From pioneers in various fields, to civil rights activists and even martyrs, these 10 women have indisputably changed the course of history. Admiration, sorrow, empathy, humbleness and all-around inspiration are just a few of the feelings you will experience while learning more about some of the most influential women in history.
These heroines will never truly die; their legacy continues to shine bright in our souls to this very day.
Sappho (c 570 BC)
A top reference for Ancient Greek poetry, Sappho is widely appreciated as „One of the first published female writers” in history. Born on the Island of Lesbos (origin of the term „lesbian”) sometime around 630-612 BC, the pioneering female poet was admired by Plato, Horace and Catullus throughout her life, even having a beautiful epigram attributed by Plato in the Anthologia Palatina (9.506) dedicated to her: „Some say the Muses are nine: how careless! / Look, there’s Sappho too, from Lesbos, the tenth.”
Even though her original work can no longer be accessed today, it is without a doubt that Sappho was one of the most beloved lyric poets in antiquity.
Cleopatra VII Philopator (69 – 30 BC)
The last active pharaoh and Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII Philopator, is certainly one of the most iconic female figures in the history of mankind. Crowned at around age 17-18, Cleopatra was an outstanding scholar, with a philosophy and international relations background and knowledge of no less than 9 languages.
Also famous for her relationships with leaders Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, Cleopatra undoubtedly left a mark on history by doing everything in her power to maintain the freedom of Egypt and its protection of Rome.
Joan of Arc (1412 – 1431)
Worldly admired as “The Patron of France”, “The Maid of Orléans” and one of the most embraced Roman Catholic saints, Joan of Arc lived a short, but history-changing life, being executed by burning at the age of 19.
According to the organizational website dedicated to her memory, the heroine of France was just 12 (1424) when “she began to experience visions which she described as both verbal communication as well as visible figures of saints and angels which she could see and touch.”
These visions would subsequently lead to her victory against the English Occupation at Orleans at the age 17, but also to her untimely execution and afterwards canonization in 1920.
Susan B. Anthony (1820 – 1906)
The most powerful activist of the women’s suffrage movement in the 19th century, Susan B. Anthony changed the course of female civil rights especially through her relentless fight for their right to vote.
Moreover, she constantly supported the battle against slavery and campaigned for the rights of workers. She founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1869 and raised awareness in numerous cities throughout the United States with inspirational speeches regarding fundamental rights of humans.
Marie Curie (1867 – 1934)
Best known as “The Mother of Modern Physics”, Marie Curie was the first woman in Europe to receive a doctorate degree in research science, the first female professor to teach at the Sorbonne and, most astoundingly, the first women to ever be awarded with a Nobel Prize AND win Nobel Prizes for two separate disciplines (Physics – 1903, Chemistry – 1911).
Her intense research peaked with the discovery of radioactivity and isolation of polonium and radium elements. Her studies regarding the nature of beta rays and radiation led to the development of the first X ray machines in the world.
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (1883-1971)
One of the most revolutionary designers ever to bless the world of haute couture, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel is the founder of the Chanel empire, which covers countless areas of fashion, such as clothing, jewelry, handbags, perfumes and a wide range of cosmetics.
Her society-changing philosophy was based on redefining style for women, eliminating corsets and introducing male-inspired elements of design. Thanks to Coco, the world of fashion was spiced up with the Chanel Suit, the Chanel Jacket and the timeless fragrance adored by Marilyn Monroe, the Chanel No. 5 perfume, among many others. According to Women Who Changed the World (Ros Horton and Sally Simmons, 2007), “she is the only fashion designed listed on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century”.
Amelia Earhart (1897 – disappeared 1937)
A courageous aviation pioneer, Amelia Earhart has been widely admired for “opening the skies to other women”. World-famous for being the first woman who flew across the Atlantic Ocean, she was also a renowned solo record-breaker in the field.
Even more so, Amelia Earhart was an activist for female rights, always maintaining a spark of hope for women who strived to accomplish goals in areas usually destined for men. Unfortunately, she disappeared in the Pacific Ocean on the 2nd of July, 1937, in an attempt to fly around the entire globe.
Mother Teresa (1910 – 1997)
One of the most altruistic personalities in the history of humanity, Mother Teresa, selflessly dedicated her entire life to helping those in need. Awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, the Albanian nun was also the founder of the Missionaries of Charity and was directly involved in the care and healing of literally thousands of poor, sick and dying individuals.
Mother Teresa passed away in year 1997 and was subsequently beatified in 2003. Among many inspirational words that she has honored us with, Mother Teresa beautifully stated that
“The dying, the cripple, the mental, the unwanted, the unloved – they are Jesus in disguise.”
Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005)
A prominent figure in the African-American Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks, is internationally known for her brave refusal of not getting up from her seat on a bus in Montgomery to let a white man sit in her place in 1955.
“The First Lady of Civil Rights” hence initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott and actively fought against segregation. It is also said that her act of courage “brought national attention to the civil rights cause and to a young minister, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.” Devoting the rest of her years to this higher purpose, Rosa Parks peacefully passed away at the grand age of
Anne Frank (1929 – 1945)
The diary of 13-year-old Anne Frank is undeniably one of the most notorious books world-wide, depicting her heartbreaking struggle in a Nazi Concentration Camp. After receiving the diary that year as a gift for her birthday, Anne and her family unsuccessfully went into hiding from the Nazis in Netherlands.
Regrettably, they would all be found and sent to concentration camps, the sole survivor being Anne’s father. Published in 1947, Anne Frank’s Diary is an exemplary work of literature for describing the raw feelings of experiencing the Holocaust.