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Top Ten Women Who Changed the World

Updated on September 26, 2016
Aung San Suu Kyi has inspired many people to work peacefully to improve the world, by the power of her personal example.
Aung San Suu Kyi has inspired many people to work peacefully to improve the world, by the power of her personal example.

Women Changing the World

There are of course countless women who changed the world, some are famous while others have never been recognized. This article gives my personal top ten women who have made a real difference in the world. In the fields of politics, science, art and media, these ten women have had a lasting impact on how all of us live.

For anyone looking for positive female role models, these women are inspiring examples of how a woman can change the world for the better. Each of these ten picks shows that a woman with passion and purpose can change history, something I hope will inspire women of all ages who are facing self-doubt or who lack confidence in their abilities.

Positive female role models are important for girls and women. These ten woman prove that women can -and do - change the course of history!

Ten women who changed the world

What she did
What changed
Florence Nightengale
She transformed modern nursing and medical care by pioneering a new level of hygene.
Countless lives have been saved by the hygene practices she introduced to hospitals. Taught the world the link between cleanliness and disease control.
Mary Wollenscraft Shelley
Wrote the novel ' Frankenstein', raising important questions about scientific progress and the nature of the self.
Raised profound moral questions about science and the order of the universe – still affects how we think about moral issues such as cloning or stemcell research today
Marie Curie
Pioneering research into radiation; first person to be awarded two Nobel Prizes.
Our understanding of radiation allows us to harness nuclear power, treat tumours and date archaelogical objects.
Emmeline Pankhurst
Leader of the suffragette movement which gained right to vote for women for the first time in 1919, Britain.
Women are now allowed to vote in every democratic country in the world.
Amelia Earhart
Second person to fly solo across the Atlantic. Died while trying to make first flight around the world.
Showed that women could be adventurous travellers – not just confined to home and motherhood.
Eleanor Roosevelt
Very able wife of President Franklin Roosevelt; supported the New Deal and civil rights. Supported the formation of the United Nations and helped to draft the UN declaration of Human Rights.
The United Nations has helped prevent wars on the scale of WW2 from recurring. The UNDHR is an important standard for challenging corrupt governments around the world.
Rosa Parkes
Peacefully refused to move to the back of a bus – sparking waves of non-violent protest in favour of African-American's rights
African-Americans went on to challenge discrimination in many areas, while segregation and the Jim Crow laws were overtunred.
Rachel Carson
Wrote a book called 'Silent Spring' which was the first to highlight the damaging effects of pesticides
Awareness of pollution brought to public attention – resulting in search for cleaner ways to produce food and energy.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Kept under house arrest for many years, due to her peaceful opposition to Myanmar's military dictatorship. Recently released.
Her dignity and peaceful protest has inspired many people around the world. Growing international pressure for Burma to hold democratic elections.
Oprah Winfrey
From humble origins became one of the most powerful media figures in the world. Founded a charity called 'Oprah's Angel Network'.
Showed that a member of two 'minorities' could have widespread appeal based on her personality. Brings worldwide attention for good causes.

Woman changing the world poll

Which living woman is the most inspiring role model for you?

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Amelia Earhart inspired women - and men - around the world with her pioneering aviation in the 1930s.
Amelia Earhart inspired women - and men - around the world with her pioneering aviation in the 1930s.

Herstory: how women are being written back into history

From ancient times until recent decades, history has mainly been written by men. This has given a natural bias to what has been recorded over the years, which events were considered historical and which were seen as unimportant. The history of conflict and battles, individual leaders and political movements has often been given higher status than the challenges of everyday life and the resilience and innovation shown by women as they found ways to meet those challenges.

Yet who has had a greater impact on the way we live today - Marie Curie or Napoleon? I personally would pick Marie Curie. Her research into radiation has resulted in life-saving technology, and alternatives to fossil fuels. Napoleon's empire, while it led to many dramatic battles, has had little lasting impact.

With the rise of feminism in the 1960s more scholars have started to review history from a female perspective. They have searched for evidence of how women lived, how they were treated by society in the past, and how they found creative ways of influencing their world without being seen to do so - the infamous 'power behind the throne'.

It turns out there have been many women who have shaped the course of history, sometimes quite quietly and subtly because their gender meant they could not be publicly seen to be the one pulling the strings. Many women in medieval Europe, for example, exercised great power in courtly circles whether through intrigue, sexual bargaining or ruthless power politics.

Women have never just been 'one way'. There have always been all sorts of women who have shown courage in leadership in a variety of different ways. I hope you have been inspired by this list to celebrate women's contribution to changing the world.

Four unrecognised women who changed history

Women's History Month

Women's history month is celebrated worldwide each year. In the United States and the United Kingdom it is celebrated in March to coincide with International Women's Day. The celebration of women's history month began with the creation of International Women's Day in 1911. In 1981 the US congress passed a bill to recognize women's history month - recognizing the growing popularity of the event.

Each year a different theme of women's history is celebrated. In 2010 the theme was 'Writing Women back into History', in 2011 it was 'Our History is Our Strength'.


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    • Pedro Morales profile image

      Pedro Morales 3 years ago

      The perspective you placed on Marie Wollenscraft Shelley was new to me. I never thought of the book of the story of Frankenstein to have had that kind of role. great hub.

    • Marie McKeown profile image

      Marie McKeown 3 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      Kerri 3 years ago

      Margaret Sanger, she helped women gain reproductive control and sexual freedom by advocating to have the birth control pill developed, and at the expense of her own life

    • Zainab Tarawali profile image

      Musu Bangura 4 years ago from Nation's Capital

      Great hub! You highlighted very useful information. Voted up!

    • Marie McKeown profile image

      Marie McKeown 4 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for your support Jo!

    • Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

      Jo_Goldsmith11 4 years ago

      Excellent choices for inspirational women role models. A very interesting read. And I agree with your selections. Up, shared and cheers for this being selected for a Gold Award for March. :-) Will continue to stop in and I have no doubt will enjoy many more of your insightful writings. :-)

    • Marie McKeown profile image

      Marie McKeown 4 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts - keep blazing those trails!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      There are so many women I could mention for so many reasons. In this generation, I think the women who open doors for other women are the most significant. With that in mind, I'd name Barbara Walters as a trailblazer for women who continues to encourage us not to let anything stop us from seeing our dreams come true.

    • profile image

      Geoff Skipworth 5 years ago

      Mary the mother of Christ

    • Marie McKeown profile image

      Marie McKeown 5 years ago from Ireland

      I wouldn't agree with her politics but I agree she had a big impact...

    • profile image

      N Jones 5 years ago

      Baroness Margaret Thatcher was outstanding, she changed the world

    • Marie McKeown profile image

      Marie McKeown 5 years ago from Ireland

      Glad you found it useful! Thanks for reminding me about Hilary Clinton.

    • nArchuleta profile image

      Nadia Archuleta 5 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Excellent article, very inspiring. But I can't beleive you didn't mention Hilary Rodham Clinton. Her personal politics aside, she has come the closest to being the most powerful woman in the world (ie, POTUS). 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, and I'm one of them. Thank you, though, for this beautiful article.

    • FullOfLoveSites profile image

      FullOfLoveSites 5 years ago from United States

      Well written and really inspiring article! Voted up and awesome. :)

    • Marie McKeown profile image

      Marie McKeown 5 years ago from Ireland

      Glad you enjoyed!

    • profile image

      Tim Tebow 5 years ago

      i loved the amelia air heart story

    • Marie McKeown profile image

      Marie McKeown 5 years ago from Ireland

      I would like to read that book!

    • profile image

      tasha perkens 5 years ago

      That is True I got a book about it

    • Marie McKeown profile image

      Marie McKeown 5 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks Anna - I agree it is good to celebrate the achievements of women! And there are also so many women who don't become famous but who do a lot to help the people in their lives...

    • Anna Sternfeldt profile image

      Anna Sternfeldt 5 years ago from Svenljunga, Sweden

      Great stuff. We need to read about what women have done and get inspired!! Just imagine that a small action like refusing to change seat like Rosa Parker did could turn things upside down. Mother Theresa must also be mentioned. She is a legend.

    • Marie McKeown profile image

      Marie McKeown 5 years ago from Ireland

      Good suggestion - she certainly changed France!

    • Bard Athena profile image

      Bard Athena 5 years ago

      Joan of Arc. She changed the world. I love this hub.

    • profile image

      rtygy.8i 6 years ago



    • Marie McKeown profile image

      Marie McKeown 6 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for sharing - I had never heard of her!

    • profile image

      Annonymous 6 years ago

      I voted "other," thinking of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

    • Marie McKeown profile image

      Marie McKeown 6 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for your comment Margaret, though I do not agree with you. My experience of Margaret Thatcher's policies and personality was that she was very aggressive and confrontational, and often inflamed conflict unnecessarily. For that reason, I do not think she is a positive role model for anyone, male or female. But I recognize other people are going to have a different opinion!

    • profile image

      Margaret 6 years ago

      Margaret Thatcher IS a great role model for women. Probably the best.

    • AnesaK profile image

      AnesaK 6 years ago from USA

      Wonderful dedication to some incredible women. Great hub and definitely voted up!

    • ahostagesituation profile image

      SJ 7 years ago

      I just loved this and great list! Thanks for taking the time to do this. I look to people of admirable achievements or of admirable philosophy to work on myself, and these are fantastic women. Thanks again.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image

      Sharon Smith 7 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA


      This is such a well written and informative article. Thank you so much for sharing . . .


    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

      What admirable people- I feel so inspired after reading this Hub! Voted up!

    • Marie McKeown profile image

      Marie McKeown 7 years ago from Ireland

      Glad to see guys are enjoying this hub too!

    • Radioguy profile image

      Radioguy 7 years ago from Maine

      Although Rachel Carson has come under some criticism, I think she belongs with the other trail blazers! Awesome work!!

    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 7 years ago from United States

      Wow. What a beautiful and inspiring hub that shows the triumphs and contributions of women. These women are great examples for all to celebrate. Excellent!


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