Throughout history, the men who have influenced history have been recognized, talked about and idolized. Too often the women who achieved the same were relegated to the sidelines or dismissed altogether as heretics and witches. And yet many of their accomplishments are just as worthy of recognition, having altered the tides of history and left an indelible mark upon the people who followed in their footsteps.
A recent article on this site illuminated men from history who we may never have even heard about. Now it is time to give that same recognition and acknowledgement to some of the women who have directly or indirectly shaped modern society by refusing to conform to societal demands placed upon them.
Some of the women on this list are related to our more recent history, others walked the earth in the much more distant time. History books were largely written by men, so it comes as little surprise that the great women were mentioned so rarely and when they were it was to put them in the “evil” category.
Even today, women of the world are still fighting to be heard and treated as equals. The plight of the missing girls in Nigeria is uniting women around the world in a common cause and we will no doubt get to hear of some of those who have been the most willing to risk everything to find them.
Whether you agree with this list or not, may it allow you to pause for a moment to contemplate the women you believe have affected our world largely for the positive.
Eleanor Of Aquitaine
Eleanor was the first queen of France, ascending to that role in 1137. In the middle ages she was far more influential than any of today’s royalty, with vast amounts of wealth and power at her disposal.
She married two kings during her life, the French King Louis and the English King Henry II. She also gave birth to two sons, Richard and John, who would both rule over England.
Her most mysterious influence lay in her time in Poitiers in France, where she supposedly ruled over a Court of Love. She had been fascinated by the stories of King Arthur, the chivalry of the knights of the round table, and the worship of women as Goddesses. She helped finance the troubadours who would sing of the noble and chivalrous acts of the knights of the round table at a time in history when love had taken a backseat to war.
Today’s successful female authors would do well to thank Jane Austen for paving the way for them. She ascended the world of literature at a time when it was difficult for women to do so, making it at least a bit easier for others to do the same.
She lived among the landed gentry of her time, those whose primary source of income was from the administration around the various pieces land that they owned. As such, this was the source of inspiration for novels such as Pride and Prejudice, a timeless novel that continues to receive on screen adaptations.
As with many artists, she did not receive much recognition or fame for her work, often publishing anonymously while she was alive. Her books always did well, but it was not until long after her death that a memoir written by a nephew of hers brought her to a wider audience. From the mid 1900s she became a literary icon, a status her name enjoys to this day.
Susan B. Anthony
Susan B Anthony grew up in a time when mathematical long division was not taught to women, as unlikely as that might sound. This did not stop her getting herself properly educated, something that was still altogether rare in her time for women.
After leaving a good career in teaching, she acted upon her political morals and found it within her to speak up often on anti-slavery. Anthony is a great example to anyone hoping to make a difference in the world but thinks that they cannot. A shy woman, it took a strong cause for her to be willing to stand up in front of large audiences to speak about matters of import.
She then became one of the strongest advocates for a woman’s right to vote and founded the National Woman Suffragette Association (NWSA) in 1869. She also published regularly in a journal, the Revolution, about equal rights for women and african americans. For 45 years she would give up to 100 speeches annually to women and African Americans, campaigning for them to become more self-reliant and self-confident.
Marie Curie was not born into wealth; she was born to a poor family in Warsaw, Poland. She had always been an intellectual and had a strong desire to educate women of her time. This was a time when the Russian empire had a strong hold on Poland, and women received little or no education.
She herself was drawn to chemistry and biology and later went on to complete a degree in physics. At a time when men absolutely dominated the field, she was somewhat of a phenomenon and of course continues to be an inspiration to many of the women struggling to get recognized in science today.
Curie established her reputation in the field of radioactivity and in 1903 won the Nobel prize for physics. Of course, her successes drew the attention of jealous men from within the science field, and rumors were spread about her within the community. It did not stop her, though, and she used her reputation to get X-ray machines installed in hospitals around the world.
The only sad thing about all her studies was that she eventually died of cancer in 1934, likely due to exposure to large amounts of radiation throughout her lifetime.
Only one fashion designer was included in the Time Magazine article “100 Most Influential People Of The 20th Century”, and that woman was Coco Chanel. The simplicity of the patterns she created revolutionized the fashion industry and made this French modernist world-renowned.
Another claim to fame of hers is from her having designed suits and pants for women, something nobody else up until then had thought of doing. Her passion was to free women from the bondage of corsets and design clothes that were comfortable and fit more naturally on the body.
She disappeared for a while from the industry, but returned with vigor when she realized that the French fashion industry was becoming dominated by men attempting to dress women. This strong french lady helped pioneer many types of designs for women to wear and left a legacy that continues today with her fashion lines.
Think of warriors and most people will picture big burly men with large swords, but this has never been the only example. Boudicca was the queen of a Celtic tribe who launched an uprising against the occupying Roman forces of the time.
Her husband Parustagas died, and because the Roman’s only recognized the male line as the heirs to the throne, Boudicca was flogged and her daughters raped. This lead to an uprising in the years 60-61AD, which forced the Roman’s out of Londinium for a short time. Unfortunately for Boudicca, they regrouped in the western part of England and eventually regained control of the isles.
Shortly thereafter Bouddicca died, but whether she killed herself or died of sickness cannot be concluded because of differing historical sources. Her name disappeared from the history books until she was revived through the interest of Queen Victoria in the late 1800s. Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote about her, and even today others are honoring this early female warrior.
A PhD in veterinary anatomy allowed Wangari Maathai to achieve positions of influence at the University of Nairobi – influence that she used wisely. Ever since she was young she had been passionate about the environment, and saw that in Kenya it was falling into decline in many areas.
Conflicts were breaking out between tribes because of the limited resources and survival needs. She felt that if the environment was better protected that some of these conflicts could be reduced. This resulted in the Green Belt movement, which was responsible for the planting of trees throughout Kenya. Throughout the ensuing years she was politically active, standing up for what she believed was right, even when it risked imprisonment. In 2003 she became Assistant Minister for Environment and in 2004 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Love her or hate her, Oprah Winfrey has achieved a great deal in her years on television and has used her fame for what many would call the greater good. She used her talk show to become a voice for women throughout America, openly sharing her experiences as a way to inspire others to step out and do what they have come here to do.
When she recommends a book or author the world jumps on them. Her stamp of approval has helped launch many careers and she has been hugely influential in bringing spirituality to a mainstream audience. As with anyone, she has many critics, but she continues to bring to the public what she is called to do so.
Princess Diana Of Whales
When Lady Diana died in 1997, most of Britain and many throughout the world mourned and her funeral procession was televised around the world. She had been a quiet woman, caught up in the drama of the most talked about family in England.
Ever bashful in front of the camera, she won great favor amongst the public through her extensive charity work for the poor of the world. She also did a lot of work for AIDS charities and bringing awareness to the world of the dangers in live landmines that still existed in many countries.
She saw the value in every human being she met, famously being photographed with an AIDS patient at a time when it was thought to be contracted by touch alone. She believed that if everyone felt valued by the world, they too would have the chance to give back.
Mary Magdalene makes this list, despite the controversy that surrounds her story and historicity. She has definitely helped make authors ridiculously wealthy, such as Dan Brown of Da Vinci code fame. Whether she was truly the wife of Jesus or not, she is one of the most talked about female figures from the bible.
Scrolls discovered in Nag Hammadi seem to suggest that, either way, she was highly favored by Jesus and had great wisdom to share with the world.
Throughout history, many secret esoteric societies have been purported to carry treasures related to knowledge of this historic figure. Churches throughout the world are named after her, and to this day many researchers continue to explore who she really was.
Just recently a scroll referring to the wife of Jesus was proven by researchers to be genuine. Though it does not confirm that Jesus was wedded to the Magdalene, it keeps alive the discussion and is affecting the choice of millions of spiritual seekers the world over. One day perhaps we will discover the full truth – or perhaps we already have but have difficulty digesting it.