50 Women Heroes Who Changed the World
The Stories of Women Who Made Us Think Bigger
Throughout history, in every culture around the world, extraordinary women have pushed society to think bigger, move forward and create. The following women are glowing examples of ceaseless curiosity, boundless courage and world-changing ingenuity. Thanks to each of them, women and girls all over the world are able to live with fewer restraints and bigger dreams.
Who are the women heroes that changed your world for the better? Let us know in the comments below!
1. Anne Sullivan
This woman taught Helen Keller, a child who was both blind and deaf, to communicate. At just 20 years old, Sullivan trained Keller to speak, read Braille and write within mere months.
“Children require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction.” — Anne Sullivan
2. Florence Nightingale
Nightingale, also called the “Lady with the Lamp”, was a pioneer in the field of nursing. She had a massive impact on the 19th and 20th century policies surrounding proper care; her writings inspired worldwide health care reform. She and her team of nurses drastically improved the unsanitary conditions at a British base hospital during the Crimean War, sparing countless lives.
“I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took any excuse.” — Florence Nightingale
3. Katherine Johnson
Ever considered how much math goes into space flight? Johnson, one of NASA’s brightest “computers,” intricately calculated the trajectory of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
“We will always have STEM with us. Some things will drop out of the public eye and will go away, but there will always be science, engineering, and technology. And there will always, always be mathematics.” — Katherine Johnson
4. Marie Curie
Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person to win twice, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences (Physics and Chemistry).
“In science, we must be interested in things, not in persons.” — Marie Curie
5. Margaret Hamilton
Hamilton took humanity to the moon. In 1969, the Apollo 11 landed safely on the moon because of the on-board flight software that Margaret wrote. Fittingly, she also coined the term “software engineering”, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work with Apollo 11.
“Looking back, we were the luckiest people in the world. There was no choice but to be pioneers; no time to be beginners.” — Margaret H. Hamilton
6. Ada Lovelace
This woman is said to have written the instructions for the first computer program — in the mid-1800s. Unfortunately, her work went undiscovered until the 1950s, when it was introduced by B.V. Bowden in Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines.
“That brain of mine is something more than merely mortal, as time will show.” — Ada Lovelace
7. Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn was a fiercely independent actress and a leader in Hollywood for over 60 years. From screwball comedy to literary drama, she received four Academy Awards for Best Actress — a world record. In 1999, she was named the greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema by the American Film Institute.
“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” — Katharine Hepburn
8. Dorothy Parker
Parker was an American poet, critic, and satirist. She eventually became a screenwriter in Hollywood, where she received two Academy Award nominations. Her political involvement soon landed her a spot on the Hollywood blacklist, but her reputation as a “wisecracker” never faltered.
“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” — Dorothy Parker
9. Lorraine Hansberry
Lorraine Hansberry was a successful playwright on Broadway. She wrote A Raisin in the Sun and became the first black playwright and the youngest American to win a New York Critics’ Circle Award.
“There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing.” — Lorraine Hansberry
10. Edna St. Vincent Millay
This woman received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923, becoming the third woman to achieve it. As poet Richard Wilbur said, “She wrote some of the best sonnets of the century.”
“I love humanity, but I hate people.”- Edna St. Vincent Millay
11. Clare Boothe Luce
Luce was the first American woman to be appointed to a major ambassadorial post abroad. She was also an accomplished author, known for her 1963 play, The Women, which did not feature a single male performer.
“Courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount.” — Clare Boothe Luce
12. Dorothy Thompson
Thomas was a popular journalist from the 1930s to the 1950s. She was known to be outspoken and determined when chasing a good story, and was the first American journalist to be expelled from Nazi Germany in 1934.
“Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live.” — Dorothy Thompson
13. Pearl S. Buck
Buck became the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938. Her parents were missionaries, so from 1892–1934, she spent most of her time in China, an experience that influenced her writing. Her best-selling novel, The Good Earth, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932.
“If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” — Pearl S. Buck
14. Anne Morrow Lindbergh
This woman earned her glider pilot’s license in 1930, just two years before her first child was kidnapped for ransom and murdered. After moving to England with her husband, Charles, and second son, Jon, she became the author of more than two dozen works, and won many awards related to her writing and her flying feats she accomplished with her husband.
“The most exhausting thing in life is being insecure.” — Anne Morrow Lindbergh
15. Mary McCarthy
After being orphaned at the age of six, McCarthy became an American critic and novelist. Her fiction is known for its wit as well as its detailed analysis of intellectual dilemmas.
“We are the hero of our own story.” — Mary McCarthy
16. Babe Didrikson Zaharias
Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias was an American athlete. She was successful in golf, basketball, baseball and track and field. In the 1932 Summer Olympics, she earned two gold medals in track and field and won ten Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) major championships.
“The formula for success is simple: practice and concentration, then more practice and concentration.” — Babe Didrikson Zaharias
17. Margaret Bourke-White
This woman was the first foreign photographer allowed to take pictures of the Soviet five-year plan and the first American female war photojournalist. One of her photographs was featured on the cover of the first issue of Life magazine.
“Work to me is a sacred thing.” — Margaret Bourke-White
18. Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall is a British primatologist and anthropologist and was named a UN Messenger of Peace in 2002. After 55 years of studying chimpanzees in the wild, she is considered to be the world’s leading expert on them. She is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and the Roots & Shoots programme, constantly working on conservation and animal welfare issues.
“The greatest danger to our future is apathy.” — Jane Goodall
19. J. K. Rowling
Rowling is the creator and author of the world-renowned fantasy book series, Harry Potter. Today, the series has sold more than 450 million copies and is a blockbuster film franchise.
“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” — J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
20. The Feminists in Tahrir Square
In 1979, these 100,000 women marched into Tahrir Square without burqas. This is what we call “feminism with skin in the game.”
21. Dr. Erna Hoover
Hoover’s 1971 patent for a telephony switching computer program was among one of the first software patents ever issued. Even more impressive: She worked on her idea while still in the hospital, following the birth of her second daughter.
“I designed the executive program for handling situations when there are too many calls, to keep it operating efficiently without hanging up on itself. Basically it was designed to keep the machine from throwing up its hands and going berserk.” — Dr. Erna Hoover
22. The Syrian Women of the “Women’s Revolution”
In 2017, after the defeat of ISIS, these women held a “Women’s Revolution” to burn the traditional Islamic clothing that they had been forced to wear.
“Give me a lighter, I’m going to burn this. May these clothes they forced us to wear be damned,” one woman screamed.
23. Antonia Novello
Antonia Novello is the former Surgeon General of the United States, the first woman and the first Hispanic American to earn the title. She is an expert in pediatric care, specializing in treating children with internal organ problems.
“More than anything, be consistent. Go at it. Go at it. Go at it.” — Antonia Novello
24. Ellen Ochoa
Ochoa was the first Latina astronaut. She is also the co-inventor of three patents related to optical inspection systems. She is currently the director of the Johnson Space Center.
“What everyone in the astronaut corps shares in common is not gender or ethnic background, but motivation, perseverance, and desire — the desire to participate in a voyage of discovery.” — Ellen Ochoa
25. Kathrine Switzer
Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967, a time when women were not allowed to officially run in the race. When the race organizer realized she was running the race with an official bib, he tried to tackle her and rip her bib off. Thankfully, Switzer’s boyfriend shoved the race organizer to the ground and women were soon allowed to officially run the Boston Marathon a few years later.
“Life is for participating, not for spectating.” — Kathrine Switzer
26. Rita Moreno
Moreno has been a Puerto Rican actress, dancer, and singer for over 70 years. She is one of only 12 artists to have won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony — all four major annual American entertainment awards. She was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.
“It is through art that we will prevail and we will endure. It lives on after us and defines us as people.” — Rita Moreno
27. Miep Gies
Anne Frank didn’t hide herself. Hermine “Miep” Santruschitz Gies is the woman who helped protect her and her family from the Nazis for over two years during World War II. She is also the woman responsible for saving Anne’s diary after the Franks were arrested.
“Permanent remorse about failing to do your human duty, in my opinion, can be worse than losing your life.” — Miep Gies
28. Miriam Makeba
“Mama Africa” was a South African singer and actress. She was also a United Nations goodwill ambassador and civil rights activist, a powerful voice against segregation in Africa.
“Girls are the future mothers of our society, and it is important that we focus on their well-being.” — Miriam Makeba
29. Mary Wollstonecraft
An English writer, philosopher and women’s rights activist, Wollstonecraft is best known for her 1792 work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. In it, she argued that women are not naturally inferior to men and should be treated as rational beings — an opinion that reached far ahead of her time.
“I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” — Mary Wollstonecraft
30. Jane Austen
Austen is the Georgian era author of classic works such as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Emma. These social commentary novels depict Austen’s unmatched ability to combine romance and realism. And don’t forget her wit; her revered female characters aren’t afraid to speak their minds.
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” — Jane Austen
31. Malala Yousafzai
When she was still a young girl, Malala stood up against the Taliban in Pakistan, insisting that girls be allowed to receive an education. In 2012, she survived a shot to the head by a Taliban gunman and went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her human rights advocacy work.
“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” — Malala Yousafzai
32. Edith Cowan
Cowan was the first Australian woman to serve as a member of parliament. She was a social reformer, working for the rights of women and children and has been featured on Australia’s $50 note since 1995.
“If men and women can work for the State side by side and represent all the different sections of the community… I cannot doubt that we should do very much better work in the community than was ever done before.” — Edith Cowan
33. Virginia Woolf
Woolf was the British author of modernist classics like Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. Raised by free-thinkers, she also wrote trailblazing feminist works such as A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas.
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” — Virginia Woolf
34. Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland is a highly acclaimed, stunning ballerina. She was the first African American performer to become a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre.
“Success isn’t handed to us; we earn it.” — Misty Copeland
35. Aretha Franklin
The “Queen of Soul” has won multiple Grammy Awards for her contributions to the music industry. She is best known for her hit songs, “Respect”, “Freeway of Love” and “I Say a Little Prayer”.
“I sing to the realists; people who accept it like it is.” — Aretha Franklin
36. Audrey Hepburn
Hepburn was a British actress, dancer, model, and humanitarian. She was a fashion icon during Hollywood’s Golden Age and was ranked by the American Film Institute as the third greatest female screen legend.
“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.” — Audrey Hepburn
37. Rosalind Franklin
Franklin was a British chemist, known for her early use of X-ray diffraction. One of her photographs led to major discoveries involving DNA structure, though other scientists took credit for it.
“Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated.” — Rosalind Franklin
38. L. M. Montgomery
Lucy Maud Montgomery was the Canadian author of the Anne of Green Gables novels, which was recently turned into a Netflix series called “Anne with an E”. Her protagonist, Anne Shirley, was an immediate sensation and earned Montgomery an international following.
“Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it.” — L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
39. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell
Blackwell was the first woman to graduate from medical school in the US. Throughout her lifetime, she was a leader in public health activism.
“None of us can know what we are capable of until we are tested.” — Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell
40. Harper Lee
Lee is best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). In 2015, less than one year before her death, she published the anticipated sequel, Go Set a Watchman.
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” — Harper Lee
41. Mother Teresa
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 canonized as Saint Teresa of Calcutta in 2016.
“Peace begins with a smile.” — Mother Teresa
42. Clara Barton
Barton was an independent nurse during the Civil War. After a visit to England, she returned to the US and founded the American Red Cross.
“I may be compelled to face danger, but never fear it, and while our soldiers can stand and fight, I can stand and feed and nurse them.” — Clara Barton
43. Harriet Tubman
Tubman escaped slavery and became a leading abolitionist. She led hundreds of slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad. She also served as a spy during the Civil War.
“I would fight for my liberty so long as my strength lasted….” — Harriet Tubman
44. Dorothy Levitt
Dorothy Levitt was the first female British racing driver and a trailblazer for women everywhere. She even taught Queen Alexandra and the Royal Princesses how to drive.
“There may be pleasure in being whirled around the country by your friends and relatives, or in a car driven by your chauffeur; but the real, the intense pleasure, the actual realisation of the pastime comes only when you drive your own car.”
45. Coco Chanel
Chanel was the fashion designer behind timeless designs that are still worn today. She became famous for her trademark suits, little black dresses and perfume after being raised in an orphanage.
“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.” — Coco Chanel
46. Annie Oakley
Annie Oakley was a renowned sharpshooter and TV star. She spent years on Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
“I ain’t afraid to love a man. I ain’t afraid to shoot him either.” — Annie Oakley
47. Valentina Tereshkova
Tereshkova became the first woman to travel into space aboard Vostok 6 in 1963. She orbited the earth 48 times in under three days.
“Once you’ve been in space, you appreciate how small and fragile the earth is.” — Valentina Tereshkova
48. Junko Tabei
Japanese extraordinaire Junko Tabei was the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. In fact, she was the first woman to ascend all Seven Summits, climbing the highest mountain on each continent.
“Technique and ability alone do not get you to the top; it is the willpower that is the most important.” — Junko Tabei
49. Diana, Princess of Wales
Diana Spencer married Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, on July 29, 1981. Though they divorced in 1996, Diana is remembered as the “People’s Princess” because of her global popularity and humanitarian efforts. She died in a tragic car crash in 1997.
“I don’t go by the rule book… I lead from the heart, not the head.” — Diana, Princess of Wales
50. Harriet Beecher Stowe
Legend has it 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. This is due to her best selling novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” that helped popularize the anti-slavery movement.
“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” -Harriet Beecher Stowe
If you liked these women trailblazers, don’t forget to check out The Story podcast, which launches March 12th!