Most influential women in history
Sometimes, to be able to make your mark on the world, you don’t need to be a famous celebrity; there have been many cases through history where ordinary women have done extraordinary things. Whatever field you are in, whatever your skills or education, you can make a difference by standing for what you believe in or by following a dream. Here’s a list of twenty such influential, inspiring women. You may not recognise all the names, but, when you read about what they did, we are sure you will agree that they all deserve a place on our list of the most influential women in history.
1. Aung Sang Suu Kyi
Aung Sang Suu Kyi is a Burmese politician who has been described as the one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners. She endured 15 years of house arrest, just because she was a pro-democracy campaigner who dared to oppose the Burmese regime. It took an international campaign to get her released and her amazing courage was recognised when she was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1991.
2. Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn said: “The most important thing is to enjoy your life – to be happy – it’s all that matters.” And what a wonderful quote that is. Having become one of the world’s most famous movie stars and fashion icons, she then went on to devote the rest of her life to humanitarian causes and she put her fame to good use in her role as a UNICEF Ambassador.
3. Ann Frank
The diary that Ann Franks wrote while she was hiding from the Nazis in the Netherlands provides us with the most telling insights into what it must have been like to be a Jewish child during those terrible times. She was only 13 years old when she started her diary and she died at the age of 15 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. It’s amazing then, that a young girl living through such awful times wrote the words: “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart”, and “think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy”.
4. Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa worked selflessly and tirelessly to help people in need who the rest the world seemed to have forgotten. She never set out to become famous and, in fact for many years her work went unnoticed. Her efforts were recognised in 1979, when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is now expected that the Roman Catholic Church will soon declare her a saint.
5. Emily Davison
Emily Davison, an English suffragette in the 1900s, fought for the right for women to vote by every possible means at her disposal. She was jailed nine times, had to be force fed 49 times, and she once hid in the English House of Commons to make her point. Her final act of defiance came in 1923, when she threw herself under one of the king’s horses at a horse race as a protest. She later died from the injuries she sustained and tens of thousands of people lined the streets of London for her funeral.
6. Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson was an American Marine biologist who is credited with starting the modern environmentalist movement. Her book, Silent Spring, which was published in 1962, eventually led the banning of DDT and other synthetic pesticides. It also created the grass roots environmentalist feelings that, eventually, led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
7. Benazir Bhutto
Benazir Bhutto was the 11th Prime Minister of Pakistan and, not only was she the first woman to hold that post; she was also the first woman to head any Muslim state. While in office, she ended military rule in Pakistan and she fought for women’s rights. She also became a much respected international and influential world leader.
8. Margaret Sanger
Margret Sanger a nurse who was the first person in America to really talk openly about and promote the use of birth control. Having seen the misery that unwanted pregnancies could cause, and the backstreet abortions that happened as a result of the lack of birth control, she devoted her life to making birth control legal and freely available. Despite being prosecuted for her views and, at one stage having to flee America for England, she continued her campaigning and is now regarded as the mother of modern family planning.
9. Coco Chanel
Coco Chanel is the only fashion designer who is listed in Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. With her signature scent, Chanel No. 5, and, of course, the little black dress, her icon designs help to shape the fashion industry that we know today. That’s not bad going at all, for a woman who was born to a father who was a street peddler and a mother who was a laundry woman.
10. Katherine Hepburn
Katherine Hepburn once said: “If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun,” and she really did live by that mantra. She was well-known for being a strong woman in real life and for her on-screen portrayals of similarly strong-willed women. She was also one of the first women to wear trousers at a time when such a thing was unacceptable.
11. Indira Gandhi
There aren’t many people who could claim to have created a country, but India’s first and the only female prime minister could. Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister of India twice. The first time was from 1966 to 1977 and the second from 1980 until her assassination in 1984. She was known for her ruthlessness and her determination, and it was Indira Gandhi that led India into a war with Pakistan; a move that led to an India victory and the creation of the country of Bangladesh.
12. George Sand
George Sand was a 19th century French writer who shocked her nation with her socialist views and free thinking ways. She rubbed shoulders with the aristocracy of her time and at one point she dated Chopin, but she also was an ardent socialist who stood up for the rights of the working people. She shocked the upper classes even more, when she started wearing men’s clothes and smoking in public.
13. Helena Rubinstein
Helena Rubinstein was virtually penniless when she arrived in Australia in 1902 and she spoke virtually no English at all. She became the richest woman in the world by selling a beauty cream made of lanolin and a type of grease that is found in sheep’s wool. It just goes to show what a little bit of ingenuity and some luck can do for you.
14. Billie Jean King
When male tennis star Bobby Riggs said that men could play tennis better than women, 20 times Wimbledon champion and gender equality campaigner Billie Jean King wasn’t about to let a comment like that go unchallenged. She took on Riggs in a tennis match dubbed the Battle of the Sexes and she won!
Who are your favourite most influential women in history?