6 of the Most Influential Women in History
As Women’s History Month comes to a close for another year, we take a look at some fiercely strong women that helped shape our lives as we know them. These influential women in history fought to be the best in their field, pioneered for women’s rights and racial equality, and have positively impacted how women all over the world live today.
Marie Curie 1867-1934
Marie Curie was a Polish scientist and the first female to win a Nobel Prize. Curie was recognised for her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium. To this day, Marie Curie is the only person to have received two separate Nobel Prizes for two different sciences, one for physics and one for chemistry.
Her work made huge contributions to finding treatments for cancer. In 1930, Marie Curie allowed her name to be used by the Marie Curie Hospital in north London. It was staffed entirely by women to treat female cancer patients using radiology.
Throughout her career, Marie Curie faced fierce discrimination due to the fact that science was a male-dominated field. Despite the adversity, her work is still relevant; her achievements in physics and chemistry continue to save lives and influence science today.
Rosa Parks 1913-2005
The refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her seat on a bus for a white male-led to an entire civil rights movement in America in 1955. At this time, Alabama was still governed by segregation laws. Only white citizens were allowed to sit at the front of the bus, when there were no seats left in the white section, four black riders were asked to stand and give the white man a whole row. They did, but Parks refused and was arrested. This brought uproar across America and people took to the streets in protest of the injustice.
Rosa’s actions inspired the leaders of the local Black community to organise the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Her courageous act is still an American legend and she has been called "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement".
Edith Cowan 1861-1932
Edith Cowan was the first Australian woman to serve as a member of parliament. Cowan was a pioneer for women’s rights. In 1921, her election into parliament was met with a lot of scepticism and adversity. During her time in parliament Cowan pushed through legislation that allowed women to be involved in the legal profession; she promoted migrant welfare and sex education in schools and placed mothers in an equal position with fathers when their children died without having made a will.
Cowan also fought against domestic violence, drunkenness and spoke openly about venereal disease, prostitution, contraception, illegitimacy and sex crimes at a time when these issues were never talked about.
She believed in enlightened and rational self-control and self-determination. Her legacy permeates Australian culture and throughout the world to this day.
Amelia Earhart 1897-1939
Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the US. Earhart refused to live within the constraints of societal gender constructs. She was a pioneering aviator who set multiple aviation records.
In 1937, Earhart embarked on an adventure to be the first person to circumnavigate the globe. Sadly she did not return home, and to this day her disappearance remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the twentieth century as the plane wreckage has never been found. To this day her bravery and gumption inspire many women to believe that they too are capable of achieving great things.
Jane Addams 1860-1935
Jane Addams won worldwide recognition in the first third of the twentieth century as a pioneer social worker in America, a feminist, and an internationalist. In the days before women’s suffrage, Addams believed that women’s voices should be heard in legislation and therefore should have the right to vote. She also thought that women should have the right to aspirations and search out opportunities to realise them.
Addams’s own aspiration was to eliminate war. She spoke and wrote passionately about peace. She publicly opposed America's entry into the First World War and in 1915, accepted the chairmanship of the Women’s Peace Party.
Addams was the second woman to receive the Peace Prize and her work led to pinnacle change in social reformation and women's suffrage.
Sojourner Truth 1797-1883
Sojourner Truth was born into slavery and escaped to freedom with her infant daughter in 1826. Known for being one of the foremost leaders of the abolition movement and one of the earliest advocates for women’s rights, she spent her life devoted to these causes.
Sojourner Truth is best known for her speech on racial inequalities, "Ain't I a Woman?" which she delivered at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in 1851. The words from this speech are still so poignant and relevant. “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up again. And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”
Women all over the world are still fighting to be treated equally and to have the same opportunities as men. These women were just some of the pioneers in this movement. They achieved great things and we are grateful to them and many other women for being brave enough to start these conversations. Today, we continue on the path they paved and through supporting each other we too will make history.