Some individuals possess extraordinary leadership qualities that have greatly influenced our lives. The courageous women who have stepped into the limelight and illuminated the path for others deserve our admiration. Their names and remarkable stories should be shared with students, inspiring them to follow their own dreams. While this list is not exhaustive, here are 25 diverse and remarkable women from history that every student should know. Discover more about each of these extraordinary women below. Let their stories inspire you!
1. Anne Frank
Anne Frank's photograph in 1942, during her time as a diarist in hiding. Public domain image.
Anne Frank and her Jewish family hid in a secret annex with four others during World War II until they were discovered in 1944 and sent to concentration camps. Throughout this ordeal, Anne, just 12 years old at the time, documented her experiences in a journal. Her father published the journal, known as "The Diary of Anne Frank," which has been translated into nearly 70 languages. It serves as a powerful message of hope, love, and strength during one of the darkest moments in history.
Learn more about Anne Frank.
2. Shirley Chisholm
United States, 1924–2005
In 1964, Shirley Chisholm became the second Black person to serve in the New York State Legislature. She accomplished numerous "firsts" throughout her career, including being the first Black woman elected to Congress and the first Black woman to run for President of the United States. Chisholm co-founded the National Women's Political Caucus and was the first Black woman to serve on the House Rules Committee.
Learn more about Shirley Chisholm.
3. Madam C.J. Walker, Entrepreneur
United States, 1867–1919
Madam CJ Walker
Madam C.J. Walker pioneered door-to-door hair and beauty care for Black women, establishing herself as one of the first self-made female American millionaires. Her empire included a network of 40,000 brand ambassadors. Walker's entrepreneurial spirit and success continue to inspire generations.
Learn more about Madam C.J. Walker.
4. Virginia Woolf
United Kingdom, 1882–1941
Virginia Woolf, famous women in history
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1928.
Virginia Woolf, an early feminist writer, spoke out about the challenges women faced as artists and the inequalities in the male-dominated literary world. Her work expanded women's access to the literary arts and continues to be influential and relevant today.
Learn more about Virginia Woolf.
5. Lucy Diggs Slowe, Tennis Pioneer
United States, 1882–1937
Lucy Diggs Slowe blazed a trail for future tennis stars like Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, and Coco Gauff. In 1917, she became the first Black woman to win a national tennis title. Off the court, Slowe dedicated her life to fighting for civil rights, co-founded Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), the first Greek society for Black women, and served as the dean of women at Howard University.
Learn more about Lucy Diggs Slowe.
6. Sarah Storey
United Kingdom, 1977–
Sarah Storey, an exceptional athlete from the United Kingdom, has overcome remarkable challenges throughout her life. Born with an absence of functioning in her left hand, she faced adversity, including bullying and prejudice. However, Storey refused to let these obstacles define her. Instead, she became an extraordinary Paralympian, earning an impressive collection of 27 medals, including an astounding 17 gold medals, in both cycling and swimming disciplines.
Discover more about Sarah Storey.
7. Jane Austen
United Kingdom, 1775–1817
Jane Austen, a renowned figure in literature, was born into a family of eight children. She began her writing journey during her teenage years and is now widely regarded as the original queen of romantic comedies. Austen's timeless novels, including classics such as "Sense and Sensibility" and "Pride and Prejudice," have left an indelible mark on literary history. Interestingly, Austen kept her authorship a secret during her lifetime, with her brother, Henry, revealing the truth only after her passing. Today, her works continue to be highly influential and relevant.
Explore more about Jane Austen.
8. Sheila Johnson, Co-founder of BET
United States, 1949–
Sheila Johnson, an extraordinary entrepreneur, made history as the first Black female billionaire. She co-founded Black Entertainment Television (BET), establishing an empire in the media industry. Additionally, Johnson broke barriers by becoming the first Black woman to hold ownership stakes in three professional-level sports teams: the Washington Capitals (NHL), the Washington Wizards (NBA), and the Washington Mystics (WNBA).
Learn more about Sheila Johnson.
9. Sally Ride
United States, 1951–2012
Sally Ride etched her name in history as a pioneering astronaut. In 1983, she embarked on a momentous journey aboard the Challenger, becoming the first American woman to travel to space. Ride's accomplishments extended beyond her space exploration. She dedicated herself to inspiring women and girls to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Her contributions included serving as the director of the California Space Science Institute, writing children's books, and collaborating on science programs. It was also revealed after her passing that she had spent 27 years in a committed relationship with her partner, Tam O'Shaughnessy, making her the first-known LGBTQ astronaut. In recognition of her achievements, Ride was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a Barbie doll was created in her honor.
Learn more about Sally Ride.
10. Jackie MacMullan
United States, 1960–
Jackie MacMullan, a trailblazing journalist, played a pivotal role in opening doors for women in sports journalism. Throughout her career, she worked as a columnist and reporter for the Boston Globe, leaving an indelible mark on the field. In 2019, MacMullan received the prestigious PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for her exceptional contributions to literary sports writing. After a successful career, she retired from ESPN in 2021.
Discover more about Jackie MacMullan.
11. Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr, a captivating film star, gained fame and recognition during Hollywood's golden age. However, her impact extends far beyond her glamorous on-screen persona. Lamarr, along with composer George Antheil, played a pivotal role in developing a system that essentially laid the foundation for basic GPS technology. Despite not being credited on the patent or receiving compensation due to her non-American citizenship, she is widely regarded as "the Mother of Wi-Fi." Lamarr's contributions solidify her place
among the most revered and famous women in history.
Learn more about Hedy Lamarr.
12. Marie Curie
Marie Curie, a pioneering physicist, defied the gender norms of her time in a male-dominated field. Her groundbreaking discoveries include the identification of the elements radium and polonium, as well as coining the term "radioactivity." Curie's ingenious mind also led to the invention of the portable x-ray machine. Notably, she became the first person to win two Nobel prizes and remains the sole recipient to be awarded in two different scientific fields—chemistry and physics.
Explore more about Marie Curie.
13. Queen Elizabeth I
United Kingdom, 1533–1603
Queen Elizabeth I, known as "The Virgin Queen," made a remarkable choice to dedicate herself to her country rather than entering into marriage. Despite facing numerous challenges, including being a woman and the daughter of Anne Boleyn, who was despised by King Henry VIII, Elizabeth ascended the throne and became one of Europe's most brilliant and strategic leaders. Her reign remains a significant chapter in both European and women's history.
Learn more about Queen Elizabeth I.
14. Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai grew up in a Pakistani village where her father ran an all-girls school until the Taliban imposed a ban on female education. At the age of 15, Malala courageously spoke out against the Taliban's actions, which led to her being targeted and shot in the head while on a school bus. Despite this horrific attack, she not only survived but also emerged as a prominent activist on the global stage. In 2014, at the age of 17, she became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Learn more about Malala Yousafzai.
15. Ada Lovelace
United Kingdom, 1815–1852
Ada Lovelace, born into a privileged family as the daughter of renowned poet Lord Byron, made significant contributions as the world's first computer programmer. As a mathematician, she was respected in society and had connections with notable figures like Charles Dickens. Sadly, Ada passed away at the young age of 36 from cancer, long before her notes on algorithms and computer programming gained recognition.
Learn more about Ada Lovelace.
16. Amelia Earhart
United States, 1897–1939
Amelia Earhart, a legendary figure, defied gender norms while growing up in Kansas. She pursued diverse interests, such as playing basketball, studying auto repair, and enrolling in college. Earhart obtained her pilot's license in 1921 and accomplished groundbreaking feats, including being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and from Hawaii to the US mainland. Despite her extraordinary achievements, she mysteriously disappeared during her attempt to circumnavigate the globe, and the wreckage was never located.
Learn more about Amelia Earhart.
17. Jeannette Rankin
United States, 1880–1973
Jeannette Rankin, a Montana Republican, etched her name in history as the first woman elected to Congress. She ardently advocated for women's rights and notably voted against the United States' entry into World War I, a decision that likely contributed to her defeat in the subsequent election.
Learn more about Jeannette Rankin.
18. Lizzie Velásquez
United States, 1989–
Lizzie Velásquez, born with marfanoid-progeroid-lipodystrophy syndrome, an incredibly rare congenital condition, has faced immense challenges throughout her life. Subjected to bullying and even labeled the "World's Ugliest Woman" in a hurtful YouTube video, Lizzie has transformed her experiences into a catalyst for activism, motivational speaking, and writing.
Learn more about Lizzie Velásquez.
19. Roberta Bobbi Gibb
United States, 1942–
Roberta Bobbi Gibb made history in 1966 when, after two years of training for the Boston Marathon, she received a letter from the race director claiming that women were not capable of running long distances. Undeterred, she embarked on a four-day bus journey from San Diego and on race day, hid in the bushes near the starting line. Wearing her brother's Bermuda shorts and a sweatshirt, she defied expectations and began running. When it was revealed that she was a woman, the crowds erupted in cheers, and then-governor of Massachusetts, John Volpe, waited to shake her hand as she crossed the finish line after three hours, 21 minutes, and 40 seconds. In 2021, a statue honoring Gibb, titled "The Girl Who Ran," was unveiled at the Hopkinton Center for the Arts.
Learn more about Roberta Bobbi Gibb.
20. Edith Cowan
Edith Cowan's life was marked by tragedy from an early age when her mother passed away during childbirth when Edith was only seven years old. Eight years later, her father was convicted of murdering his second wife and was subsequently executed. Despite these immense hardships, Cowan became a trailblazer for human rights as Australia's first female member of parliament. Her significant contributions are recognized through the naming of a university in Western Australia in her honor, and her face graces the Australian $50 bill—an esteemed recognition for a truly remarkable woman.
Learn more about Edith Cowan.
21. Marion Pritchard
During World War II, Marion Pritchard displayed immense courage by risking her own life to protect Jewish individuals from persecution. She devised ingenious methods to smuggle food into ghettos, provided counterfeit identification papers, and even found non-Jewish families to shelter Jewish infants. In a harrowing incident, when three Nazis and a Dutch collaborator arrived at her doorstep, Pritchard concealed a family under the floorboards of her living room. Their hiding place remained undetected until the collaborator returned later, at which point Pritchard fatally shot him in order to safeguard the family. It is estimated that Pritchard saved the lives of approximately 150 Jews during the Holocaust.
Learn more about Marion Pritchard.
22. Soraya Jiménez
Soraya Jiménez etched her name in Olympic history during the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. She became the first Mexican woman to win a gold medal at the Games, leaving an indelible mark on the sporting world.
Learn more about Soraya Jiménez.
23. Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo's life was marked by adversity, starting with her contraction of polio in her youth and a devastating bus accident she survived at the age of 18. Despite enduring prolonged periods of pain and confinement to bed, Kahlo emerged as one of the most influential and celebrated artists of the 20th century. Her art was deeply influenced by her Mexican heritage, her ongoing health struggles, and her tumultuous marriage to Diego Rivera. Frida Kahlo's legacy continues to captivate and inspire audiences worldwide.
Learn more about Frida Kahlo.
24. Empress Dowager Cixi
Born into a humble family in 1835 during the Chinese Qing dynasty, Cixi received a solid education. In 1851, she entered the palace as one of the concubines of Emperor Xianfeng and
swiftly rose in favor. After the emperor's death, she became his successor and is recognized as the last empress of China. For over five decades, Cixi played a pivotal role in shaping policies, managing rebellions, and influencing the court of Imperial China. Her efforts contributed to modernizing the country, leaving behind a significant and complex legacy.
Learn more about Empress Dowager Cixi.
25. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
United States, 1933–2020
Ruth Bader Ginsburg faced numerous challenges as a trailblazer in the legal profession. When she attended Harvard Law School, she was one of only nine women in a class of 500 students. Despite graduating at the top of her class after transferring to Columbia Law School, she encountered significant obstacles in her job search due to gender discrimination. However, she persevered and eventually became a law professor at Rutgers Law School in 1963, focusing on combating gender discrimination. Ginsburg went on to argue six cases before the Supreme Court, prevailing in five of them, prior to her appointment as a Supreme Court justice by President Bill Clinton. Serving on the bench for nearly three decades, she tirelessly championed equality and civil rights, even while battling health issues and cancer. Her passing in September 2020 was mourned worldwide, and she remains a legendary figure known as "The Notorious RBG" for her brilliance, determination, and fearlessness.
Learn more about Ruth Bader Ginsburg.