Inspirational Women In History

The Extraordinary Lives of Inspirational Women In History

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When we read about inspirational women in history, we too become quite inspired and empowered. These inspirational women lived extraordinary lives by their sheer dedication to reach goals, that to them, help elevate the human spirit.

They excelled in the fields of their choosing. They charted new territories, and their journeys were met by some of the same obstacles that we face today. Only those obstacles became stepping stones to be overcome by their courage, conviction, and their fortitude.

Rich, colorful horizons of scenic tapestry and wonder, unfold before our eyes and imagination, in witness to their works of artistry as they strove to ‘succeed’ at all cost.

Their victories are our foundations, our ladders to a better life. To living life with inspiration and empowerment, that we too may emulate and become like them. They serve as role models.

They beckon us with their life stories to reach very high in our thinking, to not settle for anything, but the grandest. This is a testament to their faith, to stir the spirit of our human civilization.

Yes, the inspirational women in history summons us, just as a dear, loving mother nurtures her precious children to go out in this world and face life with dedication and a spirit of adventure while enjoying the taste of what this life embodies and can become to those of us who can draw the nectar – the sweetness – out of life.

Alexa Canady

Alexa Canady Inspirational Women In History

Alexa Canady, born1950, is a retired American neurosurgeon. When she became a neurosurgeon, she was the first black person to do so. Her specialty was in pediatric neurosurgery. From 1987 to 2001, at Michigan Children’s Hospital, Dr. Canady served as chief of neurosurgery. At Wayne State University, she was a professor of neurosurgery. She also did research in this particular field.

In 1967, she was nominated as a National Achievement Scholar. From the University of Michigan, she earned her bachelor, and her medical degree with cum laude honors in 1975.

The Children’s Hospital of Michigan named her Teacher of the Year in 1984. And in 1986, from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, she received a Candace Award.

She was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1989. Dr. Canady was bestowed the American Medical Women’s Association President’s Award in 1993.

From Wayne State University Medical School, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Award in 1994. Dr. Alexa Canady has been the recipient of three honorary degrees and is affiliated with Neurological Associations.

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart Inspirational Women In History

Amelia Earhart (1897 – c1937), was an American pioneer in aviation. She was also an author who wrote about her flying experiences in best-selling books.

She has the distinction of being the first woman aviator, in 1932, to fly solo across the Atlantic. She broke many flying records. Amelia was instrumental in the forming of a female pilot’s organization called “The Ninety-Nines”.

In an attempt to circumnavigate the globe, a flight around the world, Amelia Earhart and her navigator

disappeared on July 2, 1937, near Howland Island over the central Pacific Ocean.

Anne Frank

Anne Frank Inspirational Women In History

Anne Frank (1929 –1945), Jewish, was born in Germany and lived in the Netherlands. She and her Jewish family were victims of the Holocaust.

She became famous posthumously, after the publication in 1952 of the English translated version of her diary – “The Diary of a Young Girl” from the original Dutch version, “Het Achterhuis”, (The Secret Annex).

The book documents her young life stowed away in some hidden rooms, that were behind a bookcase, in the building where Otto Frank – Anne’s father, worked.

With other members of her family, she remained hidden from 1942 to 1944 from the Germans who were occupying the Netherlands in World War II.

“The Diary of a Young Girl”, has over the years, since been translated into over 60 languages. This book has become known the world over, leading to various productions of plays and films.

Anne Frank’s image grew even more extensively as a representative of persecution, and as a symbol of the Holocaust.

This is what former President of USA – John F. Kennedy in one of his speeches in 1961 had to say about the Diary of Anne Frank, “Of all the multitudes who throughout history have spoken for human dignity in times of great suffering and loss, no voice is more compelling than that of Anne Frank.”

Nelson Mandela in 1994 did receive a humanitarian award from the Anne Frank Foundation. He subsequently addressed a crowd gathered in Johannesburg, and remarked that he did read the Diary of Anne Frank while he was in prison and, “derived much encouragement from it.”

Time magazine in June 1999, chose Anne Frank as one of their ‘Heroes and Icons’ of the 20th century in their list of 100 of the most important people of the century.

In 2012, an exhibit showing a resemblance of Anne Frank was unveiled at Madame Tussauds wax museum.

An asteroid having been discovered in 1942, was named in Anne Frank’s honor as ‘Asteroid 5535 Anne Frank’ in 1995.

Beryl Markham

Beryl Markham Inspirational Women In History

Beryl Markham (1902 – 1986), was a British-born Kenyan. She was an aviator, an adventurer, a racehorse trainer, and an author.

When she flew solo and non-stop across the Atlantic, from east to west, she became the first person to do so.

Her book “West with the Night” is a memoir about her adventures.

Her life has been documented in film also.

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman Inspirational Women In History

Bessie Coleman (1892 – 1926), was an American civil aviator.

Bessie Coleman made history in 1921 by earning her aviation pilot’s license. In the process, Coleman became the first black woman, and first Native American, to earn both an aviation pilot’s license and an international aviation license. She trained in flight schools in France.

She later became known as “Queen Bess” and “Brave Bessie” in exhibition stunts, airshow flying.

There are buildings and streets named after her in both the USA and France.

For those high school seniors who are planning careers in aviation, there are the Bessie Coleman Scholarship Awards.

In 1995, a stamp honoring Coleman was issued by the U.S. Postal Service.

Bessie Coleman was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. And was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2006.

On Flying’s 2013 list of the “51 Heroes of Aviation”, she was placed at No. 14.

And she was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum in 2014.

Clara Barton

Clara Barton Inspirational Women In History
Clara Barton circa 1866

Clara Barton (1821-1912), founded the American Red Cross in1881, serving as president until 1904. In 1973 Clara was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

‘Angel of the Battlefield’ was her earned nickname for the work she administered during the American Civil War (1861-1865) as a nurse. Besides distributing medical supplies, she also treated both Union and Confederate men working near the front lines.

She is known for her humanitarian work. Clara was also a teacher and she provided self-taught nursing care.

Coco Chanel

Fashion Designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, 1920. Author: Time / Getty
Fashion Designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, 1920. Author: Time / Getty

Coco Chanel (1883 – 1971) was an internationally famous French fashion designer, with her Chanel brand encompassing fashion, jewelry, handbags, and perfume or fragrance. She popularized a sporty, casual style.

Still, her contributions to the female fashion world are somewhat overshadowed during the Second World War by her suspected collaboration with the operations of the German intelligence.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst Inspirational Women In History
Emmeline Pankhurst, c. 1913

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858 – 1928), was born Emiline Goulden in Manchester, England.

She served as a British political activist and is recognized for her work as an organizer of the British suffragette movement that was instrumental in helping women win the right to vote in the United Kingdom.

Emmeline Pankhurst became known throughout the world because of her struggle. She was imprisoned thirteen times.

She founded an all-women suffrage advocacy organization, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), in 1903, with the motto “deeds, not words”. Physical confrontations was part of their tactics.

Time magazine named Pankhurst as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century in 1999.

Estée Lauder

Estée Lauder Inspirational Women In History

Estée Lauder (1908-2004), was an American who in 1946, co-founded with her husband, a global cosmetics company. She soon developed a keen sense of marketing insightfulness that laid the foundation to build a perfume beauty empire, in the process, making her in the world, an extremely rich self-made woman.

The Estée Lauder company was established in department stores with Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, NY, and Harrods in London. Popular brand names like Clinique and Aramis were developed for women and men.

Estée received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004. She has the distinction of being the only woman in ‘Time magazine’s 1998 list of the 20 most influential business geniuses of the 20th century’.

Also in 1988, she was honored by being inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame, and have received other awards.

“Estée Lauder: The Sweet Smell of Success” is a 1985 TV documentary about Estée Lauder.

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale Inspirational Women In History

Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910), was an English social reformer, who came to be known as “The Lady with the Lamp” because she was always tending to the sick and wounded soldiers during night rounds also.

She is the founder of modern nursing, laying the foundation of professional nursing with her establishing and implementing improvements to the nursing service.

Florence Nightingale is recognized for her tremendous pioneering work in nursing with the “Nightingale Pledge” which is taken by new nurses.

Also, the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve is the “Florence Nightingale Medal”.

These were named in her honor. In addition, on her birthday, the annual International Nurses Day is celebrated.

George Eliot

George Eliot Inspirational Women In History
Portrait of George Eliot by Samuel Laurence

George Eliot (1819-1880) was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans who was born in Warwickshire, England. She was a novelist and poet, who wrote seven novels which included “Silas Marner”, “The Mill on the Floss” and “Middlemarch”.

Grace Hopper

Grace Murray Hopper, in her office in Washington DC, 1978, ©Lynn Gilbert
Grace Murray Hopper, in her office in Washington DC, 1978, ©Lynn Gilbert

Grace Hopper (1906 – 1992) served as a United States Navy rear admiral. She became the first woman to earn a doctorate in mathematics in 1934 from Yale University.

She was an American computer scientist. Being a pioneer of computer programming, she worked on machine-independent programming languages, leading to the development of COBOL, which was an early high-level programming language. It was a military innovation that transformed the business world and is still being used today.

Helen Keller

Helen Keller Inspirational Women In History
Helen Keller portrait, 1904

Helen Keller (1880 – 1968) was an American author and world-famous speaker who traveled the world extensively. She was also an activist, opposing military intervention, advocated for people with disabilities, and pushed for causes such as labor rights, women’s suffrage, and socialism.

She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree becoming the first deaf-blind person to do so.

Helen Keller’s autobiography, “The Story of My Life”, depicts the journey of her life with her teacher and companion, Anne Sullivan. Her autobiography was also adapted for stage, film, and television as “The Miracle Worker”.

Her birthplace in West Tuscumbia, Alabama, became a museum, and is the sponsor of the annual “Helen Keller Day”. Also commemorated as Helen Keller Day is her June 27 birthday, in Pennsylvania.

In addition, the centenary year of Helen Keller’s birth was recognized by a presidential proclamation from Jimmy Carter. Also, in 1971, she was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame, and in 1973, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

In 1915, together with George A. Kessler, Helen founded the Helen Keller International organization, which is devoted to research in vision, health, and nutrition. She also helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1920.

President Lyndon B. Johnson, on September 14, 1964, awarded Helen, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The American Foundation for the Blind was the beneficiary of funds raised for much of Helen Keller’s later life.

Indira Gandhi

Jacqueline Kennedy and Indira Gandhi Inspirational Women In History
Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy and Indira Gandhi in New Delhi, India.

Indira Gandhi (1917 – 1984) served as Indian prime minister on two different occasions, the first being from 1966 to 1977, and the latter from 1980 until 1984 when she was assassinated.

She at times served as her father’s personal assistant, who was Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India.

As the leader of India, she went to war with Pakistan with the Indian victory resulting in the creation of Bangladesh. Her time of leadership was plagued by turmoil though, and there was much unrest that ultimately led to her assassination, committed by her own bodyguards and Sikh nationalists.

Irena Sendler

Irena Sendlerowa Inspirational Women In History

Irena Sendler or Irena Sendlerowa in Poland, (1910 – 2008), was a Polish social worker, nurse, and humanitarian.

During World War II in German-occupied Warsaw, she served in the Polish Underground. She was also head of the children’s section of Żegota, which was the Polish Council to Aid Jews.

Sendler help to smuggle Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto with other participants like herself.

These smuggled Jewish children were then provided with false identity documents. Willing Polish families, orphanages, or other care facilities, help to shelter these children. Even Catholic nun convents served as shelters. Saving all these Jewish children from the Holocaust.

Irena Sendler was captured, beaten, imprisoned, and tortured by the German Gestapo. However, she hid the information concerning the list of the names, and the locations of the Jewish children that were rescued by her and others and their organization.

She was still sentenced to death. And on the day of her scheduled execution, Żegota, which was the Polish Council to Aid Jews, secured her release by bribing German officials.

She continued her social activism after the war and was involved in the government of communist Poland.

The State of Israel recognized her in 1965 as Righteous Among the Nations.

Sendler received many decorations over the years. In 1946, she was granted the Gold Cross of Merit for the saving of Jews. And for her wartime humanitarian efforts, she was awarded late in her life, Poland’s highest honor – the Order of the White Eagle.

The Sister Rose Thering Endowment posthumously granted her the Humanitarian of the Year award in 2009. In that same year, she was also posthumously granted the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award.

Jane Austen

Jane Austen Inspirational Women In History
Portrait of Jane Austen in watercolor and pencil

Jane Austen (1775 – 1817), was a famous English novelist known for her stellar publications. As a published writer she achieved success for “Sense and Sensibility”, “Pride and Prejudice”, “Mansfield Park” and “Emma”. Two other novels she wrote, “Northanger Abbey” and “Persuasion”, were published posthumously.

Using humor, irony with social sensibility, exploring in her plots ideas around marriage and status, her novels became literary sensations, gaining her so much acclamation from critics, scholars, and popular audiences alike.

Jane Austen published works have inspired films and even gone on to be adapted in plays, and TV series.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc Inspirational Women In History

Joan of Arc (French: Jeanne d’Arc), (1412 – 1431), nicknamed “The Maid of Orléans” (French: La Pucelle d’Orléans), is regarded as a heroine of France, a French martyr, and a saint.

During the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years’ War, Joan supported the unanointed King Charles VII of France to recover France from the English, by reason of religious visions she said she received.

She gained victories in the name of France, even giving advice or strategy to the military. Eventually, Joan was captured by the Burgundians, a group of French nobles allied with the English. She was then put into English custody. And in 1431, she was declared guilty of heresy, and at the age of nineteen years, she died by burning at the stake.

Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803 declared her a national symbol of France. Joan of Arc was made a saint in 1920.

Junko Tabei

Junko Tabei Inspirational Women In History
Junko Tabei in 1985 at Ismoil Somoni Peak Author: Jaan Künnap

Junko Tabei (1939-2016), a Japanese mountaineer, became the very first woman to reach the peak or summit of Mount Everest. In addition, by climbing the highest peak on every continent, she also was the first woman to ascend all those Seven Summits. At that time she stood as a symbol for women’s empowerment.

Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison Inspirational Women In History

Mae Jemison was born in 1956 and became an American engineer, a physician, and a NASA astronaut.

Aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour, she served as a mission specialist, and in doing so, she became the first black woman to travel in space.

Mae Jemison has also been inducted into both the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the International Space Hall of Fame.

In 1977, she graduated from Stanford. There she earned a B.S. degree in chemical engineering and B.A. degree in African and African-American studies. Then in 1981, she gained a Doctorate in Medicine at Cornell Medical School. She also pursued studies and classes in dancing.

Mae Jemison, in 1983, joined the Peace Corps and served in both Liberia and Sierra Leone.

In honor of her mother, she founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence. A science camp for students aged 12 to 16 is one of the projects of the foundation, called “The Earth We Share”, which was founded in 1994.

She is a member of several scientific organizations and holds several honorary doctorates as well. She has a non-profit educational foundation, being the principal of the project “100 Year Starship”, which is funded by DARPA.

She has authored the book “Find Where the Wind Goes” which was written for children in 2001. And has co-authored a series of four children’s books published in 2013, called “A True Book”.

And in 1993, she became the first real-life astronaut to appear on Star Trek: The Next Generation, appearing as Lieutenant Palmer in an episode titled “Second Chances”. She has also appeared in other films.

Mae Jemison is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, which includes the 1993 People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World”, and is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafza Inspirational Women In History
Yousafzai at Women of the World Festival, 2014 Author Southbank Centre

Malala Yousafzai, also known as Malala, was born in 1997 in Pakistani. She is an activist for female education, and her advocacy for human rights has grown into an international movement. She was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.

Desmond Tutu nominated her for the International Children’s Peace Prize.

Because of her activism, the Taliban in an assassination attempt shot Yousafzai and two other school girls. She eventually survived the bullet to her head, although hospitalized in an unconscious state in a critical condition.

Malala has since founded a non-profit organization – the Malala Fund. And has co-authored an international bestseller, “I Am Malala”.

Also, she became the recipient of Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize in 2012. The Oscar-shortlisted documentary “He Named Me Malala”, was featured in, in 2015.

It is also interesting to note that she was chosen as one of the most influential people globally in Time’s magazine yearly issues of 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Malala Yousafzai was awarded honorary Canadian citizenship in 2017. And addressed the House of Commons of Canada, at that time, was the youngest person to do.

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher Inspirational Women In History
Margaret Thatcher at the Council Author: Lauren at the Council

Margaret Thatcher (1925 – 2013), who became known as “The Iron Lady” for her leadership style, served as Britain’s first female prime minister (from 1979 to 1990). She was also the Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990. Her implemented policies as Prime Minister came to be known as Thatcherism.

Marie Curie

Marie Curie Inspirational Women In History

Marie Curie (1867 – 1934), was born in Poland as Maria Salomea Skłodowska, and became a naturalized French citizen.

She became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She has been awarded the Nobel prize twice, being the first person (male or female) to do so. She has won the Nobel Prize in two different scientific fields, Physics and Chemistry.

Her Currie family has won five Nobel Prizes. In addition, she has the distinction of being the first woman of becoming a professor at the University of Paris.

Marie conducted pioneering research on the new science of radioactivity. Radioactivity was a word she coined also. Marie worked together with her husband, Pierre Curie, and they discovered polonium. She named polonium after her native country – Poland. Radium another element was also discovered.

She helped to fund laboratories, to develop cancer treatments, and also helped to equip ambulances with x-ray equipment.

The Curie Institutes in Paris and in Warsaw, major centers of medical research still today, she founded.

During her lifetime she was discriminated against as a woman, treated with suspicion as a foreigner in France, while her family suffered under Russian rule in Poland.

Marie became ill, because of her constant exposure to radiation in the course of her research and work. And at age 66, in 1934 she died.

With a never surrendering ideal, she educated herself, and in so doing, laid the groundwork of her discoveries for the advancement of humanity. Marie’s many Awards, Prizes, and numerous honorary degrees from universities across the world testify to her life’s work she loved doing to help her fellowman.

Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole Inspirational Women In History
Sketch of Mary Seacole by William Simpson (1823-1899)

Mary Seacole (1805 – 1881), was born in Jamaica to a Scottish father and a Jamaican mother.

In 1991, the Jamaican Order of Merit was awarded to her posthumously. She was also voted the greatest black Briton in 2004.

During the Crimean War which took place between 1853 and 1856, she offered her services as a nurse for wounded soldiers. When she applied to the War Office she was turned down so Mary funded her own passage to travel from Jamaica to Britain.

She established the “British Hotel” nursing injured and sick soldiers back to health, using herbal remedies which she learned while living with her mother back in the Caribbean. She gained the name “Mother Seacole”.

Along with Florence Nightingale, she was one of these two very spectacular nurses who tended to the wounded soldiers.

In 1857 Mary wrote her autobiography “Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands”, which is deemed as one of the earliest autobiographies of a woman of mixed-race.

Mary Seacole is celebrated as a woman who fashioned a successful career of her life, although she experienced racial prejudice.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou Inspirational Women In History
Maya Angelou reciting her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993

Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014), was an American author, poet, speaker, singer, and civil rights activist.

One of her autobiographies, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” published in 1970, brought her international recognition.

And at the first inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1993, she had the honor of reciting her poem “On the Pulse of Morning”. The recording of the poem went on to win a Grammy Award. And for her spoken word albums, she received three Grammys.

She worked with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement.

In all Maya Angelo wrote and published numerous of her writings, which included her seven autobiographies, articles, short stories, essays, poetry, documentaries, and greeting cards. She was indeed a prolific writer.

In addition, for five decades she is credited with a number of shows in plays, screenplays, movies, and television. She would feature at times as an actress, writer, director, producer, singer, performer, scriptwriter, composer of songs, music, and musical scores.

For her work, she was the recipient of many awards and over fifty honorary degrees from colleges and universities all over the world.

And in 1973, she got nominated for a Tony Award for her role in ‘Look Away’. “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie”, one of her books of poetry, was also nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

In 2000, she received the National Medal of Arts. And in 2011, she received from President Barack Obama, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa Inspirational Women In History

Mother Teresa (1910 – 1997), was born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in Albania, as is also known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

She was a Roman Catholic nun who chose to live in India, which she did for most of her life.

The Missionaries of Charity is a Roman Catholic religious order that Mother Teresa founded in 1950.

Sisters or nuns take vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor”.

Today the congregation consists of over 4,500 nuns, in over 130 countries that manage homes.

They do so by caring for the dying, and those suffering from other illnesses. The nuns also run soup kitchens, schools, orphanages, counseling programs for children and families, mobile clinics, and dispensaries.

Mother Teresa was very much admired. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and many other awards for her tremendous charitable work.

Because of her Christian religious faith, she opposed contraception and abortion for which she was criticized.

In 1992 her authorized biography was published, which was written by Navin Chawla. There are also numerous films, books, and quotes on Mother Teresa.

On 4 September 2016, Mother Teresa was made a saint, and her feast day is on the 5th of September, the anniversary of her death.

Rosa Parks

Rosaparks Inspirational Women In History
Photograph of Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King jr. (ca. 1955)

Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005), was an African-American living in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1955, her refusal to relinquish her seat on a bus so that a white person could sit in the colored section lead to the Montgomery bus boycott.

By challenging the racial segregation that existed in parts of the US with her refusal, and subsequent court case, it thereby sparked the civil rights movement into more action which in 1960 won equal rights for blacks.

She worked with civil rights leaders, which included Edgar Nixon, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and also with Martin Luther King, Jr.

She was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. Rosa served as a secretary and receptionist to John Conyers, an African-American US Representative, from 1965 to 1988. She was also involved with the Black Power movement.

Rosa Parks dedicated her life to the betterment of blacks in her activism and community concerns, focusing on socio-economic issues. This included racial equality, worker’s rights, job discrimination, education, affordable housing, and welfare.

She wrote an autobiography in 1992, ‘Rosa Parks: My Story’, and in 1995, published her memoir ‘Quiet Strength’ which focuses on her faith.

She has received national recognition, honorary doctorates, and many honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. She has been called “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement” by the United States Congress.

She has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Time Magazine named her as ‘one of the 20 most influential and iconic figures of the 20th century’. Much has been done in her memory, even an asteroid discovered in 2010 bears her name.

She was the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda, to honor her at her death in 2005.

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin Inspirational Women In History
Rosalind Franklin with microscope in 1955. Source From the personal collection of Jenifer Glynn. Author: MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

Rosalind Franklin (1920 – 1958), was an English chemist and expert X-ray crystallographer.

She earn her doctorate in 1945.

Her work was fundamental to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA. Rosalind was only recognized posthumously for her contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA.

She is best known for her work on X-ray diffraction images of DNA, especially the famous photograph 51, which ultimately led to the discovery of the DNA double helix, and ultimately to the mapping of the human genome.

She also did pioneering work on the molecular structures of viruses which were appreciated in her lifetime with her work on coal and graphite also.

Rosalind Franklin has received many Awards, Honors, and Posthumous recognition to date.

Sarah Breedlove

Sarah Breedlove - Madam CJ Walker Inspirational Women In History
Madam C.J. Walker, the first self-made U.S. woman millionaire of any race

Sarah Breedlove (1867-1919) who was also known as Madam C. J. Walker was an African-American entrepreneur, activist, and philanthropist. She was the first self-made female millionaire in America.

Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company she founded developing a line of beauty cosmetics and hair care products for African-Americans.

Shirley Chisolm

Shirley Chisholm Inspirational Women In History

Shirley Chisolm (1924–2005), was an American politician, an educator, and an author.

She was the first black woman to be elected to the United States Congress which happened in 1968. For seven terms, beginning from 1969, until 1983, she represented New York’s 12th congressional district.

In 1972 she sought the nomination for President of the United States. She became the first black candidate of a major party to do so. She was also the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. And in entering the United States presidential debate, she was the first woman to do so also.

She wrote two autobiographies “Unbought and Unbossed”, and “The Good Fight”.

She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded (posthumously) to Shirley Chisolm, in a ceremony in the White House, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Shirley Chisolm is remembered in various ways, by being conferred an honorary doctorate, as well as a U.S. stamp and a state park named in her honor.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike

Sirimavo Bandaranaike Inspirational Women In History
Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Prime Minister of Ceylon, 1960

Sirimavo Bandaranaike (1916-2000), in 1960 became Prime minister of Sri Lanka, serving three terms

1960–1965, 1970–1977, and 1994–2000. The distinction she has is as the first female head of government in the world.

For many female politicians, she became a role model, breaking the glass ceiling of women attaining the highest political office.

Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai Inspirational Women In History
Nobel Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai with US senator Barack Obama in Nairobi, Kenya

Wangari Maathai (1940 – 2011) was born in Kenya and served as an environmental activist, founding the Green Belt Movement.

This environmental non-governmental organization focused on campaigning for the planting of trees, the conservation of the environment, and promoted women’s rights.

In 2004, Wangari was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This was for her contribution to sustainable development, peace, and democracy.

Also, she was the first woman within East and Central Africa to gain a doctorate degree, being educated both in the United States and Kenya.

Wangari also served in government as an elected parliamentarian and was appointed assistant minister for Environment and Natural Resources from 2003 to 2005.

She served as an Honorary Councillor of the World Future Council and was affiliated with many professional bodies. She received several awards including the Right Livelihood Award in 1984.


The excerpts of these inspirational women in history serve as a motivation factor. They inspire and empower us to pursue our own dreams and desires with a sense of invincibility.

That we too can forge ahead every day, today, now. And all it takes is a willingness to commit, and just start, continue.

Be inspired, be empowered. You are the one to depend on. The only source of help is within you, your faith, your works, your deeds, which become the fruits of your spirit.

Thanks to the inspirational women in history, we live better lives on earth today. And our contributions add to their efforts, as we make our world a much better place for ourselves and coming generations.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.