50 Incredible Women Who Have Changed the World

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The feminist movement seems to be more prevalent than ever. You only have to take a look at this year’s women’s march to see how far we’ve come and how many people are still fighting for equality and protection of women’s rights (over 100,000 to be precise).

From children’s books to mainstream media coverage, it seems that not only are we educating the younger generations about the movement, but we are seeing more and more incredible women getting the recognition they deserve.

Throughout history, numerous women have pushed for societal change and influenced the lives of many, allowing women and girls globally to live a life that’s free from stereotypes and patriarchal restraints and, most of all, encouraging girls to dream bigger.

So, here are fifty incredible women who have changed the world…


At the young age of twenty, Anne taught Helen Keller, a child who was both blind and deaf, to speak, read Braille, and write within a matter of months. Anne herself had problems with her sight, after developing a bacterial infection in her eye aged 7. Up until the age of fifteen, she had no usable sight until an operation restored some of it. Pretty incredible, right?

Nightingale aka “The lady with the lamp” was a nursing pioneer whose influence spread across both the nineteenth and twentieth-century in policies surrounding “proper healthcare.” She got her nickname because she would visit soldiers at night with a small lantern in her hand. Nightingale and her team hugely improved the unsanitary conditions at a British base hospital during the Crimean War, saving numerous lives, while her writings inspired worldwide health care reform. She also launched the “Nightingale Training School for Nurses” in London. Nurses who graduated from the school were sent to hospitals across Britain, introducing Nightingale’s ideas to other facilities in the country.

Ever wondered what the best computer at NASA is? Well, it’s Katherine Johnson. Dubbed “NASA’s brightest ‘computer,'” Johnson is the extraordinary woman who calculated the complicated trajectory for 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Though she’s mostly known for her huge part in Apollo 11, her mathematical calculations were integral to the success of several other NASA missions.

Marie Curie was a chemist and physicist who conducted life-changing research into radioactivity, specifically known for her discovery of radium and polonium, and her massive contribution to the fight against cancer. Not only was she the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, but she was also the first person to win twice, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences. Though she passed away in 1934, her legacy has lived on through the well-known Marie Curie charity (you’ll probably recognize it from the daffodil logo).  

The mathematician and computer software pioneer is quite literally the reason why man went to the moon. Hamilton wrote the onboard flight software for the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon, as well as first coining the term “software engineering.” In 2016, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work on the mission by the then-president, Barack Obama.  

The computer that you use every day? This woman is to thank for it. Lovelace is said to have written the instructions for the first ever computer program in the mid-1800s while working on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer. However, her work sadly went unrecognized until 1950, when it was introduced by B.V. Bowden in Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines.

Known for her unapologetic nature and fierce independence, the actress, who starred in a wide variety of genres, was leading star in Hollywood for over sixty years – receiving a record 4 academy awards for “Best Actress,” while shying away from the rigid expectations of how a “Hollywood starlet” should behave. Her strong personality did raise some eyebrows, for example when the costume department at RKO stole her slacks (because they found slacks to be stereotypically boyish), Hepburn walked around the studio in her underwear, refusing to put her clothes on until she got her pants back. True to her unconventional spirit, she was famously quoted saying: “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun”. Hepburn has since been branded the greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema by the American Film Institute.

Parker was an American poet, journalist, and satirist, who wrote for the likes of Vogue, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker, although, during the 1930s, she became a Hollywood screenwriter, most famously working on the original A Star Is Born, which she won an Academy Award for. However, her influence didn’t just end at the big screen, she was also a civil rights activist and became heavily involved with the Communist Party in the 1930s, leading her to be blacklisted in Hollywood.

Lorraine Hansberry was the first black playwright and the youngest American to win a New York Critics’ Circle Award. The Broadway writer and activist is best known for writing A Raisin in the Sun (1959), a play about a struggling black family, as well as being involved in the civil rights movement.

The American poet and playwright, who received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923, is known for writing “some of the best sonnets of the century,” although she’s also respected for her pioneering involvement with the feminist movement and social activism – themes which eventually crossed over into her poetry.    

Luce was an American author, politician, U.S. Ambassador, and public conservative figure. Amongst all this, she became the first American woman appointed to a major ambassadorial post abroad, as well as penning the hit 1963 play, The Women, which featured an entirely female cast.

Thompson was an iconic, crusading journalist who worked from the 1930s to the 1950s. As a determined and outspoken character, determined in her pursuit to chase a good story, she made a lot of enemies. One of her most well-known? Adolf Hitler. Yes, that’s right. Thompson is known for spending well over a decade “agitating” the Nazis in both print and radio, essentially warning Americans about Hitler before the state’s official entry into World War II. Her work has made her one of the most famous women in the United States, as well as the first American correspondent to be expelled from Germany by Hitler in 1934.

Buck was an American writer and novelist who became the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938. As the daughter of missionaries, she spent a large chunk of her childhood in China – a place that influenced a lot of her works. But, throughout her life, Buck was also heavily involved in welfare organizations – setting up her own agency for the adoption of Asian-American children, as well as the feminist and American civil rights movements.

Lindbergh earned her glider pilot’s license in 1930,  2 years before her first child was tragically kidnapped for ransom and murdered.
Following this, she became the author of more than two dozen works, ranging from poetry to nonfiction – including topics such as youth, love, solitude, and the role of women in the 20th century.
Lindberg went on to win countless awards for her writing and her flying feats that she accomplished alongside her husband.

After being orphaned at the age of 6, novelist, critic, and political activist, Mary McCarthy, rose to fame for her satiric commentaries on topics spanning marriage, sexual expression, the impotence of intellectuals, and the role of women in contemporary America.

Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias was an American athlete who excelled in several sports, noted for her huge successes in golf, basketball, baseball and track and field. At the time, women were allowed to enter only three events, but Babe couldn’t be stopped, breaking four world records and going on to win two gold medals in track and field at the 1932 Summer Olympics, then turning to professional golf, which saw her take the top spot at ten LPGA major championships.

This extraordinary woman was the first American female war photojournalist, as well as the first foreign photographer allowed to take pictures of the Soviet five-year plan. Most famously, she is known for her extensive work with Life Magazine – becoming one of the first four staff photographers for the publication, with one of her photos featuring on the cover of the first ever issue of the magazine in 1936. She continued to work for the magazine well into the ’60s, even while she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, as well as publishing several books, including an autobiography.  

Jane Goodall is considered to be the world’s leading expert on chimpanzees, dedicating nearly sixty years of her life to shedding light on man’s closest relatives. But, she didn’t just research the species, she took quite the unconventional approach by immersing herself in their habitat. One of Dr. Goodall’s most groundbreaking discoveries came in 1960, when she found out that chimpanzees make and use tools – a discovery that is now considered one of the greatest achievements of the twentieth century. Now, she continues her work by traveling around the globe to speak about the threats facing chimps and the environmental crisis that . we’re currently in.    

Now, we’re sure that this one doesn’t need any introductions… Rowling is the author of arguably one of the most famous children’s series in the world, Harry Potter. To date, the series has sold more than 450 million copies and has gone on to become a hit movie franchise. Aside from her Hogwarts-themed novella, Rowling has worked for Amnesty International – a charity that campaigns for human rights across the globe.

In 1979, a crowd of 100,000 feminists took to the streets of Cairo, marching into Tahrir Square without their burqas – lobbying for gender equality.  

American mathematician, Dr. Erna Hoover, is famous for inventing a computerized telephone switching method which “revolutionized modern communication” by eliminating the danger of overload in processing calls.  The program was one of the first software patents ever issued. But, want to know what’s even more impressive? She came up with the initial idea while still in hospital after giving birth to her second child. Amazing.

More recently, in 2017, a group of Syrian women held a “Women’s Revolution” following the defeat of ISIS. The revolutionary move saw the women burn the traditional Islamic clothing that they had been forced to wear.

Antonia Novello is the first woman and the first Hispanic American to earn the title of Surgeon General of the United States. She is an expert in pediatric care and specializes in treating children with internal organ problems. Throughout her important work, she focused the department’s efforts on improving programs such as Child Health Plus and Medicaid as well as focusing on ensuring affordable health care for the people of New York.

Californian-born Ochoa was the first Latina astronaut, as well as the co-inventor of three patents related to optical inspection systems. Now, the former astronaut is the Director of the Johnson Space Center. She has also since been recognized with NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award for senior executives in the federal government.

Katherine Switzer broke sporting barriers as she became the first woman to run the Boston marathon in 1967, even though women were not officially allowed to run in the race.
In fact, when the race organizer eventually realized that Switzer was running with an official bib, he tried to tackle her and rip the bib off, however, her boyfriend shoved the organizer to the ground.

Moreno is a Puerto Rican actress, dancer, and singer, whose career has spanned over 7 decades – most famously, she starred in West Side Story and The King and I in supporting roles. She is also one of only twelve artists to have won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony – a groundbreaking achievement for Latinos in entertainment.  

Remember Anne Frank? Well, she didn’t hide herself. In fact, it was Dutch citizen, Miep Gies, who helped to hide and protect Anne and her family from the Nazis for over 2 years during World War II. Ever thought about how you can now read Anne’s diaries? Well, we have Gies to thank for that, too, as she is the woman responsible for recovering the diaries after the Frank family were arrested.

Miriam Makeba, better known by her nickname, “Mama Africa,” is an African singer, songwriter, and actress who has become a powerful voice for speaking out against segregation in Africa – in particular, white majority government and apartheid. In 1963, she testified about apartheid at the United Nations and her South African citizenship was taken away from her, meaning she resided in American in the following years. Makeba is also a United Nations goodwill ambassador and civil rights activist.

English writer, philosopher and women’s rights activist, Mary Wollstonecraft, was certainly a woman who was far ahead of her time.
Wollstonecraft is best known for her 1792 work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and, as you can imagine, is an incredibly feminist text. In it, she wrote that women are not naturally inferior to men and should be treated as equal beings — an opinion that, for the 1700s, was far beyond the social norms at the time.

Best known for her Georgian-era novels, including Pride and PrejudiceSense and Sensibility and Emma, author, Jane Austen, was revolutionary in the way that she wrote – her unique way of combining romance and realism, her exploration of themes including women’s dependence on marriage as well as her wit (her female characters certainly weren’t afraid to speak their mind) landed her the title of one of the greatest authors in history.  

Malala Yousafzai is the youngest person to ever win a Nobel Peace Prize, and with good reason. When she was just a teenager, she stood up against the Taliban in Pakistan to fight for the right for all girls to be allowed to receive an education. However, for her activism, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012 on her way home from school. Incredibly, Yousafzai survived, since going on to release her international best-selling book, I am Malala, and continuing her groundbreaking activism, including, just a year after the shooting, delivering a speech to the United Nations on the importance of education.

You may recognize Edith Cowan from Australia’s $50 note, which she has been featured on since 1995. Cowan was the first Australian woman to serve as a member of parliament – largely pouring her efforts into social reformation and fighting for the rights of women and children.

Virginia Woolf was an English writer, who is considered to be one of the most important modernist 20th-century authors and feminist pioneers. Best known as the author of modernist classics such as Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, she also wrote revolutionizing feminist texts including A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas.

Copeland is an acclaimed American ballet dancer who, 4 years ago, became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer at The American Ballet Theatre, in the theatre’s seventy-five-year history.

Branded the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin is a multi-award winning American singer, songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist, whose most famous hits include “Respect,” “Freeway of Love” and “I Say a Little Prayer.” In the ’60s, Franklin earnt the title of “Queen of Soul,” after dominating the charts with her hits, but, at this time, she also became a symbol of black empowerment during the Civil Rights Movement.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, anyone? Hepburn was a British Academy-award winning actress, dancer, model, fashion icon, and humanitarian. She was a leading star during Hollywood’s golden age, ranked by the American Film Institute as the third greatest female screen legend – with her most famous movies including Roman Holiday, My Fair Lady and, of course, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But, film aside, she was also an important figure in child welfare across the world – dedicating much of her later life to her work with UNICEF, whom she became a goodwill ambassador for in the late ’80s.

Franklin was a British chemist whose life-changing work and early use of X-ray diffraction led to the understanding of molecular structures of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal, and graphite, although, sadly, other scientists took credit for her crucial work.

Lucy Maud Montgomery was the Canadian author of the Anne of Green Gables novels, which has recently been turned into a Netflix series called “Anne with an E.” Montgomery was a determined woman who, despite writing in her journals about her pain at the death of her infant son, the horrors of the First World War, and the discovery of her husband’s “religious melancholia,” continued to write novels wherein she expressed her love for life and nature.

Blackwell was a British physician, known for being the first woman in the states to graduate from medical school, going on to become a pioneering public health activist during the 1800s, fighting for the acceptance of women in medicine – eventually raising enough support in America to add a women’s medical school to her New York women’s hospital, which opened in November 1868.    

You’ll probably know Lee as the author of the 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird – an instant hit that earned her a Pulitzer Prize, as well as becoming a classic of modern American literature. Lee’s insightful novel follows Scout and her brother, Jem, whose father defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white girl and it has been praised for its exploration of themes such as racial justice, open-mindedness, and compassion.  

Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu, known as Mother Teresa, was one of the 20th century’s greatest humanitarians. She founded the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation of women that helped the poor, and was more recently canonized as Saint Teresa of Calcutta in August 2016. She has been quoted countless times, one of her most famous being, “Peace begins with a smile” –  a simple but poignant message.

Barton is one of the most honored women in American history – serving as an independent nurse during the Civil War, risking her life to bring supplies and support to soldiers in the field. In 1889, Barton founded the American Red Cross and led it for the next twenty-three years – paving the way for future generations of volunteers.

After escaping slavery in 1849, Tubman became a leading abolitionist – risking her life by leading hundreds of slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Tubman also helped the Union Army during the Civil War, working as a spy among other roles. After the war ended, Tubman dedicated the rest of her life to helping impoverished former slaves and the elderly.

Levitt was the first female British racing driver; she even taught Queen Alexandra and the Royal Princesses how to drive, as well as holding the world’s first water speed record. As a trailblazer for women across the globe, Levitt paved the way for female independence and female motoring for future generations.

Chanel was the French fashion designer behind the world-famous fashion house, Chanel – creating pieces that remain timeless even to this day and becoming renowned for her “little black dresses,” trademark suits and, of course, her 1920s perfume, Chanel No.5. Chanel set the pace for fashion around the globe, becoming the figurehead for high fashion – introducing trends such as the collarless suit, transforming the color black into something that we don’t just wear to a funeral, as well as designing costumes for the Ballets Russes and Jean Cocteau’s play, Orphée.      

Annie Oakley, whose real name was Phoebe Ann Moses, was an American sharpshooter whose world-famous shooting skills landed her a role on Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, making her an international A-lister. Oakley went on to win numerous medals for her marksmanship, she performed for royalty, and still remains a legendary icon of the American West.

Valentina Tereshkova is a member of the Russian State Duma, engineer, and former cosmonaut, who, in 1963, became the first, and youngest, woman to travel into space on a solo mission aboard Vostok 6, which saw her orbit the Earth a staggering forty-eight times in under 3 days.    

Junko Tabei was a Japanese mountaineer who, in the ’70s, did the unthinkable. After leaving her child at home with her husband, she embarked on one of the toughest climbs known to man – Mount Everest. After setting out on the journey, Tabei became the first woman to reach the summit of Everest. But she didn’t stop there, also becoming the first woman to ascend all 7 Summits, climbing the highest peak on every continent.

Despite being stripped of her royal title after her divorce with Prince Charles in 1996, Diana is known as the “people’s princess,” not only for her widespread global popularity but for her incredible humanitarian work and stereotype-shattering attitude. Most notoriously, Princess Diana is known for shaking the hands of patients with AIDS without wearing gloves, changing attitudes towards the illness and for her work with the Halo Trust, who aim to demolish life-threatening land mines in over twenty-five countries.

Stowe was an American abolitionist and author labeled one of the most influential women of the nineteenth century.
Most famously, she wrote her bestselling novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which highlighted the inhumane conditions that enslaved African Americans had to live in – propelling the anti-slavery movement into the spotlight more than ever before.
In fact, there is speculation that Abraham Lincoln greeted Stowe at the White House by saying: “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war,” in reference to the civil war due to this very novel.