bachelor of Arts degree, and she went on to become a writer, lecturer, and activist.
A photo of Helen Keller from Wikimedia Commons.
Halide Edib Adivar
Best known for her novels and essays criticizing gender inequality in Turkey, Halide Adivar was passionate about women’s education and empowerment, and fiercely advocated for their rights in Turkey’s then-patriarchal society. She, along with her husband, played a vital role in Turkey’s War of Liberation, eventually becoming a professor of English literature, and later, a member of the Turkish Parliament.
A photo of Halide Edib Adivar from Wikimedia Commons.
Her diary, written while hiding from Nazi persecution, was full of a young girl’s hopes, dreams, and belief in the goodness of humanity. Anne Frank became a symbol of resilience against adversity and her diary-turned-book became one the most widely read accounts of the Holocaust ever.
A school photo of Anne Frank from Wikimedia Commons.
Virginia Woolf was a writer, but to label her in those terms is shortchanging her. Writing in a distinct non-linear style, she greatly influenced the entire writing genre during the 20th century. The author of works like “Mrs. Dalloway” and “Orlando,” she also gifted the world with essays on the politics of power, women’s writing, artistic theory, and more.
A photo of Virginia Woolf from Wikimedia Commons.
Louisa May Alcott
Alcott’s most famous book, “Little Women,” cemented her position as the 19th century’s most celebrated writer. The themes of love, family, and personal dreams continued in her subsequent works, and her words have continued to enchant readers. She also joined the women’s suffrage movement, wrote about women’s rights, and was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Connecticut.
A photo of Louisa May Alcott from Wikimedia Commons.
Sixty-six novels, a play with a record of the longest initial run, 14 short stories — this is the legacy the “Queen of Crime” left behind. Crafting immensely popular characters like Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, Christie filled her stories with incredible plot twists, minute attention to detail, and immense psychological depth. UNESCO says she’s also the most translated author ever.
A photo of Agatha Christie from Wikimedia Commons.
Enid Blyton was the author of countless beloved children’s books, from the “Famous Five” series to the “Secret Seven” novels. The bestselling author faced criticism for certain tropes in her books but her popularity continues unabated. As of 2019, her books are some of the most translated in the world.
A photo of Enid Blyton from Enid Blyton.
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” — a.k.a. the first nonfiction bestseller by an African American woman — is Maya Angelou’s most famous work. With over 36 books to her name, she is one of America’s most prolific poets and authors. She also wrote movies, plays, T.V. shows, and essays, won dozens of awards, and had over 50 honorary degrees.
A photo of Maya Angelou from Wikimedia Commons.
Women Fashion Designers in History
Chanel is a name synonymous with fashion, and its founder and namesake, Coco Chanel, even more so. She ushered in a fashion revolution in the post-World War I era and introduced us to classics like the women’s suit, the little black dress, costume jewelry, and of course, the uber-successful perfume of the stars, Chanel No. 5.
A photo of Coco Chanel in L.A., 1931, taken from Wikimedia Commons.
Anne Klein began shaping the way modern women wore clothes way back in the 20th century, and her enduring legacy ensures the Anne Klein brand is still going strong. Known for introducing innovative concepts such as mix-and-match separates and elevated sportswear, Klein designed clothes with a female-centric approach, evolving the wardrobe of American women forever.
A design by Anne Klein from Pinterest.
Indian Princess Indira Devi became regent in place of her young son after her husband’s death and while not particularly well-suited to the task, she held this position with verve and courage. She’s remembered for her commitment to charitable causes, as well as for being a style icon, and was responsible for bringing the silk chiffon saree trend to India.
A photo of Indira Devi from Wikimedia Commons.
Considered a fashion icon in both Europe and India, Gayatri Devi is the daughter of another entry on our list, Indira Devi. Like her mother, she too favored chiffon sarees, along with pastels, pearl necklaces, and long-sleeved blouses. She wasn’t just a fashion trendsetter, but a political figure too, having been elected to the lower house of Indian Parliament.
A portrait of Gayatri Devi from Wikimedia Commons.
The young wife of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Ruttie Petit (a.k.a. Maryam Jinnah) was a style icon for Bombay’s elite. Interested in clothing since childhood, Ruttie cut a stylish figure in her diaphanous sarees and risque blouses. Considered one of the best-dressed in Bombay, it wasn’t unusual for her peers and even princesses to visit her for style tips.
A portrait of Ruttie Petit from Wikimedia Commons.
Simpson’s relationship with King Edward VIII caused a scandal, especially since he abdicated the throne to marry her. That wasn’t the only wave she created — her individual style, elegant clothing, and outstanding jewelry made her a style icon, even as she ushered in a new era in the British monarchy.
A photo of Wallis Simpson from Wikimedia Commons.
We have Claire McCardell to thank for the leisure clothes, casual sportswear, and shirtwaist dresses that we love today. She also popularized the wrap dress and the ballet flat, creating a style of fashion for the active American woman. Credited as the pioneer of sportswear in America, she helped design the “American look.”
A photo of Claire McCardell from Wikimedia Commons.
Women Educators in History
This acclaimed educator established the first of her Montessori schools in 1907. She was a trailblazer well before this, enrolling in an all-male technical school, then becoming the first woman to study medicine at the Faculty of Medicine. Her educational reform paved the way for Montessori schools globally and her theory continues to shape educational practices today.
A portrait of Maria Montessori from Wikimedia Commons.
The first female teacher in India also set up the first girls’ school in the country. Then, in her role as a devoted social reformer, she established a shelter for women and fought for equality for all classes. She’s often referred to as the mother of India’s feminist movement, and her role proved vital to improving women’s rights.
A statue of Savitribai Phule from Wikimedia Commons.
She founded the world’s first private school for kids with learning disabilities and created programs to help them learn better. As if dedicating her life to helping students with special needs to receive an education wasn’t enough, she fiercely advocated for their rights, laying the foundation for their education. To this day, she’s credited as the pioneer of special education.
A photo of Margaret Bancroft from @Bancroft.
Dame Marie Mildred Clay
The kids who struggled with reading and writing during childhood have Marie Clay’s research to thank for their current proficiency. Known for her work on childhood literacy, she created an intervention program that was first launched in New Zealand, then worldwide, to help children struggling with literacy.
A photo of Marie Clay from Wikipedia.