31 Most Inspiring Women Who Changed The World
After reading about these legendary women, you’ll know you can contribute towards the society no matter what – you don’t need to be in a specific field, time or environment to make a difference to the world in this lifetime.
1. “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” – Anne Frank (1929-1945)
During her stay in Netherlands while hiding from the German forces, Anne Frank, a young jewish girl, was gifted a diary by her father when she was 13. However, her diary was published after her death in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the age of 15. The diary served as a unique eye-witness account of life during Holocaust (mass murder of approximately six million Jews during World War II) and it became one of the world’s most read books.
2. “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa (1910-1997)
Mother Teresa, the Nobel Peace Prize winner (1979), aimed at looking after those who had nobody to look after them through her own order “The Missionaries of Charity”. She worked tirelessly towards her goal until her ill-health – that included two heart attacks, pneumonia and malaria – forced her to step down in March 1997, following which she took her last breath in September 1997.
3. “In societies where men are truly confident of their own worth, women are not merely tolerated but valued.” – Aung Sang Suu Kyi (1945)
Burmese opposition politician Suu Kyi was under house arrest for 15 years for her pre-democracy campaigning. She only gained release in 2010 following an international campaign to let her free. She won a nobel prize in 1991 where it was said that “Suu Kyi’s struggle is one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades.”.
4. “I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match. It would ruin the women’s tour and affect all women’s self esteem.” – Billie Jean King (1943)
Billie Jean King, the US tennis legend and the winner of 20 wimbledon titles, famously beat Bobby Riggs in 1973 for a $100,000 prize in “The Battle of the sexes” after he said to her that men were superior athletes.
5. “Everyone needs to be valued. Everyone has the potential to give something back.” – Diana (1961-1997), Princess of Wales
Princess Diana was a well-loved “people’s princess”. She devoted her life to charity work; she led a nobel Peace Prize-winning campaign to ban landmines.
6. “Democracy is the best revenge.” – Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007)
She was the 11th Prime Minister of Pakistan (1993-1996) and the first woman to head a Muslim state. During her leadership, she ended military dictatorship in her country and fought for women rights. She was assassinated in a suicide attack in 2007.
7. “There are still many causes worth sacrificing for, so much history yet to be made.” – Michelle Obama (1964)
Michelle Obama, the first lady of the United States, was raised in a one bedroom apartment in Chicago before she went on to excel in academics and study at Princeton and Harvard. She is considered the most stylish leading lady after Jackie Kennedy. Currently, she is working on a campaign to fight childhood obesity.
8. “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey (1954)
Oprah, a generous Philanthropist, who is today worth $2.7 billion as a famous US talk show host and a media proprietor, was born to a poor single mother in Mississippi.
9. “I think one’s feelings waste themselves in words; they ought all to be distilled into actions which bring results.” – Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)
“The lady with the lamp”, Florence Nightingale, nursed wounded soldiers during the Crimean war. Her passion and dedication to the profession changed public’s perception about this profession. Her insistence on improving sanitary conditions for the patients is believed to have saved many lives.
10. “I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.” – Madonna (1958)
Madonna has achieved an unprecedented level of power and control for a woman in the entertainment industry. She has sold more than 300 million records of her music and she has turned her hands to songwriting, acting, film-directing and producing, fashion designing and writing children’s books.
11. “Each coming together of man and wife, even if they have been mated for many years, should be a fresh adventure; each winning should necessitate a fresh wooing.” – Marie Stopes (1880-1958)
The british scientist Marie Stopes is best known for her achievements in the fields of birth control and sex education in the 20th century. She publicly addressed romantic and sexual happiness in a marriage, thereby, breaking many barriers in the society.
12. “Fashion is not frivolous. It is a part of being alive today.” – Mary Quant (1934)
Mary Quant was an influential fashion designer and she shaped the image of the swinging sixties. She was credited for creating the mini-skirt and hot pants.
13. “If there’s specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can’t change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies.” – Kathryn Bigelow (1951)
Kathryn Bigelow, a US director, is the first ever woman to win an academy award for a war film, she won an award for The Hurt locker.
14. “Please know that I am aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be a challenge to others.” – Amelia Earhart (1897-1937)
Amelia Earhart was the first woman to ever fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932 and she became the first woman pilot in 1935 after flying solo from Hawaii to California. She embarked upon her lifelong dream of flying across the world in 1937, however, her flight went missing on that trip and she was never seen again.
15. “Fashion fades, only style remains the same.” – Coco Chanel (1883-1971)
Chanel was a daughter to a laundrywoman and a market stall holder. Before becoming one of the greatest fashion designers the world has ever seen, she was a club singer and a hat maker.
16. “Nobody in Europe will be abandoned. Nobody in Europe will be excluded. Europe only succeeds if we work together.” – Angela Merkel (1954)
Angela Merkel was appointed as the Chancellor of Germany in 2005 and she happens to be the first female chancellor presiding over the most powerful European economy.
17. “You gotta have style. It helps you get up in the morning. It’s a way of life. Without it you’re nobody. And I’m not talking about a lot of clothes.” – Diana Vreeland (1903-1989)
Diana Vreeland was a great influence in the world of fashion in the 20th century. She worked as a columnist and editor for Harper’s Bazaar from 1937 to 1962 and for Vogue from 1963 to 1971.
18. “Hard work keeps the wrinkles out of the mind and spirit.” – Helena Rubinstein (1870-1965)
Helena Rubinstein emigrated to Australia in 1902 without any money or the ability to speak in english. Thereafter, she founded one of the world’s first cosmetic companies after mixing lanolin, the grease found in merino sheep wool with scented flowers. Following that she became the world’s richest woman in process at the time.
19. “You can bind my body, tie my hands, govern my actions: you are the strongest, and society adds to your power; but with my will, sir, you can do nothing.” – George Sand (1804-1876)
George Sand, a 19th century French novelist and essayist was a socialist. She ‘shocked’ the high society circles by wearing male clothing in public. As a socialist, she started her own newspaper that was published in workers’ co-operative.
20. “If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.” – Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013)
Margaret Thatcher was loved and hated equally for some of her controversial policies but she never gave up. She was known as the ‘Iron lady’ for her uncompromising politics and leadership style. From being a grocer’s daughter to graduating from Oxford University to becoming a bannister, she went on to becoming Britain’s first and to date, only female Prime Minister elected in 1979 and the country’s fifth longest serving leader.
21. “We are here not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers.” – Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928)
Emmeline, a passionate feminist, was an influential women’s activist who fought along with her husband for the rights of the women in late 19th century and early 20th century. After she lost her husband, she teamed up with her three daughters and formed ‘The Women’s Social and Political Union’ – best known as the suffragettes (women’s right to vote).
22. “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” – J.K Rowling (1965)
Breaking through the trap of poverty until she finished writing her first book for the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling has now sold 400 million copies worldwide. She went on from living on state benefits in the UK to becoming a multi-millionaire after her book’s success in a matter of five years.
23. “If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.” – Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003)
Katherine Hepburn was known for playing strong-willed women in her film roles. She won four academy awards for Best actress, the most an actress has ever won. Her unconventional non-conformist, masculine style choices made wearing trousers acceptable to women, which was largely considered a taboo at that time.
24. “A large part of the present anxiety to improve the education of girls and women is also due to the conviction that the political disabilities of women will not be maintained.” – Millicent Fawcett (1847-1929)
Millicent Fawcett dedicated her life to peacefully fighting for women’s rights but she remained an underrated leader of the suffrage movement (campaign for women to have the vote). She encouraged her politician husband Henry Fawcett to carry on with his work after he was blinded in an accident.
25. “I cannot lead you into battle. I do not give you laws or administer justice but I can do something else – I can give my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the peoples of our brotherhood of nations.” – Queen Elizabeth II (1926)
Queen Elizabeth has ruled over the United Kingdom for 60 years now and has presided over the country through some of the most turbulent times.
26. “In too many instances, the march to globalisation has also meant the marginalisation of women and girls. And that must change.” – Hillary Rodham Clinton (1947)
After becoming the first lady of Arkansas in 1983 and then the United States in 1993, Hillary Clinton has been a powerful force in US politics ever since. She was the first ‘first lady’ to be a candidate in elected office in 1999 (in the race for New York Senator, which she won and served for two terms). She has won numerous awards for her work concerning women, health and children.
27. “I knew someone had to take the first step and I made up my mind not to move.” – Rosa Parks (1913-2005)
Also know as “the first lady of civil rights”, the African-American Rosa Parks was a pioneer of civil rights in a racially segregated Alabama in 1950s. In 1955, she refused to give away her seat to a white passenger in a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, thereby, disobeying the bus driver’s orders. This act of hers sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott that crippled the state capital’s public transport system.
28. “Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave.” – Indira Gandhi (1917-1984)
Indira Gandhi served India as the Prime Minister for 15 years. She paved the way for democracy in India until her assassination in 1984.
29. “The most important thing is to enjoy your life – to be happy – it’s all that matters.” – Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993)
Apart from being among the world’s best known actresses, Audrey Hepburn put her fame into good use later in life and she became a UNICEF Ambassador. She travelled to various countries such as Ethiopia, Ecuador and Bangladesh to highlight various issues and set a great example for subsequent stars to follow.
30. “It’s quite a daunting prospect, but hopefully I’ll take it in my stride.” – Catherine (1982), Duchess of Cambridge
Coming from a middle class family, Catherine, 30, has already made a difference to the way the centuries-old institution is regarded in the 21st Century. Furthermore, she has taken on the role of a patron to some selected charities – the National Portrait Gallery, East Anglia’s Children’s Hospice and Action on Addiction.
31. “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” – Marie Curie (1867-1934)
The famously known “Madame Curie”, a Polish-French physicist and chemist, was the first person to have received two Nobel Prizes. She was the first female professor at the University of Paris and the first lady to be enshrined in France’s national mausoleum, the Paris Panthéon, all based on her own merits.
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