15 Women in History Who Still Inspire Us Today

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March 8th is International Womens Day, but why do we celebrate it? There are many influential women in history (and today) who have paved the way for every young girl or woman. Today, we take a look at some of the most prominent women and how they have helped to shape the world.

Face of strong and empowered female staying woke about oppression, discrimination and injustice to people of color in society. A confident, powerful woman ready to defend the rights of humanity.
Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Why Celebrate International Womens Day?

So why is International Womens Day important? It serves as a reminder that gender inequality still exists around the world and that there is much work that needs to be still done to achieve gender parity. You only have to read or watch the news at home or abroad to see that women still struggle in today’s society. 

It’s a day that provides an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women throughout history and to recognize their contributions to society. Celebrating International Women’s Day can inspire and empower women and girls around the world to pursue their dreams and achieve their full potential. 

Looking at just a snapshot of the many influential women in history, there are many, many more whose names and achievements have yet to be recorded. Look at women in business to entertainment and from sport to politics. 

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What Barriers Have Women Faced?

Throughout history, women have faced various social, cultural, and political barriers and challenges, limiting their ability to participate in society and achieve their goals fully. 

One major challenge that women faced was limited access to education. For much of history, education was seen as a luxury reserved for men; this lack of education had a profound impact on women’s ability to participate in the workforce, contribute to their communities, and achieve their goals.

Women also lacked legal rights, particularly regarding property ownership, voting rights, and other vital aspects of civic life. In many societies, women were seen as subordinate to men and could not participate fully in political and economic life. 

Societal expectations around gender roles also presented significant challenges for women throughout history. Women were often expected to fulfill specific roles, such as caretakers and homemakers, spending their days making family meals and desserts like Reese’s pie, and were not encouraged to pursue careers or other opportunities outside the home. 

Dubai UAE December 2019 Book of Malala Yousafzai Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate on the book store.
Malala Yousafzai. Photo credit: Yayimages.

Women in STEM

Women have made significant contributions to fields such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) throughout history, despite facing significant challenges and barriers to entry.

Advancements in fields such as computer programming and nuclear physics owe a great debt of gratitude to women, and those achievements are further back in history than you probably think.

Born in 1815, it may seem incredible that  Ada Lovelace is widely regarded as the world’s first computer programmer. Lovelace worked closely with Charles Babbage, an English mathematician, and inventor, to develop the first computer program in the 19th century. Her amazing work laid the foundation for modern computing and helped establish the potential for computer programming as a career field. So if you work in the computer industry, you have Ada to thank for paving the way.

Marie Curie is another trailblazing woman in STEM. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and remains the only person, male or female, to win Nobel Prizes in two different scientific fields. Her groundbreaking work in the field of radioactivity helped transform our understanding of the natural world and laid the foundation for the development of nuclear energy and other vital technologies.

Golda Meir (1898-1978) on 10 New Sheqalim 1992 Banknote from Israel. 4th Prime Minister of Israel.
Golda Meir. Photo credit: Yayimages.

Women in Politics

Women have played a vital role in politics and governance throughout history, even as they have faced significant challenges and barriers to entry in these fields.

Shirley Chisholm was a groundbreaking and inspiring American politician and civil rights leader who made history as the first African American woman to serve in Congress in 1969. During her time in office, Chisholm advocated for a range of progressive causes, including racial and gender equality, affordable childcare, and improved access to education.

Golda Meir was a trailblazing political leader who became the first female Prime Minister of Israel in 1969. Meir played a key role in the early years of Israel’s history, working to establish the country’s diplomatic and economic relationships with other nations and negotiating important agreements with neighboring countries.

Women in Business

Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, is a prime example of a woman who overcame tremendous adversity to achieve outstanding business success. As an African American woman living in the early 20th century, Walker faced severe discrimination and limited opportunities for economic advancement. However, she would not be defeated; she persevered and became the first self-made female millionaire in the United States, thanks to her pioneering work in developing and marketing hair care products for Black women.

Estée Lauder is another example of a woman who made her mark in the business world. Lauder founded her eponymous cosmetics company in the mid-20th century and, over the years, built it into a highly successful and influential brand. Today, Estée Lauder Companies is a global conglomerate with a wide range of well-known beauty and skincare brands.

“A woman who has always inspired me is Marilyn Monroe. She was unapologetically herself, spoke her mind, stood up for what she thought was right, and never once believed that she was above anyone else, even at her greatest heights of fame. She was an idol, she genuinely made a positive impact on the world, and — on a personal level – her words helped push me through the hardest times in my life, too.”

Ella Stearn, founder of Forgetting Fairytales 

Viola Davis at the "Trust" Los Angeles Special Screening, DGA, West Hollywood, CA. 03-21-11
Viola Davis. Photo credit: Yayimages.

Women in Entertainment

Women have played a significant role in the entertainment industry, making groundbreaking contributions as actresses, comedians, producers, and directors. Throughout history, women in the entertainment industry have had to confront gender-based discrimination, unequal pay, and limited opportunities. Yet, they have continued to push for change and make their mark in the industry.

One of the early pioneers in this field was Mae West, an actress, and comedian who challenged societal norms with her risqué humor in the 1920s and 1930s. She was known for her bold and provocative performances, often touching on taboo subjects such as sexuality and women’s rights. West’s work helped to pave the way for other women in the entertainment industry and challenged traditional gender roles.

More recently, Viola Davis has significantly contributed to the entertainment industry as an actress and producer. She is the first Black actress to win the “triple crown of acting,” having won an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award. Davis has been outspoken about the lack of opportunities for women and people of color in the industry and has worked to promote greater diversity and representation in Hollywood.

Despite the successes of these and other women in the entertainment industry, women continue to face significant challenges and obstacles. Gender-based discrimination and unequal pay remain major issues, as do limited opportunities for women to take on leading roles on and off the screen. 

Billie Jean King at The Billie Awards. Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, CA. 04-15-08
Billie Jean King. Photo credit: Yayimages.

Women in Sports

Throughout history, women have faced countless challenges and barriers in the world of sports. Women have had restricted access to sports facilities, training, and resources and have also been subject to societal expectations and stereotypes about gender roles.

Despite these challenges, many women have made significant contributions to the world of sports and have worked to overcome these obstacles. Wilma Rudolph, for example, overcame childhood polio and became a track and field star, winning three gold medals in the 1960 Olympics. Billie Jean King fought for gender equality in tennis and has been a driving force behind the establishment of the women’s professional tennis circuit. She’s also a vegetarian; you can imagine her enjoying a potato casserole, can’t you?

Women fighting for gender equality

Women have been fighting for gender equality for centuries, and there have been many women who have made substantial contributions to this ongoing struggle. 

Susan B. Anthony was a suffragette who played a pivotal role in securing the right to vote for women in the United States. Gloria Steinem was a feminist icon who fought for reproductive rights, gender equality, and social justice, and she founded Ms. magazine to give voice to feminist perspectives. Malala Yousafzai, a young activist from Pakistan, fought for girls’ education and became a global advocate for women’s rights after surviving a near-fatal attack by the Taliban.

“Someone who inspired me is Sylvia Earle, called ‘Her Deepness’ with good reason. Sylvia dedicated her whole life to protecting our oceans and educating people about the important role marine ecosystems have in our lives. Her knowledge and passion can make anyone want to save the world. She says, ‘No one can do everything that needs to be done, but everyone can do something,’ and this is how I live now; I travel to discover, learn, understand, and inspire others to see and protect our oceans.”

Anett Szaszi, Snorkel Around the World 

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) on engraving from 1873. Celebrated English social reformer, statistician and founder of modern nursing. Engraved by unknown artist and published in ''Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women with Biographies'',USA,1873.
Florence Nightingale. Photo credit: Yayimages.

Women in Humanitarian Causes

Florence Nightingale: Often referred to as the founder of modern nursing, the iconic Florence Nightingale revolutionized the field of healthcare during the Crimean War by introducing new sanitary practices and elevating the role of women in nursing. She increased awareness for good nutrition for recovery, and if she were alive today, maybe she’d be suggesting a protein-packed veggie burger.

Wangari Maathai: A Kenyan environmentalist and political activist, Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, which focuses on environmental conservation and community development. She led a campaign to plant over 30 million trees across Kenya and advocated for democratic governance and women’s rights. In 2004, she became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Wangari Muta Maathai at the 40th NAACP Image Awards. Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA. 02-12-09
Wangari Muta Maathai. Photo credit: Yayimages.

As you can see, despite the many obstacles that have been in their way, the women of history have paved the way for women today. It’s largely down to their trailblazing work that we live in society like we do today; however, there is still much work to be done, so be inspired by their examples, follow your dreams, and achieve what may appear to be the impossible, however large or small it may seem.

Mandy is the enthusiastic creator of the vegetarian website Splash of Taste; she makes meat-free cooking fun and easy. When Mandy’s not cooking and writing, you’ll find her traveling, exploring countries and cuisines, and spending time with her chihuahua. Download her free 5 x Easy Vegetarian Meals eBook.

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