Joceyln Bell Burnell was only a graduate student at Cambridge University when she discovered pulsars, which are spinning neutron stars that release radio waves. Her scientific findings revolutionized the field of astrophysics in the 20th century and provided further evidence for the theory of relativity and detecting gravitational waves. She is credited as one of the world’s greatest living scientists despite the sexism that casted doubt on her abilities to be a scientific pioneer. Burnell revolutionized the field of astrophysics and shifted her focus between teaching, researching, and increasing the number of women in STEM fields after her discovery.
Burnell is credited with “one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century.”
“When I started secondary school, it was assumed that the girls would do domestic science and the boys would do science, and I wasn't too happy with that.” -Jocelyn Bell BurnellLearn More
Sudha Murthy was the first woman to attend an engineering college and graduate school in India. She is also an Indian social worker and author who balances her professional career as a computer scientist and engineering teacher. She is the chairperson of Infosys Foundation, a non-profit established by her husband’s company Infosys Technologies, that supports programs in education and development, and has also authored many short stories and novels.
She was awarded the Padma Shri Award—the fourth-highest civilian award in the Republic of India—in 2006 for her social work, as well as the R.K. Narayan Award for Literature in 2006 and the Attimabbe Award from the Government of Karnataka for excellence in Kannada literature in 2011. Despite these achievements, she never let fame and money get to her head and said, “[m]oney is one thing which rarely unites and mostly divides people.”Learn More
Anna Komnene was a Byzantine princess, physician, and is widely regarded as the first female historian. She is most notable for her several volume-long work, Alexiad, which discusses her father Alexios I Komnenos’ reign.
Komnene’s work is one of the only remaining accurate sources describing the events of the First Crusade and the reign of her father, making her account invaluable to the current information database about that time, despite some bias in favor of Komnene’s father and some chronological mistakes.
“Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity. . . . But the tale of history forms a very strong bulwark against the stream of time, and checks in some measure its irresistible flow, so that, of all things done in it, as many as history has taken over it secures and binds together, and does not allow them to slip away into the abyss of oblivion.” - Anna KomneneLearn More
Dr. Kamala Sohonie paved the way for women studying science in India and across the world. She was the first woman to work as a researcher at the Indian Institute of Science and the first Indian woman to complete a PhD in a scientific discipline.
Her research into the nutrition of common food groups improved the health of malnourished people in India, particularly pregnant women and children.
“The bias against women was so bad at that time. What can one expect if even a Nobel Laureate behaves in such a way?” -Dr Kamala Sohonie, discussing the way she was treated by Professor C. V. Raman whilst working at the Indian Institute of Science.Learn More
Trưng Trằc and Trưng Nhi were sisters known as the heroines and leaders of the first Vietnamese independence movement from the Han Dynasty of China. When the Chinese government killed Trưng Trằc’s husband, Thi Sách, for starting a rebellion, the sisters decided to continue and take over the rebellion against the tyrant rule in Vietnam. Skilled in military techniques and fighting styles, they led an army of 80,000, mostly consisting of women, against the Han Dynasty and established an independent state for 3 years under Trưng Trằc’s rule.
The Vietnamese people hailed them as “the queens of the Vietnamese nation” and called Trằc as Trưng Vương or “She-king Trưng.”Learn More
Maryam Mirzakhani was an Iranian mathematician who became the first woman and first Iranian to be awarded the high honor of a Fields Medal, the equivalent of a Nobel Prize in the field of mathematics. As a paragon of intellectualism, raw talent, and humility, she is an icon to many aspiring mathematicians as well as a pioneer in the fields of hyperbolic geometry, dynamics, and more.
She was a professor of mathematics at both Princeton and Stanford University. She conducted research on Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic theory, and rational billboards. Her famous career in academia has made invaluable contributions to the field of mathematics and society at large.
“I don’t believe that everyone should become a mathematician, but I do believe that many students don’t give mathematics a real chance.” -Maryam MirzakhaniLearn More
Chai Ling is a former student leader of the Tiananmen Square protests, the founder of All Girls Allowed, and the founder of Jenzabar, Inc., an organization that revolutionized higher education by creating a student-focused, cloud-based learning and management system. She has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Fun Fact: She was named Glamour Woman of the Year in 1990.
“I believe greater things will come, and China will be set free.” -Chai LingLearn More
Rosario Castellanos is said to be one of Mexico’s most important female writers of the twentieth century. After writing her most well known work in 1950 called Sobre cultura femenina (“On Feminine Culture”), she helped modern Mexican writers become more aware about women's issues and feminism.
Castellanos's poetry expressed powerful and authentic themes of social justice and the creation of nature. Most notably, Castellanos's novel Oficio de tinieblas ("The Book of Lamenations") is regarded as one of the most important pieces of literature for the Mexican feminist movement.
"We have to laugh. Because laughter, we already know, is the first evidence of freedom." -Rosario CastellanosLearn More
Throughout her career, Guo Jianmei has aided thousands of women in times of crisis and allowed them to receive justice. She founded multiple nonprofits for women’s rights and is one of the 1000 women who have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Additionally, she received the Simone De Beauvoir Prize in 2010, the International Women of Courage Award in 2011, and the Right Livelihood Award in 2019.
As China’s first-ever full-time public interest lawyer in legal aid, Guo has introduced pro-bono legal services for disadvantaged individuals in China. She and her team have offered legal counseling at no cost to over 120,000 Chinese women and have fought over 4000 lawsuits to advocate for women’s rights and gender equality since 1995.
Her own motivation to become a public interest lawyer comes from the fact that “so many conditions are not ripe, not to mention back then China did not even have many lawyers. To commit to this kind of work—you must be crazy!” -Guo JianmeiLearn More
lizabeth Stanton is one of the most significant suffragettes of the American Suffrage Movement, organizing the Seneca Falls Convention in July 1848. Written by Stanton, The Declaration of Sentiments called upon women to take action and advocate for gender equality. The Declaration was signed by one hundred people at the convention. She also co-founded the National Woman Suffrage Association and The Loyal League with Susan B. Anthony.
Stanton published and edited a newspaper promoting women's rights, called the Revolution. She wrote many books, including The Woman's Bible, Solitude of Self, Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences 1815-1897, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony: Correspondence, Writings and Speeches.
She spoke of women's rights before the U.S. Congress, giving a famous speech called The Solitude of Self. Her bravery has positively impacted the life of every woman in the United States.
"Whatever the theories may be of woman's dependence on man, in the supreme moments of her life, he cannot bear her burdens. In the tragedies and triumphs of human experience, each mortal stands alone." -Elizabeth Cady StantonLearn More
Ruby Hirose was a biochemist who pioneered the development of a vaccine to treat polio/infantile paralysis. She contributed to research on pollen extractions in the mid-1900s.
As the daughter of Japanese immigrants, Hirose faced discrimination throughout her life in America. Hirose’s family was sent to Japanese internment camps during World War II, but she was able to avoid being sent to these camps due to being in a different location than her family.
She became one of the ten women that the American Chemical Society invited to a convention of 300 members. Despite undergoing hardships throughout her life, Hirose developed important research regarding polio and furthered developments within medicine.Learn More
Recognized as the first female faculty member of India’s prestigious Institute of Science, Rajeshwari Chatterjee opened the first microwave engineering lab in India and extensively contributed to the fields of science and engineering through research and teaching. She was an award-winning scientist that gave back to her community and empowered women to pursue their dreams and careers.
“I strongly feel that as scientists and engineers, lucky enough to have reached where we are, we should do whatever is possible to help others, especially other women, who are less privileged than us to study, work, and come up in any field that they wish to pursue.” -Rajeshwari ChatterjeeLearn More
Often acclaimed as one of the greatest female anarchists in America, Voltairine de Cleyre was a resolute pacifist and feminist, which influenced a majority of her work.
She taught English to immigrants in Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago, wrote for various magazines and papers, composed poetry, gave lectures, and advocated for pacifism and feminism her whole life.
“Think that your soul is strong and will hold its way; and slowly, through bitter struggle perhaps the strength will grow.” -Voltairine de Cleyre (1910)Learn More
After being selected to be chief of the Dezda district in central Malawi, Theresa Kachindamoto extended her local jurisdiction to lead efforts towards banning child marriage in both her locality and Malawi as a nation. In addition to having annulled over 2,549 child marriages by November of 2019, Kachindamoto outlawed sexual initiation camps in which young girls were subject to sexual abuse.
Theresa Kachindamoto worked to dissolve a culture consumed by the objectification of women and girls. She is a strong advocate for female representation in Malawian parliament and works to make education more accessible to all of Malawi’s youth, boys and girls alike.
“When girls are educated, everything is possible” -Theresa KachindamotoLearn More
Cacuango was born into an unjust system for women and indigenous people, and she spent her life fighting for the rights of mistreated communities in Ecuador.
Cacunago played a key role in the historic workers’ strike at the Pesillo hacienda in Cayambe, in which workers stood up against the selling of their community’s land to wealthy landowners. She also personally led an assault on a government military base during the May 1944 Revolution in Ecuador.
Cacuango is known for her powerful speeches in Kichwa and Spanish and her activism for fair education and respect for women. She founded the Indigenous Federation of Ecuador (FEI) and established the first bilingual Indian schools.
“Somos como la paja del páramo que se arranca y vuelve a crecer y de paja de páramo sembraremos el mundo” [We are like the straw from the fells of the Andes, while you pull it out, it grows again. And with the straw from the fells we shall cover the world] -Dolores CacuangoLearn More
Angela Davis is a prominent scholar and activist who has dedicated her life to serving underrepresented Americans. She is a staunch advocate for issues such as racial equality, prison reform, and gender equality. She became the most famed American political prisoner in 1971, when she was incarcerated for her alleged involvement with a prison escape attempt. Americans across the country protested her captivity before she was eventually acquitted on all charges. Since then, she has gone on to publish several books, including Women, Race, and Class and Violence Against Women and the Ongoing Challenge to Racism.
Davis is the infamous Angela behind the song “Angela” written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The song includes lyrics such as “they gave you everything but equality” to honor her struggle for equal rights of all citizens.
“It is in collectivities that we find reservoirs of hope and optimism.” -Angela Davis, Freedom is a Constant StruggleLearn More
Encarnacion Alzona was the first Filipina woman to receive a doctorate, which she earned at Columbia University. Educated in the United States under the pensionado program, she returned home after earning multiple degrees to teach history at the University of the Philippines.
Alzona was critical of Western involvement in the Philippines. During American occupation, Alzona was vocal about injustices inflicted upon Filipinos by American officials, especially pertaining to women’s suffrage. Her feminist writings played a huge part in securing the vote for Filipina women in 1937.
In 1985, Alzona was named a National Scientist of the Philippines by President Marcos, the highest honor given to Filipino scientists. She co-founded the Philippine Historical Association in 1955, an organization that continues to shed light on forgotten Filipino history to this day.
"...the separation of Spain and the Philippines in 1898 was only political. The spiritual ties established between them...cannot be erased by a mere political event." -Encarnacion AlzonaLearn More
Amy Klobuchar is an American Senator and attorney from Minnesota. She attended Yale University and went to law school at the University of Chicago. Her work is powered by the love she has for her state.
Klobuchar is the first woman to represent Minnesota in the senate. As a Senator, Klobuchar established herself as a bipartisan coordinator and liberal. In the 2020 election, Klobuchar ran for president in which she advocated for investments in infrastructure and a public option for healthcare.
“Courage means standing next to someone you don’t always agree with for the betterment of the country.” -Amy KlobucharLearn More
Marie-Olympe de Gouges was a French writer active during the time of the French Revolution. She challenged conventional views on female inferiority, arguing instead that the oppression of women by men was the same as tyranny.
Olympe de Gouges's most famous work, The Rights of Women and the Female Citizen, gained her notoriety as a controversial figure. Inspired by Enlightenment thought, de Gouges participated in political and social causes, including the right to divorce, maternity hospitals, and the rights of orphaned children and unmarried mothers.
“Women, wake up; the tocsin of reason sounds throughout the universe; recognize your rights.” -Olympe de GougesLearn More
Sojourner Truth was a women’s rights activist and abolitionist who was born into slavery. After she escaped the shackles of slavery, she freed her children and helped many others gain freedom. She was also the first black woman to win a court case against a white man. Additionally, she was a strong advocate for intersectional feminism, shown in her now famous speech “Ain’t I A Woman.” She is an inspiration to many people for the struggles she overcame and her unrelenting desire to help others.
“I feel safe in the midst of my enemies, for the truth is all powerful and will prevail.” -Sojourner TruthLearn More
Isadora Duncan was one of the first dancers to successfully oppose ballet techniques and traditions in the West, thus credited with creating Modern Dance. She was an activist for free-love and feminism.
“From all parts of her body shall shine radiant intelligence, bringing to the world the message of the thoughts and aspirations of thousands of women. She shall dance the freedom of woman,” Duncan said in a lecture, which has since been considered the manifesto of modern dance and women’s liberation.Learn More
Bertha “Birdie” Parker Pallan is known as the first female Native American archaeologist. From discovering her own findings in a pueblo site to finding evidence of the first human occupation in North America, Bertha gained recognition for her important role in these discoveries. She also documented the culture and lives of Californian Native American tribes through her position at the Southwest Museum’s journal, Masterkey.
Additionally, Bertha was able to consult with Hollywood films about the representation of Indigenous actors and culture, since she was an actor before pursuing archaeology.Learn More
Mae Jemison is a highly accomplished African-American professor and astronaut. She attended Stanford University and Cornell University, where she studied chemical engineering and received her doctorate respectively.
She then became the first African-American woman to enter space as a NASA astronaut. In space, Mae conducted experiments on two bone cells, learning about what factors cause bone loss. After retiring from NASA, she became a professor at Dartmouth College. Today, she continues to advance her and others’ knowledge of medicine through her works with the World Sickle Cell Foundation and Center for Prevention of Childhood Malnutrition.
“Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations...If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won't exist because you'll have already shut it out ... You can hear other people's wisdom, but you've got to re-evaluate the world for yourself.” - Mae JemisonLearn More
Mahnaz Afkhami is a pioneer in women’s rights and human rights. She served as the Minister of Women’s Affairs in Iran and paved the way for women. She also founded the Women’s Learning Partnership, which is a catalyst for women’s and minority rights all over the Global South.
“Women's empowerment is intertwined with respect for human rights.” -Mahnaz AfkhamiLearn More
As a member of the Feminist Five, a group of young Chinese feminists, Li Maizi is an inspiring young woman and LGBTQ+ activist. Her performative protests against misogyny and bigotry transformed modern Chinese feminism. One of her performances was the “Blood Brides” performance, which gained international recognition and support.
Fun Fact: In 2015, she appeared on 100 Women(BBC), a series by BBC highlighting important 21st century women.
“Everything we did was for gender equality in China, it’s not for anything else.” -Li MaiziLearn More
Margaret Hamilton is an American computer scientist, software engineer, and business owner who created the software that successfully sent humans to the moon. As a pioneer in the field of computer science, she is credited in coining the term “software engineering,” Hamilton has received numerous awards along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. Hamilton’s work remains influential still to this day as she is an example of female success in STEM in a time where women were not seen as capable of doing well in fields dominated by men.
“Don’t let fear get in the way and don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t understand’—no question is a dumb question.” -Margaret Hamilton.Learn More
Nancy Wake was one of the allied forces’ most celebrated women over the course of World War II. As a journalist who became a French resistance agent, Wake dedicated herself to helping Jews and Allied soldiers escape France. After helping hundreds escape during the years of 1940 to 1943, her activities finally appeared on the radar of the Nazi German secret police, known as the Gestapo. She became Gestapo’s #1 Most Wanted Person and was forced to flee France for her safety.
After escaping the Gestapo, Nancy Wake reached England and was trained in the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), an English governmental intelligence unit that worked closely with French resistance. She was vital in the famous D-Day battle, not only leading some attacks, but also establishing supply and ammunition drops in preparation for D-Day.
Her contributions to the allied forces were recognized, as she received 12 different medals from 5 different countries and became one of the most decorated women of the Second World War.
“Freedom is the only thing worth living for. While I was doing that work, I used to think it didn't matter if I died, because without freedom there was no point in living.” -Nancy WakeLearn More
As the co-founder of the United Farm Workers Organization and the person who coined the Spanish phrase “Sí se puede” (Yes we can), Dolores Huerta is an extraordinary woman who advocated for labor worker’s rights and raised awareness as a woman in politics throughout her entire life. For her dedication and commitment to the Mexican labor movement in gaining fairer wages, she earned a variety of awards such as the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights (1998), Presidential Medal of Freedom (2012), Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship (2002), and Community of Christ International Peace Award (2007). She continues to spearhead civil rights movements through her organization called the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
“Because we do need women in civic life. We do need women to run for office, to be in political office. We need a feminist to be at the table when decisions are being made so that the right decisions will be made… Because when we did this strike, and especially when all of the people went on the march to Sacramento, the women had to take over the picket lines.” -Dolores Huerta, Civil Rights ActivistLearn More
Mariam-uz-Zamani was the wife of Akbar and was known as Jodha. As a Hindu person married to a Muslim ruler, she encouraged Akbar’s religious tolerance and inclusive practices. She was also one of the most significant and influential figures during the reign of her son, Jahangir. She is most known for embodying the Mughal Dynasty’s multi-ethnic empire.
Even as a woman of high status, she experienced many obstacles and hate for being the Hindu Queen of a Muslim-dominated empire, but remained strong by advising both her husband and her son during their reigns.Learn More
Christine Jorgensen was the first American transgender woman to have her story told and popularized throughout the United States. She became a role model for transgender individuals and used her large platform to advocate for the community by writing books, giving lectures, and publishing articles in famous newspapers. She was unafraid to defy norms in order to be her true self and was one of the greatest pioneers for gender reassignment.
Jorgensen also ran a successful nightclub and acted in many theatrical productions. She spread awareness about transsexual people by giving speeches at her nightclub and after the curtain calls at the plays she acted in.
“I gave the sexual revolution a good swift kick in the pants!”-Christine JorgensenLearn More
Madeleine Albright is a highly influential figure who served the United States government. She is best known for her service to the United States of America in her position as ambassador to the United Nations as well as the Secretary of State.
Albright is now a celebrated author of several memoirs and was granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
“There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.” -Madeleine Albright
Rosalind Elsie Franklin was an English chemist who earned her Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Cambridge University. She applied her knowledge of physical chemistry and crystallography to research deciphering the structure of DNA. DNA was known to be a biological molecule at the time, but very little was known about its structure or function.
Franklin began working as a research associate at King’s College in London in 1951, where she applied her expertise in X-ray crystallography to DNA fibres. Around 1953, she and her graduate student, Raymond Gosling, took a photograph that would irrevocably change the course of history, science, and medicine. Named “Photo 51,” the image clearly showed the helical structure of DNA.
Most notable for her revolutionary photograph, Rosalind Franklin also made important contributions to the fields of coal research and virology. Her data allowed for James Watson and Francis Crick to better understand the structure of DNA molecules, and in fact, she came to the same conclusions as they did. Her colleague, Maurice Wilkins, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Watson and Crick, however, she had passed away at the time and was never recognized for her work.
Franklin once said “science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated,” and she lived by that—she worked every day until her death.
Jin Xing is an internationally acclaimed dancer and talk show host. As a budding young artist, she enrolled in China’s state dance troupe and mastered a variety of dance styles. She has toured all over the world as a trainee, dancer, and choreographer. Jin also established China's very first private contemporary performing arts theatre, which has won many accolades for combining Eastern and Western styles. Jin is also a prominent public figure— she hosts her own talk show which accumulates more than 100 million views each week.
When she was 28, Jin underwent gender reassignment surgery, transitioning from male to female. She is the only transgender Chinese celebrity, and has recently begun setting her eye on politics to advocate for LGBTQ rights and against misinformation.
Her story is one of self-expression, which she has explored through gender and movements.
“For this world, one Jin Xing is enough. I don’t want my students to copy my movements or techniques. I want them to learn from the mindset I hold toward dancing...I must thank contemporary dance for allowing me to release my inner self and express myself”. -Jin Xing
Jahanara Imam was a Bangladeshi political activist and writer. She was called “Mother of Martyrs” (Shaheed Janani) for bringing justice to the people in the wake of the liberation war of Bangladesh and for raising efforts to bring war criminals to trial. Her book Ekattorer Dingulee (1986) is one of the most important and remarkable accounts of the liberation war of 1971.
In the early stages of her career, Eileen Chang gained prominence as a writer in Shanghai, China, which was then occupied by Japan. Chang fled the country after her husband, Hu Lancheng, was discovered to be a Japanese spy during the Communist takeover. Later on, her works were rediscovered and she began to write books again while also delving into writing screenplays for Hong Kong films.
Chang became known as one of the most influential Chinese novelists of the twentieth century. Her stories explored themes of love and family in the context of Communist China. Her most important contribution involved an alternative wartime story that came from first-hand accounts of Chinese salvation and revolution. Her many plays, novels, and short stories have allowed many to gain insight into the grand changes China found itself involved in, and her literary fictions have portrayed history in a more modern context.
“Books are the best friends. The only drawback is it will deepen myopia, however, still worthwhile.” -Eileen Chang
Boudica was the Queen of the Celtic Iceni tribe who spearheaded a rebellion against oppressive Roman rule in ancient Britain. Although the revolt failed, her forces managed to defeat 70,000 Romans and their supporters. She trained as a warrior and fought in several battles, which was especially rare for a woman at the time. Boudica is renowned as a hero and symbol of courage and justice.
“Nothing is safe from Roman pride and arrogance. They will deface the sacred and will deflower our virgins. Win the battle or perish, that is what I, a woman, will do.” -Boudica to Tacitus (Roman historian)
Dr. Lucy Hobbs Taylor was the first woman in America to graduate from dental school and receive a doctorate in dentistry. She was turned away numerous times solely due to the fact that she was a woman, but she never let herself be discouraged. Instead, she actively pursued every opportunity she could. She was an inspiration and advocate for women in dentistry. She was also a devoted supporter of women’s rights and the women’s suffrage movement.
“People were amazed when they learned that a young girl had so far forgotten her womanhood as to want to study dentistry.” -Dr. Lucy Hobbs Taylor
Referred to as the “Goddess of Cardiology,” Dr. Sivaramakrishna Iyer Padmavati is a pioneer in cardiology who transformed the field at a time when there were very few cardiologists, much less women. She has lived and studied in Myanmar, England, Switzerland, America, and India. She expanded the knowledge of cardiovascular diseases and preventive measures in India and has left a lasting legacy as India’s first and oldest female cardiologist, one that enabled many others to follow her path and pursue cardiology. In recognition of her achievements, she was awarded the two highest honors given to a citizen in India: the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan.
Dr. Padmavati and her fellow researchers were responsible for the discovery of the extent of the harmful health effects that cooking smoke had on the lungs of many Indian citizens in rural areas.
“I pursued cardiology because there were very few courses available to women when I went to college, unlike today” -Dr. Sivaramakrishna Iyer Padmavati
Rukmini Devi Arundale was one of the most prominent figures in Bharatanatyam, an Indian classical dance form, and has made numerous contributions to the art. She transformed what it meant to be a dancer in the eyes of the public and founded Kalakshetra, a style and academy of dance. She fought for the revitalization of the arts as well as other issues, such as animal welfare.
She was the first Indian woman to be nominated into the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of Parliament, and was also awarded the Padma Bhushan, a renowned award given to civilians for their contributions in India. As a member of Parliament in India, she brought light to important topics and passed legislation regarding these issues, including vegetarianism. Rukmini was also included in a Google doodle for International Women’s Day in 2017, which highlighted 13 women; she was the only Indian woman included.
Rukmini brought Bharatanatyam into the public eye and helped it become one of the most respected art forms worldwide.
“We dance with our bodies, but we finally forget them and transform them.” -Rukmini Devi Arundale
Margaret Thatcher was the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. She was nicknamed the “Iron Lady” because of her uncompromising nature and leadership style. Thatcher was the longest serving prime minister of the 20th century, winning three consecutive terms. Born the daughter of a local businessman in 1925, she went on to study at Oxford where she earned a degree in chemistry, before later qualifying as a barrister and winning a seat in the House of Commons. She then became a part of the shadow cabinet, and was elected leader of the Conservative Party in 1975. She served as leader of the opposition in the House of Commons, and eventually was elected prime minister after an economic and political turmoil led the conservative party to return to power.
Margaret Thatcher’s policies and political views became known as Thatcherism. Thatcherism advocated for the privatization of nationalized industries and trade union legislation. Even though she was criticized by many for some of her controversial policies, the advancement she made for women is undeniable. Margaret Thatcher held a great deal of power in Britain, breaking countless barriers and proving that one’s sex does not define a leader.
"If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman." - Margaret Thatcher
As a Chinese obstetrician and gynecologist at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital, Lin Qiaozhi conducted research on numerous neonatal diseases and disorders. Lin became the first woman in China to be appointed director of a hospital department of obstetrics and gynecology. Lin delivered over 50,000 babies in her medical career. She never got married and never had children of her own, but tagged every newborn as “Lin Qiaozhi’s Baby” on their name tags.
Dr. Lin became well-known and loved by Chinese people, from Premier Zhou Enlai to the local people. In fact, she was called a “living Buddha” by numerous patients, many of whom named their babies for her. After an illness left her bedridden, Lin wanted to create a research center. This proposal was later approved and a research institute was established within the Chinese Academy of Medical Science.
"I'd rather stay single to study all my life!” -Lin Qiaozhi
Abby Stein was the first openly transgender person to ever leave the Hasidic Jewish community. Despite being disowned by her religious community, Stein used her experiences in order to educate others about the LGBTQ+ community and help them discover their own identities. To this day, she speaks to countless groups that typically do not accept the LGBTQ community in order to create a more loving and accepting environment for all.
“Some religions might have at least a facade of a very anti-LGBT or very non-progressive culture so to speak...that you can’t be religious [as an LGBT person]...I’m telling you from personal experience that, yes, you can.” - Abby Stein
Jade Snow Wong was the author of The Fifth Chinese Daughter, an autobiography that describes her struggles to balance her traditional Chinese values and her upbringing in the United States. She was also known by the names Constance and Connie Ong. She lived her entire life in San Francisco, California, but this did not stop people across the globe from empathizing with her experiences growing up as an Asian American girl.
She was also a talented ceramicist who began selling her ceramics in Chinatown after she persuaded a merchant to allow her work to be showcased in front of his store window.
Her career as a writer and pottery creator quickly took off and gained popularity. She worked with many organizations and her ceramics were later exhibited at different museums around the nation.
“The peace and stability of a nation depend upon the proper relationships established in the home.” -Jade Snow Wong, The Fifth Chinese Daughter, 1950
Anna May Wong/Wong Liu Tsong is one of the first global Chinese-American movie stars and an important icon in cinema. She started her career in the 1920s, a time period where roles depicting Chinese/East Asians were fulfilled by actors/actresses with Chinese drag and yellow face attire. Known for her artistic range and style, Wong was involved in 60 films over the course of her life in both the United States and Europe. She also directed her own documentary called “My China Film” in 1936 about her experiences in mainland China during her first and only trip there. In the first television series to star an Asian American actress, Wong played lead actress in “The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong.”
“I was so tired of the parts I had to play. Why is it that the screen Chinese is always the villain? And so crude a villain--murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass.” -Anna May Wong
Helen Zia is an award-winning journalist and author known for her outspoken criticism of political and social issues such as discrimination against minorities, lack of opportunities for women, hate crimes, domestic violence, and homophobia. In 1997, she testified before the US Commission on Civil Rights to relay how the media negatively impacted minority groups. Thirteen years later, in 2010, she testified as a witness before the US Supreme Court in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case that legalized same-sex marriage in California.
Zia served as a Torchbearer stationed in San Francisco for the 2008 Beijing Olympics despite the backlash she faced.
“It is more important than ever to stand tall, and link arms, and to raise our voices and especially point to the needs of our marginalized communities: of color, of women, queer communities, immigrants.” -Helen Zia
During the 1940s, Hedy helped support the Allied powers through her fame and innovations. Her invention of frequency hopping helped to develop weapon systems, Bluetooth, and Wifi.
Renowned as the Mother of Bluetooth and Wifi, she was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.
“Hope and curiosity about the future seemed better than guarantees. The unknown was always so attractive to me and still is.” - Hedy Lamarr
Sobekneferu was the first female pharaoh of Egypt for which there is definitive proof of her rule. She came to power when Amenemhet IV died without a male heir, making her next in the line of succession. Sobekneferu reigned for close to three years and eleven months and commissioned beautiful complexes in Hawara, Heracleopolis Magna, and Crocodilopolis. Her death marked the end of both the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt and Golden Age of the Middle Kingdom.
Marion Bills was one of the first women pioneers in psychology. She was known for her work in industrial/organizational psychology during the first half of the 20th century. Upon receiving her PhD in experimental psychology, she taught at universities such as University of Kansas and Miami University.
Bills conducted extensive research in personnel psychology and published her works in prestigious scientific and nonacademic journals. She was awarded and recognized by several professional societies. She served as a board committee member at American Association of Applied Psychology and the first female president at APA’s division 14. Despite the societal norms of marriage and women becoming housewives during her time, Marion Bills was never married and devoted her time to research.
Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi was the first female Indian physician. She immigrated to the United States to study Western medicine and graduated with a degree. She was contacted directly by Queen Victoria, the empress of India at the time, who wrote her a congratulatory message for setting an example for millions of women in India to pursue a higher education. She received a grand welcome when she returned to India, and the editor of the newspaper Kesari praised her as “one of the greatest women of our modern era.” In 1997, the International Astronomical Union named one of the craters on Venus after her - “Joshee.”
“Be grateful for challenges because... Had there been no difficulties and no thorns in the way, then [each woman and] man would have been in his primitive state and no progress made in civilisation and mental culture.” -Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi
In the Civil War, Clara Barton passed through battle lines and distributed supplies, looked for missing people, and helped wounded soldiers. After the Civil War, Barton traveled to Europe where she was introduced to the Red Cross, and founded the United States branch of the organization, where she served as president for 23 years.
Barton changed how women were able to help in the medical field and was recognized for her efforts by President Abraham Lincoln. She fought hard for women’s suffrage and believed that “the right to her own property, her own children, her own home, her just individual claim before the law, to her freedom of action, to her personal liberty” was important for all women. She delivered speeches educating others on women’s rights and worked alongside female activists.
“You glorify the women who made their way to the front to reach you in your misery, and nurse you back to life. You called us angels. Who opened the way for women to go and make it possible? … For every woman’s hand that ever cooled your fevered brows, staunched your bleeding wounds, gave food to your famished bodies, or water to your parching lips, and called back life to your perishing bodies, you should bless God for Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frances D. Gage and their followers.” - Clara Barton, 1882
Gladys West is an American mathematician who performed calculations for U.S. military satellites and programmed a computer to model Earth’s shape with unprecedented precision. Her work for the American government throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s laid the foundation for what eventually became modern Global Positioning System (GPS) technology that is used around the world.
Born in 1930 in rural Virginia, Gladys West worked hard to pursue an education to leave the sharecropping community where she was born. She earned a scholarship to attend Virginia State University and later worked at the Naval Proving Ground in Dahlgren, Virginia, becoming the second Afrian American woman to ever work there. In 2018 at the age of 87, West was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame for her contributions to the invention of GPS.
“When you’re working every day, you’re not thinking, ‘What impact is this going to have on the world?’ You’re thinking, ‘I’ve got to get this right.’” -Gladys West
Founder of the Women's Rights Recovery Association and the feminist journal, Tianyi, He-Yin Zhen was a pioneer in radical feminism. She introduced and spread revolutionary feminist ideas, paving the way for Chinese radicals following her. The Women’s Rights Recovery Association and Tianyi were both successful attempts at creating solidarity between Chinese women.
He-Yin Zhen was exiled to Japan, but her work still influenced many Chinese citizens.
“The goal of equality cannot be achieved except through women’s liberation.” -He-Yin Zhen
Jane Addams was a driving force for the social movements throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
With the help of her friend, Ellen Gates Starr, Addams founded the Hull House─the first settlement house in the United States, in Chicago, Illinois. The purpose of the house was for educated women to share their various areas of knowledge and skills, which varied from educational subjects like art and literature to household skills, such as cooking and cleaning.
In 1931, Addams was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and is one of history’s quintessential female leaders.
“Nothing could be worse than the fear that one had given up too soon, and left one unexpended effort that might have saved the world.” -Jane Addams
As a pioneer for the women’s rights movement in Southern Asia, Begum Rokeya published Sultana’s Dream, a look into a utopian society of female-driven life. Rokeya founded the Sakhawat School which offered literacy and educational opportunities to generations to come. In 1916, she created the Bengali Muslim Women’s Association, serving as a platform for increased female visibility and social progessivism.
“A lion is stronger than a man, but it does not enable him to dominate the human race. You have neglected the duty you owe to yourselves and you have lost your natural rights by shutting your eyes to your own interests.” -- Begum Rokeya, Sultana’s Dream
Indira Goswami, better known by her pen name Mamoni Raisom Goswami, was a celebrated Indian writer who overcame great challenges to write extensively about underprivileged communities, such as the atrocities inflicted on Indian widows. Goswami was the recipient of several awards throughout her lifetime, including the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1983, the Jnanpith (the highest literary award in India) in 2000, and the Principle Prince Claus Laureate from the Netherlands in 2008 are just three of the many.
In addition to being a prolific writer, Goswami helped mediate peace talks between the state government and the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), the Assamese rebel organization that seeked to establish Assam as an independent state. Her efforts helped initiate the People’s Consultative Group, a peace committee dedicated to sustaining peace talks between the government and ULFA.
Ismat Chughtai was a revolutionary feminist, novelist and screenwriter during the late 20th century. She used writing as an outlet to express her thoughts on femininity and women's rights.
Chughtai was severely criticized for her outlook on the roles of women, but never backed down even after she was arraigned for writing a (now critically-acclaimed) novel which touched on unconventional topics.
She wrote numerous novels which grew to be bestsellers not only in India, but in the United States as well. She co-directed her own movie based off a book she had written, which was voted one of the best films of 1948.
Chughtai was a firm believer that women should voice their opinions, and established herself as a voice for young Indian and Muslim women in the late 1900s.
"I do not think men and women are two different kinds of beings. Even as a child, I always insisted on doing everything that my brothers did." - Ismat Chughtai
Anita Hill is a prominent American lawyer, professor, and activist who revolutionized women’s rights in the workplace. In 1991, Hill accused Clarence Thomas, a U.S. Supreme Court nominee, of repeated sexual harassment during their time working together in the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Opportunity Commission. As a result, Hill encouraged citizens throughout the United States to hold men accountable and to resolve hostile work environments.
Following the trial, she continued to advocate for civil rights and women’s rights, wrote Speaking Truth to Power, and co-edited Race, Gender, and Power in America: The Legacy of the Hill-Thomas Hearings. Currently, Hill continues to promote awareness of sexual harassment to create equity in the workplace and in society.
“But I think it would be irresponsible for me not to say what I really believe in my heart to be true - that there are some serious inequities that we face as women and that we can work to address these inequities.” - Anita Hill
Dr. Chieko Asakawa is an innovative computer scientist whose work drastically changed the way people with limitations view the outside world. Dr. Asakawa paved the way for accessibility technology despite having had lost her sight at the age of 14. She pioneered paths for individuals with limitations to navigate their lives, such as the first Homepage Reader and digital Braille editor. She continues her research to this day.
“Make the impossible possible - by never giving up.” - Dr. Chieko Asakawa.
Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte was the first female Native American to obtain a medical degree. As a young girl, she witnessed a white doctor refusing to treat a sick person due to their Native American ethnicity. This issue motivated her to become the remarkable doctor she was. Dr. Picotte spread her influence upon her tribe on the Omaha Reservation by being the only physician for 1,350 miles and never turning down anyone regardless of their ethnicity, gender, or age.
Towards the end of her life, in 1913, Dr. Picotte fulfilled her dream of opening her own hospital in the reservation town of Walthill, Nebraska.
“It was only an Indian and it did not matter. The doctor preferred hunting for prairie chickens rather than visiting poor, suffering humanity.” -Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte
In 1926, Grazia Deledda became the first and only woman to this date from Italy to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. She is most notably known for her novels Elias Portolu, La Madre, Cosima, and Fior di Sardegna.
Growing up in the small town of Sardinia, Italy, Deledda attended basic elementary school while learning that she loved to write, and convinced her parents to continue her studies. Her books and collections of poems—some written under pseudonyms—mix elements of the real world with themes of tradition, moral dilemmas, and, of course, bits of feminism.
"I write novels and short stories: this is my specialty. I find it right and good that women think, study, and work. " -Grazia Maria Cosima Damiana Deledda
Sara Josephine Baker was the first woman to ever hold an executive health position in the United States. Despite facing prejudice from being a female physician within a male-dominated field, Baker persevered and became extremely successful in improving sanitation and public health in New York City. In addition, she revolutionized infant care, drastically reducing infant mortality.
“Sick people need immediate help, understanding, and humanity almost as much as they need highly standardized and efficient practice.” -Sara Josephine Baker
Author of the book Gul-e-dodi, Nadia Anjuman’s poetry spoke to the unheard women of Afghanistan for many years. The reason for her tragic death is the same reason why she started writing poetry: repression against women.
Her work still has a great impact on society today by inspiring Afghan women to speak up for themselves and their rights.
“I have loved poetry, and the chains with which six years of captivity under Taliban rule bound my feet led me to haltingly enter the arena of poetry with the foot of my pen. The encouragement of like-minded friends gave me the confidence to pursue this path, but even now when I take the first step, the tip of my pen trembles, as do I, because I do not feel safe from stumbling on this path, when the way ahead is difficult, and my steps unsteady.” -Nadia Anjuman
Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer in 1951. She was treated at Johns Hopkins University, where a few cells from her cervix were sampled and given to doctors without her consent. Doctors used Lack's cells in his cancer research in which they discovered that her cells were immortal, meaning they could be kept alive and grow indefinitely.
For the past 70 years, Lacks’s cells have been used to make huge advancements in science and medicine. However, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding her cells due to lack of consent and awareness leading to debates over what rights individuals have in regards to their genetic material and tissue.
“Henrietta’s were different: they reproduced an entire generation every twenty-four hours, and they never stopped. They became the first immortal human cells ever grown in a laboratory.” - Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Vera Rubin was an American astronomer who studied the orbital speeds of galaxies and discovered the presence of dark matter in the universe. She was also an advocate and inspiration for women in science.
Vera was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1981 and was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1993 by President Bill Clinton.
“There is no problem in science that can be solved by a man that cannot be solved by a woman.” -Bright Galaxies, Dark Matters by Vera Rubin
Grace Lee Boggs founded several political organizations, held lectures to demand for human rights, organized marches against racism, and wrote about her vision for an American cultural revolution. She is most known for advocating for African-American, women’s, and children’s social rights.
Her Chinese name is 玉平 (Yu Ping), which translates to “Jade Peace.”
“You cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself as belonging to it and responsible for changing it.” -Grace Lee Boggs
Faith Ringgold is an artist and writer, known for her unique forms of art such as soft sculpture, masks and story quilts. She used her talents to express the nuances of black culture and history in her art due to her passion for civil rights and activism. Author of multiple wonderful children’s books, Ringgold has combined her love for art and storytelling to pass along important life lessons to children.
Ringgold has almost 75 awards including an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts and the NAACP Image Award.
“You can't sit around and wait for somebody to say who you are.” -Faith Ringgold
Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected into Congress in 1916 as a Representative from Montana, and she was reelected in 1940 as a Representative for a different district in Montana. She joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association as a lobbyist and helped gain the vote for women in Montana in 1914, she established the Georgia Peace Society and was the main speaker and lobbyist for the National Council for the Prevention of War between 1929 and 1939. She devoted her life’s work to pacifism and social advocacy.
“We’re half the people; we should be half the Congress,” Rankin remarked, calling for more equal representation of men and women in Congress.
Zhang Haidi is the Chairwoman of China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF). With a strong mission to promote the wellbeing of persons with disabilities in China, Zhang advocates for the establishment of better workplace opportunities for persons with disabilities in China.
A paraplegic since early childhood, she has been called the Helen Keller and Pavel Korchagin of China.
"Don't sell yourself short, and try your best to build a happy family life," is her advice to other disabled individuals.
Gisella Perl was the first woman and only Jew to graduate secondary school in Sighet, Romania, at only sixteen years old. She was also the first Jewish woman to attend the University Medical School in Kolozsvar.
Perl became a very successful and knowledgeable gynecologist, and used her intellectual capabilities to save the lives of women in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust.
“I treated patients with my voice, telling them beautiful stories, telling them that one day we would have birthdays again, that one day we would sing again.” -Gisella Perl
Lakshmibai, Queen of Jhansi, is an Indian legend who defied the British forces that occupied her land. When the British East India Company refused to accept her adopted son as legitimate and moved their forces into her lands, she joined a group of resistance fighters and helped amass an army to fight against the British in the famous Revolt of 1857. Due to her brave actions, she is sometimes referred to as the “Joan of Arc of India”.
The Indian National Army created an all-women regiment in 1943, bearing her name, in order to acknowledge her great bravery and service to India. Even now, the term “Jhansi Ki Rani” is used to describe brave women in India.
“I will not give my Jhansi at any cost.” - Rani (Queen) Lakshmibai
Mary Quant is an English designer born in England in the 1930s. She has been an icon in the fashion world, but not many people know of her lasting impacts on the clothing industry. She is the pioneer behind the miniskirt and hotpants of the 1960s which are still largely seen on people today.
Quant used the freedoms of the Swinging Sixties to put together clothing that women proudly wore. She designed clothing items that became staples of fashion and changed the closets of women in England and all over the world. She made a large impact on fashion history and has gone down as an influential designer of the 1960s and beyond.
“Fashion is not frivolous. It is a part of being alive today.”- Mary Quant
Wu Yi was a prominent figure in the first decade of the 21st century. Petroleum engineer turned politician, Wu Yi rose through the ranks of China’s Communist Party and was the Vice Premier of the State Council from 2003-2008. She oversaw trade negotiations and hammered out several agreements herself.
During the SARs outbreak, Wu Yi stepped up as Minister of Health and implemented sweeping social distancing procedures, publicized hospital records, and enforced World Health Organization recommendations to stop the spread of the epidemic. Having saved thousands of lives, she was hailed as the “Goddess of Transparency” and offers an important model for dealing with the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Forbes magazine ranked her second in The Most Powerful Women in the world in 2004, 2005, and 2007 and third in 2006.
Shirin Ebadi was the first Iranian woman to ever serve as a judge in the Iranian justice system. However, after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, she was immediately dismissed from her position, given that the new Islamic government forbade women from serving as judges.
Justifiably upset, she went on to advocate for women and human rights. Ebadi is most well known for her work as a human rights activist and establishing the Defender of Human Rights Center, an NGO based in Iran, and winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.
“Women are the victims of this patriarchal culture, but they are also its carriers. Let us keep in mind that every oppressive man was raised in the confines of his mother's home.” -Shirin Ebadi
Qiu Jin is considered the “Joan of Arc” of China. In a male-dominated society, Qiu Jin defied traditional Confucian gender norms and pursued her ambitions. She became a revolutionary martyr for women’s liberation: she spoke out against arranged marriages, foot binding, and urged women to get an education. She also founded a school and started China’s first feminist magazine.
“Feet bound so tiny, hair combed so shiny; tied, edged, and decorated with flowers and bouquets. We spend our lives only knowing how to rely on men- for everything we wear and eat we rely on men.”-Qiu Jin
Benazir Bhutto was the first woman to be elected Prime Minister of Pakistan but also the first female to be elected head of state of any Muslim country. She was highly educated and attended both Harvard University and Oxford University. She became chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party and fought for social justice.
Bhutto was exiled from Pakistan but still was able to direct her party and ensured their success in elections.
“Clearly it's not easy for women in modern society, no matter where they live. We still have to go the extra mile to prove that we are equal to men. we have to work longer hours and make more sacrifices. And we must emotionally protect ourselves from unfair, often vicious attacks made on us via the male members of our family.” -Benazir Bhutto
Matilde Hidalgo de Procel was the first woman in Ecuador to gain a medical bachelors and doctorate degree at a university, the first woman to vote in Ecuador, and the first woman elected into the government of Ecuador as Vice President of the Municipal Council.
Matilde was awarded with a National Merit Award by Presidential Decree in 1956, and even became a founding member of the Medical Federation of Ecuador
“The woman is a mystical temple where hope is locked, that the homeland in the distance has managed to see. But, in order to wisely fulfill her divine mission, she must wander through the blue immensity…” “El Deber de la Mujer” (The Duty of Women) by Matilde Hidalgo de Procel
Founder of the magazine, Zaban e Zanan, Sedigheh Dolatabadi fought for women's rights in Iran her whole life. Through journalism, Dolatabadi founded the first women's magazine (for women by women) in Iran as well as became the first Iranian woman to speak at an international conference. Through philanthropy, Dolatabadi founded the first all-girls school in Iran and founded another school for underprivileged girls.
After her death, Dolatabadi's tomb was desecrated by Islamic vigilantes who fought against her progressive beliefs.
"I will never forgive women who visit my grave veiled" -Sedigheh Dolatabadi