We take a peek at the women whose name sends shivers down the spine due to the magnitude of their achievements, be it in arts, politics, healthcare, exploration or business.
Inspirational Women of the 21st Century
First we must pay tribute to the women who changed the world; the ones who brought new opportunities to women of the current day, to reach new feats and fight new challenges. Let us take a quick look at seven of the names that opened new doors, not only for women but for the world:
Through the pioneering research of Marie Curie, the lives of countless people have been saved. Her research and work on radioactivity earned her the Nobel Prize. She was the first woman to receive the prestigious award, and her name is heralded to this day. Not only has her discovery contributed to treatment for cancer, but it also formed the foundation for x-rays to be used today.
Incredibly, Ada Lovelace – the daughter of Lord Byron – arguably upstaged her famous father. As early as 1840, alongside British inventor Charles Babbage, the duo conceptualised the first computer and she wrote the programme. Of course, she only wrote the algorithm on paper, but this was the beginning of computers as we know them.
Known for her ability to tell timeless stories, the English author of such classics as Pride and Prejudice and Emma have made Jane Austen an icon. Her delectable writing style and wit have made her novels among the most treasured, not only in the country but also the world.
When World War II was in full flow, behind the scenes a great mind that goes by the name of Alan Turing was working to end the war by developing a computer programme to crack the Nazi code. Behind him, he needed a team that trusted him implicitly. Lacking the social skills himself, Joan Clarke, a mathematician of great talent, stepped in to help him earn their trust. Due to her social skills and elite skills as a mathematician, Clarke was able to work closely with Turing to gain the support of their team, and thus achieved their hefty ambition, knocking years off of the war to save many lives.
Now here is a name that helped define the society that we know today. Emmeline Pankhurst was the leader of the movement which won women the right to vote. She fought long and hard for the rights of women and some seventy years since she left her imprint, the activist was included by Time magazine as one of the hundred most important women in history. Her struggle is perhaps best described in her own words:
“We are here, not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers.”
Another great activist, one with a different agenda, Rosa Parks’ legendary story of standing up to pressure for her to move, as a black woman at the back of a bus in a segregated America, made her one of the symbols of a civil rights movement that changed the world.
These great women who changed the world, and many more, from Emilia Earhart to Florence Nightingale; Agatha Christie to Marylyn Monroe; Helen Keller to Joan of Arc, challenged social norms and culture as they knew it. They reinvented ideas as they had previously existed and fought for what they believed in to make a better world for everyone in it. These top women in history helped to pave the way for a more inclusive, inventive and cooperative society.
Modern Female Idols
Now let us see who is making a splash in the current day, helping to push the boundaries of women. Here are the most inspirational women of the 21st century, the first part of our comprehensive list of great women.
Activists, campaigners and philanthropists
1. Emma Gonzalez
When her school was invaded by a gunman who killed many of her friends, she stood up to let the world know that she and her classmates demanded change. She brought the world to tears with one of the most courageous speeches of our time. Still leading the fight, with her dedicated team, against gun laws, Emma will not be going away anytime soon.
2. Linda Cruse
“Linda Cruse makes the impossible, possible”
There a few compliments as strong as one from the multi billionaire philanthropist but Linda Cruse deserves it. She has been changing lives with programmes designed to support communities and businesses. This modern-day Mother Theresa is no doubt one of the finest humanitarians in the world today.
3. Melinda Gates
American philanthropist and wife of Microsoft owner, Bill Gates, Melinda Gates has become one of the most powerful women in the world, with her efforts to support areas of society in desperate need of help or remodelling. Together with Bill Gates, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama for their extraordinary efforts.
4. Pussy Riot
Russian feminist pop punk protest band, Pussy Riot have been campaigning for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and other concerns since 2011. They were famously tried and sentenced for their artful protests which were construed as hooliganism. Their latest protest held at the FIFA World Cup Final in 2018 was aimed at demanding the state to free political prisoners and allow political competition in Russia. They are contemporary activists who dare to stand up for what they and others believe.
5. Kathryn Bigelow
The first and only female Academy Award Winning Director in Hollywood to date, Bigelow has made history. Her Academy Award-winning film, The Hurtlocker is one of many of her successes. She is a leading luminary in showbiz and one of the most influential women today.
6. Joanna Lumley
Joanna Lumley‘s role as Patsy Stone in hit British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous endeared her to television viewers across the country. Her true-to-life, rebellious yet charming attitude may have made her a television star, but it is her work as a human rights activist, not least during the Gurkha Justice Campaign– that has earned her a place on this list, and more importantly a charming status as the ‘Daughter of Nepal’.
7. Randi Zuckerberg
When your brother is the creator of the biggest social media platform of our time, Facebook – it would be easy to fade into obscurity. Not Randi Zuckerberg. After becoming one of the powerhouses of the marketing team at Facebook, she founded Zuckerberg Media, working with Fortune 500 companies like Paypal and Conde Naste. She still found time to become a New York Times best-selling author and feature on television coverage of the US midterm elections which earned her an Emmy Award in 2011.
8. Marissa Mayer
Former President and CEO of multinational search engine and news hub, Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer was the youngest woman ever to be listed in Fortune Magazine’s annual list of America’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business at just 33 years old. She followed this up with a place in that ranking for the following eight years. One of the most influential businesswomen in the world, Marissa Mayer helped to smash the glass ceiling for women in business.
9. Bonita Norris
Summiting Everest is the challenge of a lifetime and one you would expect to take many years to prepare for. Bonita Norris, however, gained adulation for having gone from novice climber to the top of the world in just two tough years. This amazing achievement made her the youngest woman in history to reach the summit, at just 22 years of age.
10. Leanna Shuttleworth
From the youngest woman ever to have climbed the great heights of Everest, to her successor for the title. Leanna Shuttleworth climbed to the summit of Everest at just 19 years of age in 2012, two years after Bonita, before becoming the youngest British female to have completed the ‘Seven Summits’. She is now dedicated to helping young girls chase their dreams.
11. Michelle Obama
American lawyer and writer, Michelle Obama, became a source of inspiration to millions in the US when she became the first African American First Lady of the United States in 2009, during Barack Obama’s eight-year presidential reign. Her impact was felt so strongly that she has become a role model for women across the globe, and a leading advocate for health, wellbeing, education, poverty and fashion.
12. Indira Gandhi
The first and only Indian Prime Minister to date, Indira Gandhi is credited as the leader who helped India within touching distance of the first world. One of the great women who changed the world, before her assassination she addressed chronic food shortages and resolved a bloody dispute with Pakistan peacefully via the Simla Agreement. A BBC poll even recognised her as “Woman of the Millennium“.
13. Hillary Clinton
Former US Senator, First Lady and the 67th US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is another politician who is shrouded in controversy. But her commitment to making a better world for women and children especially, with her work for the Too Small to Fail initiative and No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project shows that she is a torch holder for women everywhere.
Madonna is known as the Queen of Pop. She has broken records in the music industry on her way to becoming one of the most powerful women on the planet. Her sheer drive and unprecedented success have seen her lauded as “America’s smartest businesswoman” and one of the biggest influences on contemporary pop music. As a result, Madonna is a true tour-de-force of the entertainment industry.
15. Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin was a woman that came to define her time, with megahits like ‘Respect’ and ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ and ‘Think’. Before the 70s rolled in, Aretha had become the Queen of Soul and had already earned a legacy of one of music’s all-time greats. That status was confirmed when she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
16. Sheryl Sandberg
A key player in the technology sector, Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Facebook. The first woman to serve on the board for the social platform’s team, she was inducted into a list of Most Influential People in the World by Time magazine in 2012 and has gone on to be worth well over a billion.
17. Fiona Bruce
You may know her name from her presentation of the BBC News at Six, Crimewatch or the Antiques Roadshow but there is more behind the scenes to Fiona Bruce. She has become an outspoken feminist, has worked with many charities like Women’s Aid and NSPCC. The latter even inducted the newsreader into their Hall of Fame thanks to her hard work for the charity.
18. Zaha Hadid
One of the world’s most innovative architects, Zaha Hadid has conceptualised and realized the process, from planning through to execution, of some of the most enticing buildings worldwide. She is an award-winning titan of the industry and a truly inspiring woman.
19. Queen Elizabeth II
HRM was the youngest monarch in history when she took to the throne and is now the longest reigning monarch of all time. Having seen 13 Prime Ministers come and go since her 1952 coronation, Queen Elizabeth II is highly respected due in some part to her astonishing status as the world’s oldest ruling monarch. Queen Elizabeth II has become a mainstay of British culture and will remain a hallmark of history.
20. Kate Middleton
Kate Middleton is married to the likely future king of England, making her the future king’s consort and one of the most important names in British society. Her charity work, especially as an advocate for mental health, has made the Duchess of Cambridge a much-appreciated member of the royal family and a great motivational figure for many.
21. Elizabeth Blackburn
A biological researcher who became the recipient of a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine when she co-discovered telomerase, an enzyme able to repair and protect the telomeres of a chromosome. Sound complicated? Not for this modern-day science sensation.
22. Dame Jane Goodall
British national treasure and the world’s first chimpanzee expert, Dame Jane Goodall is a force of nature. Her conservation and environmental work, as well as her work as one of the leading primatologists, brought her a long string of awards including a UN Messenger in Peace award and a Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science.
23. Judy Murray
Judy Murray is perhaps most famous for being the mother and original coach of Britain’s most successful tennis players, Wimbledon winners Andy Murray and Jamie Murray. The foremost was the British men’s singles No.1 and for some time the world No.1 and Jamie is a former doubles world No.1. Judy balanced motherhood with coaching to ensure her two boys reached the absolute top of the game and was awarded an OBE for services to tennis, women in sport and charity.
24. Jessica Ennis-Hill
The London 2012 Olympic Games broke records in every area. An already incredible triathlete and heptathlete, Jessica Ennis was one of the big hopes for the games. She defied all expectation and became the face of the 2012 Olympic Games and one of the most decorated athletes in the country’s history. Now a national treasure and an inspiration to many up and coming athletes, she is an incredible motivational speaker.
25. Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson
Not had enough of inspirational women and want to see more women who changed the world? See 50 Women who are Changing the World – Part Two.
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