History tends to not be kind to women. There are a few that are forever etched into history books, but other women barely get a mention. Or worst of all, no mention at all. However, without many women in our history, some of our most prominent events would never have happened. From discoveries and inventions to incredible stories of courage and sacrifice, women throughout history have been the silent backbone that has held this world up and advanced humanity.
Yes, we can be caring and emotional, but we can also be courageous and tough. The women on this list defied social norms of their day. They stepped out of society’s comfort zone of what a woman should be and stepped into their own. They showed the world what women were made of…and damn, was it good. While this list does not even scrape the surface of women’s accomplishments throughout history, it does help to challenge the idea that only men changed the world.
Now, we #choosetochallenge you to be one of the next great women of history.
Sabiha Gökçen was the first woman fighter pilot. Born in Bursa, Turkey she was orphaned at a young age and then adopted by Turkey’s President, Mustafa Atatürk. She flew both bomber and fighter planes and received the Turkish Aeronautical Association’s first “jeweled medal”. She became a national hero and Istanbul’s second airport is now named after this courageous woman.
Regarded as the world’s first computer programmer, she wrote the algorithm for Charles Babbage’s analytical engine, also known as the first computer. The computer language, Ada, was named after Lovelace and still remains useful today in programming.
Jane Goodall is the foremost expert on chimpanzees having studied them throughout her entire life. She lived with the animals in Gombe Stream National Park and became part of their family. She studied the similarities between humans and chimpanzees and her research rocked the scientific world. She discovered that they make and use tools and have emotions similar to humans, which was an unthinkable idea of that time. A conservationist as well she established the Jane Goodall Insitute as well as the youth program, Roots and Shoots.
At only 16 years old, Sacagawea met the Lewis and Clark expedition while she was pregnant with her first child. Acting as a mother, guide, and translator she and her infant traveled with them for thousands of miles. A Lemhi Shoshone herself, she was able to peacefully converse with the other tribes, most likely protecting the Lewis and Clark expedition from attacks.
Shirley Chisholm was the first elected Black woman to congress in 1968. She was an incredible advocate for women and minorities and fought for equality for all. She was also the first Black woman to run for the presidential nomination in either of the two main parties. Despite many prejudices against her, she had a strong following and still won 10% of the delegates in the Democratic nomination. When asked how she wanted to be remembered, she is quoted as saying, “I want history to remember me not as the first black woman to be elected to Congress, not as the first black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and who dared to be herself. I want to be remembered as a catalyst for change in America.”
As a woman in a male-dominated sport, Junko Tabei was met with sexism and criticism. She eventually founded her own climbing club that was only for women, and they set their sights on the mountain of all mountains, Everest. They funded the majority of the trip as they were unable to secure funding back in Japan. While on the climb they were hit by an avalanche, but determined to not give up Tabei continued and eventually summited Mt. Everest as the first woman and 37th person ever to do so. She would eventually go on to become the first woman to complete the 7 summit challenge; the 7 highest peaks on all 7 continents.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
A true champion of women’s rights, Ruth Bader Ginsberg was one of the women in history that will be talked about in history classes for decades to come. Known affectionally as ‘The Notorious RBG’, she was a beast in knocking down walls that had been erected for women all over the United States. Elected to the Supreme Court in 1993, she held the position until she died in 2020 and become an icon for women all around the world.
Frida Kahlo was one of Mexico’s greatest artists of all time. Despite her mesmerizing paintings, she had not intended on being an artist and had an extremely difficult and painful life. She was diagnosed with polio at age 6, which left her with a limp in one of her legs. At the age of 18 she was in a horrific bus accident and would suffer from chronic health problems and pain for the rest of her life.
Despite all of this, she started to paint intertwining realism and fantasy and would eventually after her death become a household name in both Mexico and around the world.
An American poet and civil rights activist. Her most famous work, “I know why the caged bird sings”, has sold over a million copies and has been translated in dozens of languages. At an early age she became a mute due to a traumatic experience with her mother’s boyfriend raping her and then subsequently being murdered by her Uncle. During this time her love for books and the written word became a part of her and eventually who she would become.
Althea Gibson was the first Black female to win a major championship. It would be a whopping 43 years later until another Black woman, Serena Williams, would win a singles title. Althea was also the first Black woman to be on both the cover of Times Magazine and Sports Illustrated. She was paramount in breaking down barriers for women of color in the sports world.
Joan of Arc
Born as a poor peasant in a small French village, Joan the Arc, was convinced that she was to lead an army to save her country. Despite being totally illiterate, she devised a plan to dress like a man and convince Charles the VII to allow her to lead an army. She triumphed through many victories including the liberation of Orléans. Unfortunately, at the young age of 19, she was caught and burned at the stake. However, her death canonized her and she became a heroine among her people.
20 years before American Astronaut, Sally Ride, flew into space, Valentina Tereshkova shattered that glass ceiling. Russian cosmonaut Tereshkova flew on the Vostok 6 on June 16th, 1963. She spent an impressive 3 days on a solo mission orbiting the earth and collecting data. She would later achieve the rank of major general in the Soviet air force.
Benazir Bhutto broke down barriers in the Middle East when she became the first woman prime minister of a muslim country in modern day history. Despite the many challenges she faces as a female leader in Pakistan, she helped to modernize the country by bringing electricity and schools to the people who needed it most. She was exiled by her opposing party, but would eventually return to Pakistan only to be assassinated by a suicide bomber just weeks before the vote for her party’s re-election.
Marie Curie is not a household name, and yet she has a number of firsts to her name. She was the first woman to win a nobel prize, and the only person to win it in two different fields. Born in Warsaw, Poland, she eventually moved to Paris where she would help discover the Pulonium and Radium which were extradinarily radioactive.She continued her research which eventually led her to document the compounds of those elements and would become crucial in fighting cancer.
Dr. Mae C. Jemison
Mae Jemison was the first Black American astronaut that went into space in 1992. A feat that just a few decades before would have been unfathomable. After graduating from Stanford University in chemical engineering, she then went on to Cornell University where she obtained her medical degree. Before becoming an astronaut at Nasa, she joined the Peace Corps and served as a medical officer in Africa for two years.
Malala Yousafzi was a champion for a girl’s right to education in her home country of Pakistan since we was a little girl. At the age of eight, Taliban took over her village and forced girls to stay home from school. Not one to be denied her education, she was an outspoken critic of the Taliban and refused to listen. She was targeted and shot in the head on her way home from school one day. She miraculously survived and now speaks and advocates for girls all over the world. She is the youngest person ever to receive the nobel peace price and continues her work for equality today.
Sandra Day O’Conner
Sandra Day O’Conner was the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court. She was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1981 and held her position until she retired in 2006. Despite her conservative ties, she was consistently a swing voter and help up many women’s rights verdicts including reaffirming the Roe V. Wade verdict during a Planned Parenthood battle.
Originally born, Isabella Bomfree as a slave in Ulster County, New York, she would eventually rename herself Sojourner Truth believing she had been called by God to speak the truth. Able to captivate a crowd with her words, she eventually turned to speaking of inequality in race and gender. She would go on to help slaves escape from freedom and then find jobs after the war.
Kamala Harris officially became the first woman Vice President, the first Black Vice President, and the first South Asian American Vice-President of the United States of America. Working her way up from the San Francisco’s attorney office, to the District attorney, to Attorney General and then eventually on to Congress, Vice President Harris has shown a determination and courage for women and minorities all over the world.
Indira Ghandi was the first and only female Prime Minister of India. A popular, but also divisive leader she helped her country-men with the many food shortages and brought nuclear power to her country. She was jailed for corruption, but later released. She faced many uphill battles and was eventually assassinated by her own body guards in 1984.
An American nurse during the Civil War, she risked her life to help distribute supplies to troops during battle. She was at every major battle in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina helping the wounded. She eventually founded the American Red Cross after a trip to Switzerland introduced her to the International Red Cross.
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