Looking at the past and history, we are constantly reminded of the excellent capabilities humans have. There are many men and women that changed the world for us through their achievements. Because of these people, we are living in the world we have before us today.
Today, we look at the top fifty women that changed the world. These extraordinary women achieved so much in so little time, and we are blown away by what they did. All of these are women of history, and they were changing the world when we were not even born.
1. Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo does not need any introduction, especially to people who are into art and culture. Kahlo’s fame began in Mexico and slowly spread throughout the world as she became an art icon. Her artwork was thought-provoking, mind-blowing, and based on magical realism.
Kahlo’s work slowly took over the world, and in 1938, her self-portrait known as “The Frame” was featured in the Louvre. Kahlo was the first Mexican artist ever to be featured in the gallery, and that was an honor for the entire Mexican region. She no longer lives, but her art is still loved by many in the modern world.
2. Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt was the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was the previous First Lady of the United States. She was the first woman in the position to help women by improving the access women had to many things. She was a fierce advocate for women’s rights at the time.
Roosevelt also pressed the U.S to join the United Nations. When they did, Roosevelt became their first delegate. She also oversaw the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Roosevelt changed the role of the First Lady and set a precedent for all women to come into this position in the future.
3. Anne Frank
The 40s were one of the worst times in history as many Jews died in the concentration camps at the hands of Nazis. Anne Frank was one of the poor girls who also died in these camps. However, her father managed to escape the camp and publish Anne’s diaries in 1947.
During her time in those camps, Anne Frank wrote a diary giving her account and experience. Her writings helped everyone understand what was going on in the camps and how everyone suffered. It is a glimpse into the worst humanity can plunder into because of greed and power.
4. Grace Hopper
Grace Hopper is a renowned name in the world of science, technology, and mathematics. In 1934, Hopper became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Yale University. After that, she made strides in the real world by becoming one of the first programmers to work on the Harvard Mark I computer.
However, Hopper did not stop there as she also became a rear admiral in the U.S Navy. She was a pioneer in computer programming and changed the way people in the field viewed women. She won many awards and medals for all the work she did during her lifetime.
5. Amelia Earhart
During the 30s, many women changed the world, and Amelia Earhart was one of them. She was the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean as a pilot. She was also among the top twenty women at the time who received a pilot’s license.
However, in 1937, Earhart mysteriously disappeared during one of her flights. The search to find her began, but it was of no use as she was nowhere to be found. After two years, Earhart was pronounced legally dead, and the circumstances surrounding her disappearance are still a mystery to everyone.
6. Naomi Parker
If you have seen the “We Can Do It” poster with a woman showing off her bicep, you probably have an idea who Naomi Parker is. She was an American war worker and worked on the aircraft assembly at Naval Air Station Alameda. Of course, Parker was the inspiration behind Rosie the Riveter.
One of the versions of the poster was also published by The Saturday Evening Post at the time. The poster was there as part of a campaign to include more women in the workforce. However, the poster was originally created for an electric corporation.
7. Rosa Parks
A list of women that achieved extraordinary things is incomplete without mentioning the iconic Rosa Parks. During the 50s, racism was at an all-time high, and rules in Alabama stated that if a bus were full, the front seats would be given to white people. Parks was a leader of the civil rights movement at that time and refused to give up her seat.
Her disobeying of the rule sparked outrage and led to the Montgomery boycott. After that, many people all over America made more efforts to end this racism and segregation by the whites. Park’s actions are still applauded worldwide.
8. Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr was an American-Austrian actress and a pioneer of technology and invention during the 40s. She created technology that set the foundation for many things we use today, such as Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi. Lamarr also co-invented a radio signaling device that was a way of communicating secretly.
The signaling system changed frequencies to confuse enemies during the time of WWII. Lamarr won many awards, and she was one of the few women of her time to take part in technological inventions. If you use WiFi, Bluetooth, or GPS, you should thank her for making it possible.
9. Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II got the crown and became the Queen in 1952 after her father, King George, died. However, her official coronation took place a year later. Unless you have been living under a rock, you know who she is because she still reigns the British monarchy.
The Queen has made many changes to the monarch system, and she has changed the world with many of her achievements. Even during her old age, she is making strides, and we can’t wait to see more ways in which she changes the world. Her reign is the longest one in history.
10. Althea Gibson
In previous times, women were not allowed to do many things and were not made to participate in sports and other things. However, that changed when Althea Gibson became the first African-American woman to play at Wimbledon. Serena Williams may be the top player today, but she would not have gotten her start if it weren’t for Gibson’s persistence.
Gibson dominated the women’s team in the 50s and won many awards for her athletic achievements. So, if you can take part in sports competitions today, you can thank women like Gibson who made it possible. Unfortunately, Gibson passed away in 2003.
11. Lucille Ball
Lucille Ball used to be an American model, actress, comedian, producer, and much more. She made her debut in 1951 on the sitcom known as “I Love Lucy.” Soon, the show became a success, and Ball was a hit as her acting was loved by everyone that watched the show.
The show was funny, but it also touched on important topics of the time, such as women’s role in the workforce and marital issues. Through her role in this sitcom, Ball broke many barriers for women and raised awareness. She won many awards for her amazing acting in the show.
12. Rita Moreno
Rita Moreno has been a Puerto Rican dancer, actress, singer, and much more for the past seventy years. She is known for her role in West Side Story, which led her straight to stardom, allowing her to work in many Broadway and Hollywood roles. Moreno is the only Latin woman in the entertainment business who has won a Grammy, Tony, Oscar, and an Emmy.
Morena started on Broadway when she was only thirteen years old. Today she is almost 90 years old, and she is still working in the entertainment industry. All of us can learn hard work from her.
13. Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald used to be an American jazz singer with many names such as Queen of Jazz, First Lady of Song, and much more. During her lifetime, she sold more than forty million albums and won thirteen Grammy’s. She was the first African-American woman during the 50s to win a Grammy.
Thanks to her, many African-American women took charge to make their way in the entertainment business. Fitzgerlad set a precedent for African-American women winning Grammy’s, and it hasn’t stopped since. She is still widely known in the jazz world as many people worldwide try to follow in her footsteps in composition.
14. Indira Gandhi
Indira Gandhi was first appointed the Prime Minister of India in 1966, and she is one of the few women of her time to rise into power. She made strides in her role for more than twenty years. Her biggest achievement was India’s victory in the Indo-Pakistani war in 1971.
The victory allowed Bangladesh to become an independent state. Unfortunately, Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984 by her own bodyguards as she was walking into her office. The assassination led to four days of rioting in India, and thousands of Sikhs were killed as revenge for what Gandhi’s bodyguards did to her.
15. Margaret Sanger
If you have ever wondered who coined the term birth control, it was Margaret Sanger. She was a women’s rights activist and a feminist during the 60s. She opened a women’s clinic and also wrote many pamphlets raising awareness for women’s health across the country.
Of course, the biggest achievement of Sanger was persisting the FDA to approve the first oral contraceptive in 1960. The contraceptive was known as Envoid, and it changed the way women took control of their bodies. Unfortunately, Sanger died six years later, but during her time, she was a force to be reckoned with when it came to women’s rights.
16. Celia Cruz
Celia Cruz was a Latin-American singer, and she was one of the most popular Latin singers during the 60s. Cruz joined hands with a popular band in 1950 known as Sonora Matancera. However, Cruz had no idea that she would rise to stardom because of her voice during this time.
Cruz became the Queen of Salsa in the 60s, but her achievements went far beyond being a singer. In the 60s, she championed for her fellow Cubans during the reign of Fidel Castro. She spoke out against the government’s violence and urged other people to also speak for the cause.
17. Betty Friedan
If you have ever advocated for women’s rights or read about the topic, you probably know Betty Friedan. She wrote The Feminine Mystique, which encouraged women to get out of their homes and look for opportunities to succeed. Friedan was also the co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in the 60s.
Friedan dedicated her entire life to fighting for women’s rights by establishing the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws. If you haven’t read her books, you should, especially if you also advocate for women’s rights. You will be blown away by the insights Friedan has to offer.
18. Angela Davis
Angela Davis is a political activist, author, philosopher, and academic, and she is known for her progressive politics. Davis has always been at the forefront of leftist causes, the feminist movement, and many other social issues. Unfortunately, the State of California imprisoned Davis in 1970 for committing three capital felonies.
One of these felonies was a conspiracy to murder after Davis was part of an armed standoff in a Martin Country courtroom. Davis was released in 1972, and even that incident did not stop her from her mission. She still advocates for prison abolition, gender equity, and civil rights.
19. Jane Goodall
The world of science would be incomplete without Jane Goodall, as she is an English anthropologist and primatologist. She began studying chimpanzees in 1960 at the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. Her research went on for more than sixty years and has given us insights into what goes into chimpanzees’ social lives and minds.
In 1977, Goodall also founded the Jane Goodall Institute and the Roots Shoots program in the 90s. Both these institutes were created to further the conservation efforts of wildlife animals. She has also written many books, and her works are critically acclaimed.
20. Junko Tabei
If you love hiking or climbing mountains, you have probably heard of Junko Tabei. She was the first woman to climb Mount Everest with success in 1975. Her achievement shattered gender norms as it provided a glimpse into what women could achieve if they set their hearts and mind into doing something.
After that, Tabei was also the first woman to reach the Seven Peaks. The Seven Peaks are the highest points of the seven continents. Tabei managed to achieve this in 1992. Unfortunately, Tabei passed away at the age of 77 due to cancer, but her legacy still lives.
21. Katherine G. Johnson
As the famous saying goes that behind every successful man is a woman. Well, in this case, it is true, as Katherine G. Johnson helped send the first man to the moon with success. Johnson was a highly-esteemed mathematician during her time, and she was the brains behind all the calculations that allowed us to fly into space.
If you want to know more about Johnson and her work, you can watch Hidden Figures. The movie focuses on highlighting women and their achievements at NASA. The movie mostly focuses on African-American women and their achievements in this field.
22. Germaine Greer
Germaine Greer is a radical feminist, and she voiced her opinions on the sexual freedom of women during the 20th century. Greer is famously known for writing The Female Eunuch, which was published in 1970. The book is one of the most famous pieces of feminist literature you will ever come across.
The Female Eunuch explores what society expects of women and how other people want women to behave. If you also want to read such literature, The Female Eunuch is the top book to read. Greer also wrote many other books, and she is still an advocate of women’s freedom and rights.
23. Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep does not need an introduction because she is one of the most famous actresses of our time. She has broken her own nomination record as she was nominated twenty-one times. Her first nomination came in 1978 for the movie The Deer Hunter, but she did not win an award for it.
However, two years later, Streep won an award for her role in Kramer vs. Kramer. She is the living embodiment of the capabilities of actresses, as she has done many diverse roles during her lifetime. She doesn’t take as many roles now, but she is a role model for many women worldwide.
24. Shirley Chisholm
Shirley Chisholm was an educator, politician, and author who became the first Black woman elected into the United States Congress. The election took place in 1968, and in 1975, Chisholm also entered the presidential race. She was the first Black woman to do this, but of course, she did not win.
Chisholm’s achievements in the United States government empowered many Black women to take authoritative roles in the country. It was difficult at that time, but these stories gave women more power and authority. Thanks to all those women, we are now living in a much better world as women.
25. Benazir Bhutto
When it comes to women’s rights, Pakistan is going backward, but that changed for a while when Benazir Bhutto became the first woman Prime Minister of Pakistan. In 1988, a military coup threw off her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government, and she inherited leadership. During this time, Bhutto pushed for open elections in the government.
All of this happened three months after she gave birth, and she won the leadership. Unfortunately, Bhutto was assassinated in 2007, and that broke the country into a riot. Now, her son leads the Pakistan People’s Party as he strives to continue his mother’s legacy.
26. Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin, also known as the Queen of Soul, was an American pianist, songwriter, and singer. Rolling Stones placed her on the ninth position two times in their 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list. Although she began her career by singing gospel music, her soul songs are what made her famous in the country.
Franklin was also the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Unfortunately, the Queen of Soul passed away three years ago due to pancreatic cancer. However, her legacy still lives as her music will never be forgotten.
27. Miriam Makeba
Miriam Makeba was also known a Mama Africa, and she transformed the world through her music. She used her singing platform to speak against the apartheid in the 70s and 80s. Makeba raised awareness about the plight of South Africans during that time through her music, and she indulged in endless activism.
Makeba was one of the first African musicians to receive recognition and praise worldwide. Unfortunately, Makeba passed away because of a heart attack in 2008 during one of her concerts in Italy. Her activism and music are still highly praised among many people in Africa and everywhere else.
28. Amy Tan
If you have read The Joy Luck Club, you know who Amy Tan is. She is an American author, and her book also turned into a famous movie. The Joy Luck Club explores the relationship between Chinese families, specifically Chinese mothers, and daughters.
In 1989, The Joy Luck Club was one of the longest-running New York Times bestsellers. Ever since then, many people have translated the book into more than twenty-five languages. If you also want to read one of the best books written by Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club is the best one. Of course, you can also watch the movie.
29. Sandra Day O’Connor
Sandra Day O’Connor is now a retired American politician and attorney who made strides during her time in office. In 1981, she was the first woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court. President Ronald Reagan nominated Connor, and the vote to appoint her in this position was unanimous.
Connor served the office for more than twenty years and retired back in 2006. She was known for her thorough, well-researched, and meticulous opinions. Connor was a key swing vote in many important cases, and her sense of justice was like no other, which is why she is still a legend.
30. Elizabeth Taylor
If there is one thing Elizabeth Taylor is known for besides her acting, it is her scandalous love affairs. However, in 1991, Taylor started the Elizabeth Taylor HIV/AIDS foundation after one of her closest friends passed away from this disease. The foundation works towards research for better treatments and lends support to people who are battling this disease.
During the 90s, many politicians and celebrities were not talking about the AIDS crisis, but Taylor was at the forefront of this issue. Because of her, many people started talking about the disease and lending support. The foundation still runs successfully.
31. Sally Ride
The world has always discriminated against women with its sexist policies and rules in place. However, in 1983, Sally Ride broke all such barriers when she became the first woman to fly out into space as an astronaut on a space shuttle mission. Ride’s job included using a robotic arm to help put satellites in space.
NASA initiated the program, and there were more than a thousand other applicants. Against all odds, Ride beat everyone and became the first woman to venture into space. After her adventure, she became a champion for scientific education and is a role model for girls till today.
32. Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison is the author of the novel The Bluest Eye that she wrote in the 70s. Morrison used her platform to write stories about Black people and everything they go through daily. After completing her Beloved trilogy, Morrison became the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.
Three years after she won the Nobel Prize, Morrison was given the Distinguished Contribution to American Letters honor by National Book Foundation. Besides that, the National Endowment for the Humanities chose her to provide the Jefferson lecture. Unfortunately, Morrison passed away two years ago, but her legacy still lives.
33. J.K. Rowling
J.K. Rowling is a name that does not need any introduction in the modern world. Her Harry Potter series is the most beloved book by adults and children worldwide. The first Harry Potter novel came out in 1997, and two years later, the first three books held the top three spots on the bestseller list of the New York Times.
The books led to the creation of movies, and if you have never seen one, it is time to catch up. The books and movies are fantastic, and you will be blown away by what Rowling has to offer to her readers.
34. Dr. Mae C. Jemison
Dr. Mae C. Jemison is an American physicist and engineer who was the first African-American woman to receive acceptance into NASA’s astronaut program. She was also aboard the Endeavour in 1992, which made her the first African-American woman to venture into space. During this venture, Jemison was serving as a mission specialist.
However, in 1993, Jemison retired as an astronaut and worked as a physicist and engineer. She received the Elizabeth Blackwell Medal for being a leader in women’s health in areas of research, public policy, care, and much more. Jemison continues to work and wow women all over the world.
35. Madeleine Albright
Madeleine Albright is an American diplomat and politician who was the first female Secretary of State for the United States. Her tenure was between 1997 and 2001, as she served for four years in this office under Bill Clinton. Albright was always advocating for human rights, and this was reflected in her work too.
That is because she fought hard and long to prevent nuclear weapon expansion. Albright also advocated that we should broker peace in the Middle East, but her efforts did not come to fruition. Of course, she was right all along, and the world would have been different if other people in the office had listened to her.
36. Hillary Clinton
Unless you live under a rock, you know who Hillary Clinton is and everything she has done until now. Clinton served as the First Lady of the United States when her husband Bill was elected President. However, after her tenure, Clinton was also elected in 2000 into the United States Senate.
Due to her vast experience, Clinton continued to serve as Secretary of State under Barack Obama’s tenure. After that, in 2016, Clinton became the first woman in the history of the U.S to be a presidential nominee for a major political party. Of course, we all know who won that election.
37. Tegla Loroupe
In 1994, Tegla Loroupe, a Kenyan long-distance runner, became the first African-American woman to win the NYC Marathon. Her victory was nothing short of mind-blowing and inspired other Kenyan women to do the same. Since then, Kenyan women have won five NYC Marathons, and they have six world records in long-distance running.
Loroupe also initiated the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation, which is a humanitarian and peace foundation helping people in many places. That is the power one woman can have on an entire generation of women. Loroupe is an inspiration to everyone in her hometown, and many girls and now joining sports because of her.
38. Michelle Kwan
Michelle Kwan is now a retired American figure skater, but she shined bright during her time. Kwan became a rising star in the most competitive eras of figure skating among many other well-known skaters such as Sasha Cohen and Tara Lipinski. Kwan started skating at the age of eight and has not stopped since then.
Kwan has won five World Championship Titles in figure skating and two Olympic medals. She was also a U.S Champion in figure skating nine times. She dominated the figure skating world like no other, and everyone still sings her praises as her feats will never be forgotten.
39. Halle Berry
Halle Berry is one of the best actresses the American cinema will ever get to witness. She did a movie in 2001 known as Monster’s Ball, which led to her winning the Academy Award for Best Actress. Berry is the first and only African-American woman to win an Oscar in this category.
Since then, Berry has done many movies and has consistently delivered an exceptional performance like no other. If actresses inspire you, there is no better inspiration than Halle Berry out there. Unfortunately, she does fewer films now, but her name will not be forgotten anytime soon.
40. Oprah Winfrey
Any list of accomplished women will be incomplete without putting Oprah Winfrey. She started as a reporter in Nashville during the 70s and soon gained traction in the media. After that, Winfrey was offered her own thirty-minute talk show on a Chicago station that she accepted, leading to her fame.
Of course, in 1986, The Oprah Winfrey Show went national, and it is still a big part of American television. By 2003, Oprah Winfrey became the first female African-American billionaire. Everyone loves Winfrey, and people worldwide still tune into her show as it has a vast viewership. You can tune into it too next time.
41. Kathryn Bigelow
Kathryn Bigelow was a student of painting at the San Francisco Art Institute during her 20s. After that, she moved to New York in the 70s to become a participant in the independent study program of Whitney Museum. Soon, she became one of the most famous filmmakers.
Bigelow is known for directing heart-pounding action sequences and excellent visuals. By the end of the 70s, Bigelow moved from short feature films to full-length feature films. In 2008, Bigelow became the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director. She won this award for her movie, known as The Hurt Locker.
42. Sonia Sotomayer
In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Sonia Sotomayer to the United States Supreme Court. She became the first Hispanic and Latin woman judge to take the seat in more than two hundred years. Sotomayer has heard more than three thousand cases and has written almost four hundred opinions to date.
Currently, she is the only judge in the United States Supreme Court with experience as a trial judge. She has also brought more federal judicial experience than anyone else in the court in a hundred years. Sotomayer is well-respected by her colleagues, and she is a well-known name in the justice system.
43. Malala Yousufzai
We are all familiar that the Taliban is a terrorist group, and Yousufzai survived a gunshot wound to face by the group. Even though she was in a critical condition, Yousufzai survived and became an advocate for human rights, women’s rights, and education. Seven years ago, Yousufzai was given the Nobel Peace Prize.
Yousufzai is a Pakistani activist, and she continues to fight for women’s rights even though she is far from her home country. Her parents are her biggest supporters as they made sure Malala got all opportunities a boy did in a highly patriarchal society. You can read one of her books to know more about her life.
44. Tammy Duckworth
Tammy Duckworth is a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel serving as the junior United States Senator from Illinois for the past four years. Her journey started in 2017 when she became the first Thai woman and amputee to be elected into Congress. She started making changes just one year into her election.
For example, the first change was that she fought for a resolution allowing new parents in the Senate to bring their infants when need be. That is because she wanted to ensure no one would miss out on essential votes because of parental duties. She continues to make such changes.
45. Sherly Swoopes
Sherley Swoopes, a.k.a. the female Michael Jordan, is one of the most prominent female legends in Basketball. She was one of the first women to be signed into the WNBA, and she made way for many other women to join after her. Of course, Swoopes has always set the bar high for female basketball players with her excellent skills.
Swoopes is a three-time WNBA MVP, and she has won three Olympic gold medals till now. There is no top WNBA player list that is complete without mentioning Sheryl Swoopes. Many female basketball players look up to her as a source of inspiration.
46. Laverne Cox
Laverne Cox is an actress and activist for transgender rights, as she became the first transgender person up for a nomination in 2014. Cox was nominated for an Emmy in an acting category for her role in one of the most famous series known as Orange is the New Black. Of course, her achievements don’t stop there.
Cox also won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Special Class for her movie Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word. She was the first transgender woman to win this award in its history. Cox is the most prominent transgender advocate and continues to fight for their rights.
47. Simone Biles
Simon Biles is an American artistic gymnast who stepped into the limelight in 2016 at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. In the last five years of her athletic career, Biles has won 32 Olympic and World Championship medals combined. She is one of the most celebrated gymnasts of all time and has no plans of stopping anytime soon.
Each day, Biles shatters a new gymnast record, and she is an inspiration to many female gymnasts worldwide. In fact, Biles has two gymnastic skills named after her. They are known as the Biles on vault and Biles on the floor.
48. Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris is perhaps the most recent entry on our list. She became the first South African person, the first African American, and the first woman to become the Vice President of the United States. That is nothing new for Harris because, throughout her career, she has managed to break many glass ceilings.
After all, Harris was also the first woman and first person of color to successfully bid for the California Attorney General and hold that position. We can’t wait to see what Harris does during her tenure and how many more glass ceilings she will break in the coming years.
49. Ava DuVernay
Ava DuVernay is a famous African-American filmmaker who never went to film school but still managed to make strides in her career. She was the first African-American female director to earn a Golden Globe nomination. Besides that, her film Selma was also nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Picture.
DuVernay’s recent work is the story of the Central Park Five, who were wrongfully convicted. The film is known as When They See Us. DuVernay is also the first Black woman to win the Best Director Prize at Sundance for Middle of Nowhere, her second feature film.
50. Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett
Finally, we saved the best for our last entry as we have Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett. She is one of the top scientific leaders who is researching at the NIH for the COVID-19 vaccine team. She also led the team that was responsible for developing the Moderna vaccine.
Corbett is an American viral immunologist, and she has been working hard for the past two years to create a solution for COVID-19. So, if you plan on getting your vaccination soon, you should thank her for her efforts to make this possible for you and your loved ones.