Influential Women in World History

Click on an image to learn about influential women throughout world history.


game_icon.svg.pngTest your knowledge of influential women with these quizzes from the National Women's History Project.

Person
Time Period.......
Field/Nationality
Key Writing or Achievement
Lasting Impact
Hatshepsut
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1508-1458 BCE
Egyptian ruler during
the early New Kingdom
period
Broke with longstanding tradition of
Queen Regent to young male heir to
assume power as ruler, generally
depicting herself as a male King
Initiated massive building projects of
temples. shrines, and statutes
Nefertiti
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1370-1330 BCE
Wife of Egyptian King, Akenhaten. She had a
very active role in ruling.
She was a very powerful women in Egyptian history.

The only person that was above Nefertiti was her husband, the pharaoh. There were images of her killing enemies, which typically only made for the pharaoh.

Her marriage to Akenhaten was known as a rare love story. It is believed they had a very loving marriage, with six daughters.
Her numerous statues that were equivalent in size to the Pharaoh's. Also, her participation in important ceremonies. Overall, her influential power during her husband's rule was very important.

During a time of great power, Nefertiti simply disappeared from history. For more, see

Sappho

external image Sappho_Ramey_Louvre_RF157.jpg
5th c. BCE

Born on the Greek island of Lesbos around 615 BCE, Sappho was
a great lyric poet. She wrote extensively and while only one 28 line poem remains complete, quotations from her work can be found in the writing of other authors, both ancient and more modern.

primary_sources.PNGClick here for translations of selections of Sappho's poetry.
Today her poetry is associated with lesbian love. Her poetry has a personal tone reflecting the strength of passions and feelings between individuals.

Cleopatra

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69-30 BCE
Queen of Egypt.
She took the throne in Egypt once her father, Ptolemy XII, died.

She was in power for three years before her younger brothers advisers had her exiled. She then met Julius Ceasar, and used him to gain the throne back.

Through this affair, she had a connection to the Roman Empire. Caesar was able to give Cleopatra the throne back. After Caesar's death, she met Mark Antony, whom she attempted to use to gain power again.

However, the Roman Senate was outraged by this relationship, and declared war on Egypt. After their defeat, both Mark Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide.
She was the last Pharaoh of Egypt.

She is well known for using opportunity to gain control and political power

[[image: stack icon.png width="53" height="40"]]Go here for more information about Cleopatra.
Livia Drusilla, Wife of Augustus
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Julia, Daughter of Augustus

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Empress Wu Zeitan

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625-705
Wu Zeitan was the only female in the history of China to rule as Empress Regnant


Queen Bouddica





Empress Helena

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Hildegard von Bingen
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1098-1179
She was a German "Saint" who was known for her theological works.
She was known as "Saint" Hildegard because she was not in the eyes of the Catholic church fully canonized as a saint. Hildegard's involvement in the theological arts gives in insight to her importance as a female rhetorician. She helped to alter the bans on the participation of women in written works. She also helped advance the acceptance of a female preaching to the public.
"Elected a magistra by her fellow nuns in 1136, she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. One of her works as a composer, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama and arguably the oldest surviving morality play" [1 ]
Eleanor of Aquitaine
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1122-1204
She was the Duchess of Aquitaine, and later became Queen-Consort of France. Eventually, she even became the Queen of England.
In 1137 when Eleanor was 15, both her brother and father died. She became the "most eligible heiress in Europe"[1]. Later she married Louis, who was the heir to the throne of France. Shortly after, her husband became King Louis VII. After a failed Second Crusade, in which Eleanor traveled with King Louis VII, they divorced. In 1152 she married Henry of Anjou, who later became the king of England. She was very involved during his rule. Eventually, her husband imprisoned her as she played a role in planning his murder. Her children were able to murder their father, and she was freed from imprisonment. She then played a role in her sons seats of power until she died in 1204.
She played an active role in the Crusades. She was born into and married to a number of important powers of Europe. She became a very well known and important woman in European History.

external image Stack.pngJoan of Arc

external image Joan_of_Arc_on_horseback.png
1412-1431
Commander of French troops during a period of the 100 Years War.
Born of peasant origins, Joan of Arc (also known as the Maid of Orleans) rose to prominence in the French Army. She did so by claiming to be divinely inspired by God.

She achieved key military victories at places like Orleans, Jargeau, and Meung-sur-Loire.

Those victories helped to justify the claims that she was on a mission from God. Joan of Arc was later captured by English and Burgundians after a defeat at Compiègne.

For more, see World History I.7
Joan of Arc was tried by the English government for the crime of heresy.

It was a capital offense and she was publicly burned at the stake.

Her image has carried on through history as a young, female peasant who was "inspired" by God and who gained military notoriety in the powerful French army.

She was cannonized as a saint by the catholic church in 1920.
Catherine de' Medici
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1519-1589
Noblewoman of the Italian Medici family who ruled Florence.

Later Queen of France as wife of Henry II


Elizabeth I of England
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1533-1603
originally illegitimate heir to the English throne, daughter of Anne Boleyn, one of the most beloved rulers of England
During her reign, she encouraged interest in the arts (Elizabethan Era of Shakespeare), built up the English Navy to the sea power it is today, defeated the Spanish Armada, and she kept internal royal affairs out of her politics, always putting England first.
She was a champion of the Protestants, keeping them from religious persecution during and after her reign, and was key in turning the British Empire into the mega-power that has remained through its existence.
Mary, Queen of Scots
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1542-1547



Artemisia Gentileschi
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1593-1653



Maria Theresa
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1717 - 1780
Queen of Austria and Holy
Roman Empress
Maria Theresa was the only female ruler of the Hapsburg dynasty ruling from 1740-1780 and
was the last ruler in the Hapsburg line.
By marriage she was also The Holy Roman Empress.
She fought two dynastic
wars, the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War and
attempted to institute civil and educational reforms during her rule.
She was also the mother of 16 children, including Marie-Antoinette
Olympe de Gouges
external image Marie-Olympe-de-Gouges.jpg
1748-1793
Political Activist, Feminist
Abolitionist
Writer

Pronounce:
O-limp deh Gooj
The Declaration of the Rights of Woman (September 1791)

external image Stack.pngMarie Antoinette
external image Marie_Antoinette_Young3.jpg
1755-1793

As an interesting lesson idea, see Did Marie Antoinette Really Say "Let Them Eat Cake?" by UK blogger Gareth Russell.

Mary Wollstonecraft

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1759-1797
British writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be due to lack in education.

She suggests that women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a new social order founded on reason.
Mary Wollestonecraft wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children's book.

Mary Wollstonecraft made a powerful case for liberating and educating women; at the same time she lived out her theories. Often reviled by her contemporaries, today she is considered a 'modern' heroine. The mother of author Mary Shelly.

See WHI.34 for more

external image Stack.pngCatherine II of Russia


external image Catherine_II_by_D.Levitskiy_%281794%2C_Novgorod_museum%29.jpg
1762-1796
Ruler of Russia
Catherine II of Russia also known as Catherine the Great, was a German princess from a minor noble family that became the Empress of Russia and ruled for 34 years.
Catherine's major influences on her adopted country were in expanding Russia's borders and continuing the process of Westernization begun by Peter the Great.

Catherine began as a social reformer but eventually grew more conservative as she got older. She presented a set of laws that were strikingly liberal and presented the empress's vision of the ideal government. These laws were soon disbanded.

Catherine relied heavily on the nobility to control the country and instigated a series of reforms to give them greater control over land and serfs. In 1785 "Charter to the Nobility" Catherine reassured their status and privileges, therefore ingoring any previous concerns she had for the plight of the serfs, whose status declined further.
Multimedia.pngClick here for NPR interview on Catherine The Great
German princess who became Empress of Russia after disposing of her ineffectual husband was one of the most successful European monarchs.
Jane Austen
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1775-1817
British author during the Victorian Era
Jane Austen was born on December 16th 1775. She wrote her first satirical play Love and Friendship in 1789 at the age of 14. Austen's most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice, was published in 1799. The novel was originally titled First Impressions. Jane Austen went on to publish works such as Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Persuasion,Northanger Abbey and Emma.She died in Manchester England in 1817.
Jane Austen's six novels have been incorporated or reworked in a number of modern tv shows, books and movies and offer a formula for modern romance novels.
The Works of Jane Austen
Ada Lovelace
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1815-1852


For more, see AP World History Key Concept 5.1
external image Stack.pngMary Anning
external image Mary_Anning_painting.jpg
1799-1847
Palaeontology
Made important Jurassic Age fossil
discoveries at Lyme Regis, Dorset,
England
One of the first women in
the field of palaeontology; she faced
gender and social class barriers
in her field of science.

For more, see AP World History Key Concept 5.1
external image Stack.pngBeatrix Potter
external image Potter_1912.JPG
1866-1943
Children's book author and natural scientist
Detailed and scientifically accurate llustrations of insects, fossils, fungi, and other artifacts.
Her book The Tale of Peter Rabbit as
well as her work as a science illustrator
and nature conservationist.
The Brontë Sisters
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19th. C.



Queen Victoria
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1819-1901



Queen Lilioukalani
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1838-1917
Last Reigning Hawaiian Monarch
In 1893, Lilioukalani wrote and installed an revised Hawaiian Constitution, empowering herself. The American Minster, John L Stevens, called for troops to take over all government buildings and depose Queen Lilioukalani in 1894. Her decision to be restored to the crown came to late and the Republic of Hawaii was declared on July 4, 1893, with Sandford B Dole as its President.

Queen Lilioukalani was arrested in 1895. She was releases in 1896 to her home in Washington Palace where she lived for two decades. Lilioukalani died in 1917. Hawaii was officially annexed in 1898.
Queen Lilioukalani was the last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian Islands. In her Deed of Trust, Lilioukalani left her estate to provide for orphans and poor children on the Hawaiian Islands.
Emmeline Pankhurst
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1858-1928
British Political Activist
Pankhurst founded the Women's Franchise League in 1889, which fought for married women's right to vote. Later in 1903, she founded the Women's Social and Political Union, where the members were first to be called "suffragettes". In 1918, women over the age of 30 were granted the right to vote. In 1928, women were then allowed to vote at the age of 21, the same age as men.
Women in Great Britain are allowed to vote because of the work of Emmeline Pankhurst.
Selma Lagerlöf
external image Selma_Lagerl%C3%B6f.jpg
1858-1940



Marie Curie
external image Mariecurie.jpg
1867-1934
Polish physicist and chemist
Marie Curie was one of the first world renowned female scientists overcoming significant gender barriers. She preformed extensive research on radioactivity and her work helped to set up much of the scientific study in the twentieth century. She discovered the two elements of polonium and radium. Curie was also the first female professor at the University of Paris.
Marie Curie became the first person, let alone women, to win two Nobel Prize awards. She received awards in both chemistry and physics.
Golda Meir
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1898-1978



Frida Kahlo
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1907-1954



]Hedy Lamarr

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1913-2000
Hollywood movie
actress and science
technology inventor
Co-developed early plans for spread spectrum communications that was used in World War II-era torpedo guidance systems
Her scientific work pioneered modern-day wireless communication technologies

external image Agregateur_Poietique.gifFor more, see United States History II.17
Mother Theresa
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1910-1997
Indian Catholic nun and missionary
Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, also known as Mother Teresa, was born in Calcutta India. She is praised by many people all over the world for her charitable work with the poor, sick, and dying. She was the recipient of the Nobel Peace price in 1979. She was beatified by Pope John Paul after her death in 1997. A woman in rural India claimed that a tumor growing inside of her receded after she touched a locket containing Mother Teresa's picture.
Mother Teresa is seen all over the world as the embodiment of peace and charity. However, some critics of hers point to her stance against contraception as being incredibly dangerous in rural India where over population is still a dramatic concern.
Indira Gandhi
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1917-1984
Third Prime Minister of India from 1966-1977, 1980-1984
Simla Agreement
Indira Gandhi was the first female Prime Minister of independent India and the second Female head of state in the world. She increased friendly diplomatic relations between India and the Soviet Union. The Soviets aided India in its conflict with Pakistan which made her disliked by US president Richard Nixon. Gandhi helped to bring independent India on the world stage. She oversaw the development of India's nuclear program. Her party was removed from power in 1977 but she returned again in 1979 with a landslide victory. She was assassinated by her bodyguards in 1984 for declaring attacks on Sikhs in Northern India. Indira Gandhi played a role in modernizing the newly independent India. She helped organize housing for low income and poor people. However, she is often seen as fostering a culture of nepotism in India. Her father was the former Prime Minister.
See WHII.43 for more
Eva Peron
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1919-1952
The First Lady to Juan Peron in Argentina 1946-1952
Juan Peron was a highly influential president who made great strides in the modernization of Argentina. Eva Peron was equally recognizable in the public eye and she also helped advocate for social change. She was a vocal leader in the feminist movement and she brought about women's suffrage. Eva Peron was famously remembered for handing out money in her office to needy citizens of Argentina. Her donations were always broadcast to the nation so her charitable image was always maintained. She also spoke on behalf of labor unions and was head of the Ministry of Health.
By the average citizens of Argentina Eva Peron was an iconic figure. Many people still have her picture hanging in their houses next to the Virgin Mary. She was extraordinarily influential and helped propel Argentina into the modern age.
Anne Frank

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1924-1945
Grew up in the Netherlands and was a victim of the Holocaust.
Anne Frank was made famous by the publication of her diary. Her diary accounts her experience of World War II during the German occupation of the Netherlands.

The Frank family was Jewish and was therefore hunted by the German army. They went into hiding for two years in a hidden attic of an office building called the Achterhuis. The building belonged to Anne's father Otto. He was the only member of the Frank family to survive the Holocaust.

The Frank family was betrayed and Anne was taken by the German army to the infamous death camp of Auschwitz. Later, Anne was relocated to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Northwestern Germany where she died of typhus.
Anne Frank's diary had provided a personal account of the plight of the persecuted Jewish peoples during the Holocaust. Her story is tragic but it offers a solemn reminder of the worst period in human history.
Margaret Thatcher
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1925-
Prime Minister of Great Britain.
Margaret Thatcher was the first woman Prime Minister of Great Britain. She supported the privatization of state-owned industries and utilities, a reform of trade unions, the lowering of taxes and and reduced social expenditure. While she was Prime Minister inflation reduced in Great Britain, but unemployment increased. Thatcher stood against the idea of communism and was nicknamed "The Iron Lady" by the Soviets.
After she left the House of Commons in 1992,Thatcher founded the Thatcher Foundation, which aims toward the advancement of political and economic freedom, mostly amongst newly liberated countries of Eastern and Central Europe.
Queen Elizabeth II
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1926-
Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Queen Elizabeth has been in power for over 5 decades. She has been an instrumental part in overseeing the transformation to the new British Commonwealth from its previous state of the old British Empire.
She is known as a beloved Queen, who has achieved many changes in the kingdom to better the people.
Vigdis Finnbogadottir

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1930-
Fourth President of Iceland from 1980 - 1996
Vigdis Finnbogadottir was the first democratically elected female head of state in the world.

She was re-elected three times and her sixteen year tenure is the longest of any female leader. She was also the first female president in all of Europe.

In 1988 she won the election with 95% of the popular vote.
After her retirement in 1996, Finnbogadottir was appointed as Goodwill Ambassador of Languages for UNESCO in 1998 and she still holds that position.

She is also a member of Club Madrid which is a non-profit organization intended to promote democracy.
Jane Goodall
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1934-
Wildlife conservationist and primatologist born in London.
Jane Goodall has become the world's leading expert on chimpanzees. Her extensive career as an anthropologist and a primatologist has brought forth valuable new information about the closest relative to humans. Goodall has traveled the world advocating, not only for chimpanzees, but for all animals. Goodall became famous for physically spending extended amounts of time living with and around chimpanzees in their natural habitats.
Goodall has organized the Jane Goodall Institute which provides the world with research, education, awareness raising, and wildlife conservation.
Diana, Princess of Wales
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1961-1997
Princess Diana is known as Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales. She was married to Prince Charles.
Princess Diana was known for her raising awareness to social issues. Many of the included AIDS, poverty, drug abuse, and homelessness. She was involved with a number of charities. Also, "she held honorary ranks with several regiments in the Armed Forces".

Click for more information
Princess Diana had a strong interest in helping the youth. From her strong influence, the Diana Memorial Award was established. It is given to a youth who is unselfish, and shows dedication to helping advance the her causes.
Benazir Bhutto
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1953-
Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1990-1996
Benazir Bhutto was the first and only female prime minister of Pakistan. She was also the first and only female head of a Muslim State. She lead the Pakistan People's Party which her father, the former prime minister of Pakistan, founded. She deregulated Pakistani markets which led to economic growth. She instituted other capitalist policies such as denationalization of major corporations. However, towards the end of her last term recession hit and she was replaced by a conservative president.
Bhutto is seen by the West as a champion of democracy and the free market. However, her reputation within Pakistan is vary complex and is not always looked upon favorably. She did not remove of policies that hinder Women's Rights.
J.K Rowling
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1965-
British author
Joanne Rowling has become a world famous icon with creation of the Harry Potter series. She used the pen name 'J K Rowling' as to not ward off a male audience from a female authored book. Before the first book of the Harry Potter series, the 'Sorcerer's Stone', was written, Rowling was struggling financially. She did most of her early work in a coffee shop in Edinburgh, Scotland. However, once her work was finally published she became a global phenomenon. The Harry Potter series is the best selling book series in history with over 400 million copies sold.
J.K. Rowling is worth an estimated $800 million. She now uses her wealth and power to fund numerous charities. Rowling was named the most influential women in Britain for 2010.
Dilma Rousseff
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1947-
Current President of Brazil
Dilma Rousseff was the first female Chief of Staff and is the first female President of Brazil. She joined left-wing groups and fought strongly against the Brazilian military dictatorship which ruled from 1964-1985. She was jailed and tortured in the early 1970s. Later on she was appointed as the State Secretary of Energy in 1993. She was a former Marxist who now employs broad capitalist strategies to promote the Brazilian economy. Rousseff is seeking to strength the social welfare system of Brazil.

Go to World History II.16 for more on the history of Central and South America in the 20th century.
Forbes listed Dilma Rousseff as the third most powerful woman in the world. They also ranked her has the sixteenth most power person in the world. On September 20, 2009, Rousseff became the first woman to open a United Nations General Assembly session.
Amber Case
1988-
Technology Consultant and pioneer of social media
Arguably one of the most influential women in the world, Amber Case is on the cutting edge of social media. She helped create the company Geoloqi. This company works in the booming world of mobile analytics which deals with all of the remotely connected devices that people carry and use on a daily basis. Case is helping to revolutionize an internet-dominated world that sees changes happen on a minute to minute time scale.

Go to United States History II.30 for more on technological developments in the post-World War II period.
Case travels around the country and world giving speeches on the power of technology. She is helping to make the world more and more connected through mobile devices and social media. She sees the potential for technology and she has the brilliance to bring the rest world with her.
Empress Dowager Cixi
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1835-1908
Empress of China during the Qing Dynasty
She was known for her "behind the curtain" participation in politics.
Empress Dowager Cixi ruled over China for about a half a century. She had a limitless greed for power, family, and subjects. Indeed she had a sharp political sense and decisive practices but under her rule the Qing Dynasty grew more and more corrupt and lost its power.

All images from Wikimedia Commons unless otherwise noted. If no image is provided, none was found in the public domain.
First Lady Michelle Obama greets actress Hilary Swank and other guest mentors in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House during an event celebrating Women's History Month, March 30, 2011
First Lady Michelle Obama greets actress Hilary Swank and other guest mentors in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House during an event celebrating Women's History Month, March 30, 2011