50 Women That Changed The World
1. Sappho -570BCOne of the first published female writers. Much of her poetry has been lost but her immense reputation has remained. Plato referred to Sappho as one of the great 10 poets.
2. Cleopatra 69 -30 BCThe last Ptolemic ruler of Egypt. Cleopatra sought to defend Egypt from the expanding Roman Empire. In doing so she formed relationships with 2 of Rome’s most powerful leaders Marc Anthony and Julius Ceaser. These relationships have been depicted in Romantic terms, although in reality they may have been political alliances.
3. Mary Magdalene 4 BC - 40ADThe historical facts surrounding Mary Magdalene are shrouded in speculation. However accounts from the Gospels and other sources suggest Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’ most devoted followers. It is said she was a women of “ill repute” but according to the Gospel of Mark and Luke her pure devotion to Christ earned her complete forgiveness. Mary Magdalene stood near Jesus at his crucifixion and was the first to see his resurrection.
4. Boudicca 1st Century ADBoudicca was an inspirational leader of the Britons. She led several tribes in revolt against the Roman occupation. Initially successful her army of 100,000 sacked Colchester and then London. Her army was eventually completely destroyed in battle by the Romans.
5. Hildegard of Bingen 1098-1179Mystic, author and composer. Hildegard of Bingen lived a withdrawn life, spending most of her time behind convent walls. However her writings, poetry and music were revelatory for the time period. She was consulted by Popes, Kings and influential people of the time. Her writings and music have influenced people to this day.
6. Eleanor of Aquitaine 1122-1204The first Queen of France. Two of her sons Richard and John went on to become Kings of England. Educated, beautiful and highly articulate, Eleanor influenced the politics of western Europe through her alliances and influence over her sons.
7. Joan of Arc 1412-1431The patron saint of France, Joan of Arc received “heavenly visions” giving her the inspiration to lead the French in revolt against the occupation of the English. An unlikely heroine; at the age of just 17 the diminutive Joan successfully led the French to victory at Orleans. Her later trial and martyrdom on false premises only heightened her mystique.
Born to a privileged Hindu family Mirabai broke with the conventions of society to live the life of a mystic and devotee of Krishna. For her unconventional lifestyle her family tried to kill her, but on each occasion were unsuccessful. Her bhajans and songs helped revitalise Devotional Hinduism in India.
8. Mirabai 1498-1565
9. St Teresa of Avila 1515-1582Mystic and poet. St Teresa of Avila lived through the Spanish inquisition but avoided been placed on trial despite her mystical revelations. She helped to reform the tradition of Catholicism and steer the religion away from fanaticism.
10. Catherine de Medici 1519-1589Born in Florence, Italy Catherine was married to the King of France at the age of 14. On the death of her husband she became Queen mother to her 3 sons. She was involved in interminable political machinations seeking always to increase the power of her favoured sons. This led to the disastrous St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in which upto 50,000 Huguenot’s were killed.
11. Elizabeth I 1533-1603Queen of England during a time of great economic and social change, she saw England cemented as a Protestant country. During her reign she witnessed the defeat of the Spanish Armada leaving Britain to later become one of the world’s dominant superpowers.
12. Catherine the Great 1729-1796One of the greatest political leaders of the eighteenth century. Catherine the great was said to have played an important role in improving the lot of the Russian serfs. She placed great emphasis on the arts and helped to cement Russia as one of the dominant countries in Europe.
13. Mary Wollstonecraft 1759-1797Mary Wollstonecraft wrote the most significant book in the early feminist movement. Her tract “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” laid down a clear moral and practical basis for extending human and political rights to women. - A true pioneer in the struggle for female suffrage.
14. Jane Austen 1775-1817One of the most popular female authors Jane Austen wrote several novels, which remain highly popular today. These include “Pride and Prejudice” “Emma” and “Northanger Abbey”. Jane Austen wrote at a time when female writers were very rare. Most of her early books were written under a pseudonym. She paved the way for the next generation of female writers.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was a life long anti slavery campaigner. Her novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was a best seller and helped to popularise the anti slavery campaign. Abraham Lincoln would later remark her books were a major factor behind the American civil war.
15. Harriet Beecher Stowe 1811-1896
16. Queen Victoria 1819-1901Presiding over one of the largest empires ever seen Queen Victoria was the head of state for most of the nineteenth century. Queen Victoria became synonymous with the period symbolising propriety and middle class values. Queen Victoria sought to gain an influence in British politics whilst remaining aloof from party politics.
17. Florence Nightingale 1820-1910By serving in the Crimean war Florence Nightingale was instrumental in changing the role and perception of the nursing profession. Her dedicated service won widespread admiration and led to a significant improvement in the treatment of wounded soldiers.
18. Susan B.Anthony 1820-1906Susan Anthony campaigned against slavery and for the promotion of women’s and workers rights. She began campaigning within the temperance movement and this convinced her of the necessity for women to have the vote. She toured the US giving countless speeches on the subjects of human rights.
19. Emily Dickinson 1830 – 1886One of America’s greatest poets Emily Dickinson lived most of her life in seclusion. Her poems were published posthumously and received widespread literary praise for their bold and unconventional style. Her poetic style left a significant legacy on 20th Century poetry.
20. Emmeline Pankhurst 1858-1928A British suffragette, Emily Pankhurst dedicated her life to the promotion of women’s rights. She explored all avenues of protest including violence, public demonstrations and hunger strikes. She died in 1928, 3 weeks before a law giving all women over 21 the right to vote.
21. Marie Curie 1867-1934Marie Curie was the first women to receive the Nobel Prize and the first person to win it for 2 separate categories. Her first award was for research into radioactivity (Physics 1903). Her second Nobel prize was for Chemistry in 1911. A few years later she also helped develop the first X ray machines.
22. Emily Murphy 1868-1933Emily Murphy was the first women magistrate in the British Empire. In 1927 she joined forces with 4 other Canadian women who sought to challenge an old Canadian law that said, “women should not be counted as persons”
23. Rosa Luxemburg 1870-1919A leading Marxist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg was a friend of Lenin who fought passionately to bring Social revolution to Germany. In the lead up to the First World War she wrote fiercely against German imperialism and for international socialism. In 1919, after her attempts to herald a Communist revolution in Germany failed, she was murdered by German soldiers.
24. Helena Rubinstein 1870-1965Helena Rubinstein formed one of the world’s first cosmetic companies. Her business enterprise proved immensely successful and later in life she used her enormous wealth to support charitable enterprises in the field of education, art and health.
25. Helen Keller 1880-1968At the age of 19 months Helen became deaf and blind. Overcoming the frustration of losing both sight and hearing she campaigned tirelessly on behalf of deaf and blind people.
26. Coco Chanel 1883-1971One of the most innovative fashion designers Coco Chanel was instrumental in defining feminine style and dress during the 20th Century. Her ideas were revolutionary; in particular she often took traditionally male clothes and redesigned them for the benefit of women. Listed by TIME magazine as one of the top100 influential people of twentieth Century.
27. Eleanor Roosevelt 1884-1962Wife and political aide of American president F.D.Roosevelt. In her own right Eleanor made a significant contribution to the field of human rights, a topic she campaigned upon throughout her life. As head of UN human rights commission she helped to draft the 1948 UN declaration of human rights.
28. Amelia Earhart 1897-1937Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic in 1928, just one year after the first ever crossing made by Charles Lindeburg. It was a significant achievement in itself but also significant for being achieved in a male dominated field.
29. Katharine Hepburn 1907-2003An iconic figure of twentieth Century film Katharine Hepburn won 4 Oscars and received over 12 Oscar nominations. Her lifestyle was unconventional for the time and through her acting and life she helped redefine traditional views of women’s role in society.
30. Simone de Beauvoir 1908-1986One of the leading existentialist philosophers of the twentieth Century Simone de Beauvoir developed a close personal and intellectual relationship with Jean Paul Satre. Simone de Beauvoir radicalised philosophy. In particular her book “The Second Sex” depicted the traditions of sexism that dominated society and history. The book was received to both intense praise and criticism. It was a defining book for the feminist movement.
31. Mother Teresa 1910-1997Devoting her life to the service of the poor and dispossessed Mother Teresa became a global icon for selfless service to others. Through her missionary of Charities organisation she personally cared for 1000s of sick and dying people in Calcutta. She was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1979.
32. Dorothy Hodgkin 1910-1994Awarded the Nobel prize for chemistry Dorothy Hodgkin work on critical discoveries of the structure of both penicillin and later insulin. These discoveries led to significant improvements in health care. An outstanding chemist Dorothy also devoted a large section of her life to the peace movement and promoting nuclear disarmament.
33. Rosa Parks 1913-2005Rosa Parks refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man indirectly led to some of the most significant civil rights legislation of American history. She sought to play down her role in the civil rights struggle but for her peaceful and dignified campaigning she became one of the most well respected figures in the civil rights movements.
34. Jiang Qing 1914-1991The wife of Chaiman Mao Jiang Qing gained tremendous power during the repressions of the Cultural Revolution. Jiang claimed she was only following the orders of Chairman Mao, but in practise she abused her position to pursue political enemies and target anything “intellectual” or “artistic” After the death of Mao she was tried and convicted.
35. Billie Holiday 1915-1959Given the title “First Lady of the Blues” Billie Holliday was widely considered to be the greatest and most expressive jazz singer of all time. Her voice was moving in its emotional intensity and poignancy; an intensity probably fuelled by her tempestuous private life. Despite dying at the age of only 44 Billie Holliday helped define the jazz era and her recordings are widely sold today.
First female prime minister of India. She was in power from between 1966-77 and 1980-84. Accused of authoritarian tendencies she only narrowly avoided a military coup by agreeing to hold an election at the end of the “emergency period” of 1977. She was assassinated in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards. He murder was in response to her decision to storm the Sikh golden temple, which left many innocent Sikh pilgrims dead.
36. Indira Gandhi 1917-1984
37. Eva Peron 1919-1952Eva Peron was widely loved by the ordinary people of Argentina. She campaigned tirelessly for both the poor and for the extension of women’s rights. At the same time she was feared by some in power for her popularity. She was also criticised for her intolerance of criticism; with her husband Juan Peron they shut down many independent newspapers. She died aged only 32 in 1952.
38. Betty Frieden 1921-2006Leading feminist figure of the 1960s. Her book “The Feminine Mystique” became a best seller and received both lavish praise and intense criticism. Betty Frieden campaigned for an extension of female rights and an end to sexual discrimination.
39. Margaret Thatcher 1925 -The first female Prime minister of Great Britain, Mrs Thatcher defined a decade. In particular she is remembered for her emphasis on individual responsibility and lack of belief in society. She presided over a successful war in the Falklands, reduced the power of trades unions and her economic policies led to 2 major recessions in the UK.
40. Marilyn Monroe 1926-1962Born Norma Jean Baker, she rose from childhood poverty to become one of the most iconic film legends. Her films were moderately successful but her lasting fame came through her photogenic good looks and aura of glamour and sophistication.
41. Anne Frank 1929-1945Anne Frank’s diary is one of the most widely read books in the world. It reveals the thoughts of a young, yet surprisingly mature 13-year-old girl, confined to a secret hiding place. “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”
42. Audrey HepburnLeading female actor of the 1950s and 60s. Audrey Hepburn defined feminine glamour and dignity, and was later voted as most beautiful women of the twentieth century. After her acting career ended in the mid 1960s, she devoted the remaining period of her life to humanitarian work with UNICEF.
43. Dian Fossey 1932-1985Zoologist and conservationist Dian Fossey dedicated her life to protecting wild species. In particular she spent most of her life with the wild gorilla in central Africa helping to raise awareness over endangered species.
44. Germaine Greer 1939-Leading feminist icon of the 1960s and 1970s Germaine Greer enjoys raising contentious issues. In particular her book “The Female Eunuch” was a defining manifesto for the feminist movement, which proved influential from the 1960s onwards.
Together with Mairead Corrigan, Betty Williams campaigned passionately to bring an end to the sectarian violence of Northern Ireland. They founded the Community for Peace and were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 (post dated for 1976)
45. Betty Williams 1943
One of the greatest female athletes Billie Jean King was one of the greatest female tennis champions who battled for equal pay for women. She won 67 professional titles including 20 titles at Wimbledon.
46. Billie Jean King 1943
47. Benazir Bhutto 1953Benazir Bhutto was the first female prime minister of a Muslim country. She helped to move Pakistan from a dictatorship to democracy in 1977. She sought to implement social reforms, in particular helping women and the poor. She was forced out of office on corruption charges; charges she continues to deny.
48. Oprah Winfrey 1954Influential talk show host Oprah Winfrey was the first women to own her own talk show host. Her show is tremendously influential, usually focusing on issues facing American women.
49. Madonna 1958 –Madonna is the most successful female musician of all time. She has sold in excess of 250 million records. In addition to being a great pop musician she has rarely been out of the limelight.
50. Diana, Princess of Wales 1961-1997One of the most photographed persons ever Princess Diana combined the appeal of a Royal princess with her humanitarian charity work. Although her marriage to Prince Charles was overshadowed by affairs on both sides; her popularity remained undimmed as many were inspired by her natural sympathy with the poor and mistreated. Her death in 1997 was a major shock to the whole world and sent the world into an unprecedented collective mourning.
Many of the Women selected in this list were featured in the book “Women Who Changed the World” by Ros Horton and Sally Simmons available in the Inspired Mama Goddess Amazon Book Store!
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