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Click on + buttons to find out why they inspire us

50 Women Who Inspire Our World

Click on + buttons to find out why they inspire us

1860's

florence
"I attribute my success to this - I never gave or took an excuse."

Florence Nightingale

British Nurse, Statistician; Lady with the Lamp

What makes her an inspiration?

She was a beacon of light and hope Leading a team of women who nursed British and allied soldiers during the Crimean War, her night rounds ensured round-the-clock care for the wounded and earned her the nickname 'Lady with the Lamp'
She was a foundational philosopher of modern nursing establishing the first scientifically based nursing school, the Nightingale School of Nursing

1910's

curie
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

Marie Curie

French-Polish Physicist and Chemist

What makes her an inspiration?

She was a pioneering, two-time Nobel prize winning scientist awarded for her research into radioactivity, contributing greatly to the efforts of finding treatments for cancer
She rose to challenges with determination and perseverance After being turned away from university studies in Poland due to being a woman, she moved to Paris to claim rightful education

1920's

pank
“I would rather be a rebel than a slave.”

Emmeline Pankhurst

British Women’s Rights Activist

What makes her an inspiration?

She dedicated much of her life to fight for equal rights for women founding the Women's Social and Political Union and leading the suffragette movement, resulting in several imprisonments for their militant demonstrations
She was fearless but level-headed never losing sight of the ultimate goal so when WWI broke out, she called off all acts of militancy and joined the war efforts to make sure they had a country to vote in

Virginia Woolf

English Author

What makes her an inspiration?

She was one of the most important writers of the 20th century Author of the renowned novels Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, she also pioneered essays on artistic theory, literary history, women’s writing, and the politics of power

Coco Chanel

French Fashion Designer

What makes her an inspiration?

Her iconic style is timeless Almost 50 years after her death, her trademark suits, little black dresses and Chanel No. 5 perfume are still desired all over the world

Helen Keller

American Educator and Author

What makes her an inspiration?

She didn’t let her disabilities stop her from living her life overcoming the adversity of being blind and deaf at just 19 months of age and going on to earning a bachelor’s degree and advocating for disability rights

1930's

pank
I am my own muse. I am the subject I know best. The subject I want to better.”

Frida Kahlo

Mexican Painter

What makes her an inspiration?

She refused to be defined as a victim Suffering polio as a child and nearly dying in a bus accident, she turned despair into powerful self-portrait paintings, translating an undefeatable woman’s experience of pain, passion and honesty through the use of bold and vibrant colours
She proudly defied gender stereotypes and celebrated individualism embracing and accentuating her monobrow and faint moustache in her self-portraits. She was also openly bisexual

Jane Addams

American Social Worker and Political Activist

What makes her an inspiration?

She was the second female to receive the Nobel Peace Prize as the co-founder of one of the first settlements in the U.S. (the Hull House in Chicago), contributing greatly to women’s suffrage and advocating for world peace
pank
“There’s more to life than being a passenger.”

Amelia Earhart

American Aviator

What makes her an inspiration?

She never settled for less doing whatever it took to accomplish her dreams of being a pilot, and after being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean as a passenger, she made it her goal to go on and become the first female aviator to fly it solo
She knew a woman’s worth was equal to man’s dedicating much of her life to show that women could excel and be respected as leaders in their professions, and set seven women's speed and distance aviation records over a five year period

Mary McLeod Bethune

American Educator

What makes her an inspiration?

As a child of former slaves, she became one of the most important black educators, civil and women’s rights leaders of the 20th century founding the Daytona Beach Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls which later became Bethune-Cookman College, as well as the National Council of Negro Women

Maria Montessori

Italian Physician and Educator

What makes her an inspiration?

She saw intelligence and potential in children from all backgrounds motivating her to develop a new method of children’s education based on belief in their creative potential, drive to learn, and the right of each child to be treated as an individual
She consistently challenged gender limitations attending classes at a boys' technical institute at 14, then later graduating from medical school as one of Italy’s first female physicians
roosevelt
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

American Diplomat, Humanitarian and Former First Lady

What makes her an inspiration?

She used her elevated platform to help others revolutionising and leveraging her position as First Lady to advocate human and women’s rights
She was so much more than a First Lady going on to chair the U.N.'s Human Rights Commission and helping to write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after finishing her term at the White House

1940's

sendler
“Heroes do extraordinary things. What I did was not an extraordinary thing. It was normal.”

Irena Sendler

Polish Social Worker

What makes her an inspiration?

She did everything she could to save innocent lives risking her life to smuggle thousands of Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto (away from certain death) throughout the early 1940’s and helped to place them in convents or with non-Jewish families for their best chance of survival
She was resilient, honourable and always humble from refusing to reveal her associates to the Nazi’s when imprisoned, causing her to be sentenced to death (she survived this!), to always emphasising she was playing her part in a greater team effort when recognised for her achievements

Hattie McDaniel

American Actress

What makes her an inspiration?

She broke the colour barrier for actors being the first African-American to receive an Oscar for her portrayal of ‘Mammy’ in Gone With The Wind
She taught us that you should pursue your passion even when all the odds are against you Despite winning an Oscar, McDaniel and the other black actors in Gone with the Wind were banned from the hotel where the ceremony was being held by a ‘no blacks’ policy

Billie Holiday

American Jazz Singer

What makes her an inspiration?

She is still one of the most influential jazz singers of all time known for her dramatic vocal intensity and lending her voice to the controversial anti-lynching protest piece - ‘Strange Fruit’

1950's

franklin
“In my view, all that is necessary for faith is the belief that by doing our best we shall come nearer to success and that success in our aims (the improvement of the lot of mankind, present and future) is worth attaining.”

Rosalind Franklin

British Chemist

What makes her an inspiration?

She defined herself by her dedication to her work despite not being credited for the big part she played in helping to discover the double-helix structure of DNA, she remained devoted to her research and went on to publish 17 papers on viruses, laying the foundations for structural virology

Anna Freud

Austrian-British Psychoanalyst

What makes her an inspiration?

She was the youngest child of Sigmund Freud but is respected for her own groundbreaking work becoming the founder of psychoanalysis and establishing a nursery in London to care for babies and children who had been separated from their families during the Second World War

Ella Fitzgerald

American Jazz Singer

What makes her an inspiration?

Known as the "First Lady of Song", she made history as the first African-American woman to win a Grammy Award Her incredible talent as a jazz vocalist earning her a total of 13 Grammy Awards throughout her career and she sold more than 40 million albums

Marilyn Monroe

American Actress

What makes her an inspiration?

She overcame a tough childhood to become an American cultural icon and one of the world's biggest sex symbols, changing attitudes towards female sexuality and generating more than $200 million from her films along the way

Simone de Beauvoir

French Writer

What makes her an inspiration?

She was the author of one of the world’s earliest and most important feminism literatures - The Second Sex addressing themes of patriarchy and bringing to light the second-rate status of women throughout history

Queen Elizabeth II

Queen of the United Kingdom

What makes her an inspiration?

She is the longest reigning monarch in British history Becoming queen at 27, she has gracefully adapted herself across the years to maintain a steady and reliable leadership over ever-changing landscapes

1960's

angelou
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

Maya Angelou

American Civil Rights Activist, Poet and Author

What makes her an inspiration?

She paved the road for many aspiring coloured artists breaking down racial barriers and proving how capable women of colour can be with her influential writing, she made literary history as the first non-fiction bestseller by an African American woman with her memoir ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ amongst other major achievements
She championed the positive power of words and actions inspiring the world to overcome prejudice, discrimination and abuse, and teaching to always be the best person you can be

Rosa Parks

American Civil Rights Activist

What makes her an inspiration?

She was the mother of the freedom movement Her act of refusing to give her seat up to a white passenger on a segregated bus started the Montgomery Bus Boycott which then sparked a larger nationwide effort to end racial segregation of public facilities

Helen Bamber

British Human Rights Activist

What makes her an inspiration?

She was a human rights icon with unwavering spirit and strength having worked with survivors of the holocaust, helping to establish the first medical group in the British section of Amnesty International and co-founding the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture, she was awarded an OBE in 1997
She dedicated more than 70 years of her life to supporting survivors of torture and human cruelty and even at 80 years of age, founded the Helen Bamber Foundation to help survivors of human rights violations

Valentina Tereshkova

Russian Engineer and Former Cosmonaut

What makes her an inspiration?

She was the first woman to travel into space and went on to being named a Hero of the Soviet Union and being awarded the Order of Lenin twice. It would be another 19 years before another woman traveled to space

Dame Judi Dench

British Actress

What makes her an inspiration?

She has won more than 50 awards throughout her career spanning over 60 years her talent unquestionable through the variation in her acting roles - there is simply no stopping her

Audrey Hepburn

Belgian-born British Actress

What makes her an inspiration?

She is still one of Hollywood’s greatest style icons and one of the few actresses to have won an Emmy, Tony, Grammy and Academy Award, as well as then earning the Presidential Medal of Freedom for devoting her later years to humanitarian efforts

Barbara Gittings

American Gay Rights Activist

What makes her an inspiration?

She was the mother of the LGBT civil rights movement helping to organise the first public demonstrations for gay and lesbian equality, playing a big part in getting the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental illness and making gay literatures available in libraries

1970's

winfrey
“Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.”

Oprah Winfrey

American Media Mogul and Billionaire Philanthropist

What makes her an inspiration?

She demonstrates what the power of believing in your dreams can achieve being raised in poverty by a single mother, falling pregnant at 14 then losing her child, she never lost hope and grabbed all of the opportunities presented to her, putting in years of hard work to establish herself as the most powerful media mogul today
She is constantly giving back to those less fortunate using her extreme wealth and influence to empower people; donating millions towards education and founding Oprah’s Angel Network to support non-profits and causes across the world

Audre Lorde

American Poet

What makes her an inspiration?

She was a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” recognised for being a passionate warrior of words, shedding light on and challenging race, sex, class, and homophobic injustice in her written works

Katharine Graham

American Publisher

What makes her an inspiration?

She became the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company assuming position at The Washington Post after her husband’s suicide and transforming the business into one of the leading newspapers in the United States, most notably from publishing The Pentagon Papers and covering the Watergate scandal
fonda
"To be a revolutionary, you have to be human being. You have to care about people who have no power."

Jane Fonda

American Actress

What makes her an inspiration?

She proves that age is just a number and life is what you make it
She was a civil rights and anti-Vietnam war activist when she wasn’t busy being a brilliant actress, winning Oscars for her performances
She reinvented herself to become the ultimate fitness queen releasing her first exercise video at 45 and sold 17 million copies of her combined exercise video series - more than any other exercise series
She now joins the climate fight utlising the privilege and platform from her success, she is yet again campaigning to make as much impact on a cause she’s passionate about

Patsy Takemoto Mink

American Lawyer and Politician from the state of Hawaii

What makes her an inspiration?

She fought to diminish the type of discrimination she had faced in her life As the first woman of colour and the first Asian-American woman elected to the House of Representatives, she fought for the rights of immigrants, minorities, women and children. She played a pivotal role in the instatement of the Title IX legislation to protect people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance

Gloria Steinem

American Journalist

What makes her an inspiration?

She has been a powerful voice for the women’s rights movement for over 40 years championing feminist topics as a journalist such as going undercover as a Playboy Bunny for an exposé, to forming the National Women's Political Caucus with fellow feminists, to launching the pioneering, feminist Ms magazine

Norma McCorvey

American Activist

What makes her an inspiration?

Anonymised and better known as Jane Roe, she was instrumental in legalising abortion in America a pivotal moment in history as it changed the way women were understood and respected throughout the nation

1980's

Tu Youyou

Chinese Scientist and Phytochemist

What makes her an inspiration?

She is the first mainland Chinese scientist to have received a Nobel Prize in a scientific category (and did so without a medical degree, or international training) for her contribution to discovering artemisinin, a drug that has prevented millions of deaths from malaria

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi

French Virologist

What makes her an inspiration?

She earned the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for playing an instrumental role in identifying HIV leading to the development of life-changing anti-HIV drugs that have saved millions, and continues to dedicate her life to finding a way to prevent HIV

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

Former President of Iceland

What makes her an inspiration?

She’s the world’s first democratically elected female president and is the longest-serving elected female head of state of any country, serving 16 years before retiring and is now a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador

Wangari Maathai

Kenyan Environmental Activist

What makes her an inspiration?

She was the first woman to receive a doctorate in East and Central Africa then founded the Green Belt Movement to combat deforestation - planting over 30 million trees in Kenya and providing 30,000 women with new skills and opportunities. She was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace

Julie Bindel

English Actress

What makes her an inspiration?

She refers to herself as ‘political lesbian feminist’ a writer who addresses gender inequality issues and is a co-founder of Justice for Women - a law-reform group helping women who have been prosecuted for killing violent male partners

Madonna

American Singer and Actress

What makes her an inspiration?

She is the biggest-selling female recording artist of all time displaying true entrepreneurship and versatility in her music to achieve success after success throughout her career

1990's

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

American Jurist

What makes her an inspiration?

She is and has always been committed to the equal and fair treatment of women having founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, and standing firmly on equal rulings in court as the second woman to be appointed as a U.S. Supreme Court justice

Ellen DeGeneres

American Comedian and Television Host

What makes her an inspiration?

She broke grounds in pop-culture for the LGBT community starring as the lead character of the first prime-time show to feature an openly gay lead character and has been honoured for her contributions with the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Sadako Ogata

Japanese Diplomat

What makes her an inspiration?

She was a refugees champion Being the only Japanese citizen and first woman to lead as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, she helped some of the most vulnerable people in the world and wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty - personally jumping into a helicopter to the Iraq-Turkey border when over a million refugees were displaced by the Gulf War

2000's

watson
“If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are, we can all be freer.”

Emma Watson

English Actress and U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador

What makes her an inspiration?

She fights for what she deserves During the making of the Harry Potter films, she fought to get a proper education between filming and went on to complete higher education at Brown University
She continues to use her platform to influence and educate having been appointed as a U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador, she fights for global women’s rights and also advocates environmental conservation, promoting environmentally conscious fashion choices

2010's

yousafzai
“We realise the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”

Malala Yousafzai

Pakistani Education Activist

What makes her an inspiration?

She carries the voice for so many unheard children becoming an activist for education at the young age of 11 after the Taliban attacked girls' schools in Pakistan. Her message is loud and clear - education is the right of every human
She proves that no amount of terror and hate can stop what’s right surviving an attempted assassination by the Taliban for her education activism, she turned what was meant to be silencing into the loudest roar, going on to be the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and establishing the Malala Fund, an international, non-profit organisation fighting for girls' education

Michelle Obama

American Lawyer and Former First Lady

What makes her an inspiration?

She has always been passionate about making a positive change in the world long before becoming First Lady she was a lawyer and community-outreach worker, then as the first African-American First Lady, she advocated social issues including poverty, healthy living to end childhood obesity and education
thunberg
“I often talk to people who say, ‘No, we have to be hopeful and to inspire each other, and we can’t tell [people] too many negative things’ ... But, no — we have to tell it like it is. Because if there are no positive things to tell, then what should we do, should we spread false hope? We can’t do that, we have to tell the truth.”

Greta Thunberg

Swedish Climate Youth Activist

What makes her an inspiration?

She proves that you can never be too young to make a change starting on the steps of the Swedish Parliament as a schoolchild with her School Strike for Climate Change protest, she captured the world’s attention, started a global movement and instigated the largest climate protest in history with 4 million people marching all over the world
She shows that no one should be allowed to stand in the way of your goals with a passion that cannot be reckoned with, she has endured criticism and backlash from keyboard warriors, including the U.S. President, Donald Trump, but continues to fight for the future of the planet, earning her spot as Time‘s 2019 Person of the Year

Serena Williams

American Professional Tennis Player

What makes her an inspiration?

She is a strong, powerful woman who has revolutionised women’s tennis with 23 Grand Slam singles titles to her name - more than any other man or woman in the open era - and her open and honest address to body image issues has been empowering to women all over the world

Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand Prime Minister

What makes her an inspiration?

In testing times, she has risen up to the challenge of being New Zealand’s youngest Prime Minister in more than 150 years As well as having supported Maori rights, women’s rights and same-sex marriage, she has navigated through a terrorist attack, a volcano eruption and took swift action to protect her country against the COVID-19 pandemic

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