10 Powerful Women With Groundbreaking Roles in History

Last Updated on November 22, 2022

Women are great gifts to the human race. Unfortunately, they have also been relegated to second-class humans and overlooked in many areas throughout history. But even amid oppression, the world has seen powerful women with groundbreaking roles. Women have challenged the status quo and set new standards.

Even before women began getting their flowers, some had already put their lives on the line. Although not all impressive women are acknowledged, the world is gradually respecting the influential and fearless ones. They are finding their way into record books and cementing their names in the annals of time.

This article is dedicated to many powerful women in history who have played significant roles. You may have heard of a few, but some have impacted society, art, politics, and other places without getting due respect. This isn’t an exhaustive list. There are thousands of great women in history, such as Katherine Johnson, Margaret Thatcher, and Marie Curie. But we’ll try our best to list ten.

Top 10 Powerful Women in History

Powerful Women in History

Mary Wollstonecraft – British (1759-1797)

Mary Wollstonecraft was a writer who advocated feminism through her writings and her life. She was widely criticized for her lifestyle, including extramarital affairs and birthing an illegitimate daughter. And according to the British Library, the publication of her husband’s memoirs that came on after her death did more harm to her reputation.

Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft. Credit: Wiki Commons

A century after her death, as recorded by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Mary Wollstonecraft was finally recognized for her political and moral writing. This means she was offered a place beside her daughter, Mary Shelley, in the pantheon of female literary greats.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s first book, titled A Vindication of the Rights of Men, was her response to the French Revolution. In the book, she disapproved of the concept of monarchy and called for a republican nation. Another book she wrote, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, stressed her frustration with how women were depicted as passive vessels in a male-dominated society. This book also became her best-known work and gained recognition as one of the essential works of the Enlightenment era.

Gertrude Stein – American (1874-1946)

Gertrude Stein was an avant-garde writer and patron. She was one of the most powerful women in history who was dedicated to modern artists and rebelled against the patriarchy. During her life, Gertrude Stein travelled around Europe but eventually settled in Paris with her brother, Leo. There, they started collecting diverse arts but collected more from contemporary avant-garde artists. With their art collections, they refined relationships with Parisian Bohemians at their Saturday-night salon. And in no time, invitations to the Stein salon quickly rose to the top of Paris’ most sought-after.

Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein

Following the end of World War I, the Stein salon became a popular spot for young American ex-pats or the “Lost Generation” (as Gertrude Stein referred to them). In 1933, she published the book, “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” (Harcourt, 1933). The book’s popularity gave Gertrude Stein a name, and she became world-famous.

Amelia Mary Earhart – American (1897-1937)

Amelia Earhart was an American aviation pioneer and writer. In 1928, she became the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She also broke several records, such as being one of the first aviators to promote commercial air travel. Amelia Earhart also wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences and helped form The Ninety-Nines (an organization for female pilots).

Amelia Mary Earhart Credit Getty Images
Amelia Mary Earhart Credit Getty Images

Unfortunately, during an attempt to fly around the world in 1937, Amelia Earhart’s plane disappeared somewhere over the Pacific. The wreckage was never found, and she was declared lost at sea. She was finally declared dead in 1939.

Alice Huyler Ramsey – American (1886-1983)

Alice Ramsey was the first woman to drive a vehicle across the United States from coast to coast. She completed this on August 7, 1909. This was a time women were seriously discouraged from driving cars, but she stood to defeat the norm.

At the age of 22, Alice Ramsey and three friends (without the ability to drive) set off on the first-ever all-female drive across the United States. After this, she further completed over 30 cross-country road trips before her date at the age of 96.

Alice Huyler Ramsey
Alice Huyler Ramsey

Alice Ramsey earned the titles of First Lady of Automotive Travel and Woman Motorist of the Century before her death in 2000. She also became the first woman to be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

Huda Sha’arawi – Egyptian (1879-1947)

An Egyptian feminist leader, suffragette, nationalist, and the founder of the Egyptian Feminist Union. Huda dedicated so much to women’s rights activism that she is widely regarded as the founder of Egypt’s women’s movement. Not only that, but she also founded several organizations dedicated to women’s rights.

Huda was instrumental in founding Egypt’s first secular women-run humanitarian organization, a medical clinic for disadvantaged women and children, in 1908. Luckily, she didn’t go on this journey alone, as she had her husband’s support. He, alongside Huda, supported Egypt’s independence from the United Kingdom.

Huda Sha'arawi
Huda Sha’arawi

In 1920, she founded and served as the Wafdist Women’s Central committee leader.

After her husband’s death, Huda continued advocating for women’s equality. She established the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923 to achieve woman suffrage, reform personal status laws, and widen educational opportunities for Egyptian girls and women.

She died in 1947. A woman of great influence that can never be forgotten, several books and journal articles are in recent years published to keep her legacy running.

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti – Nigerian (1900-1978)

The Nigerian-born activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was one of the African women that raised high standards in history. She was the first among six girls to enrol at the Abeokuta Grammar School. Funmilayo was also the first woman appointed to the Western House of Chiefs and the first Nigerian woman to drive a car and ride a motorcycle. She led the successful abolition of the separate tax rate for women.

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti made a lot of effort to ensure that women’s access to education and political representation developed. She had early access to some of the most significant anti-colonial educational campaigns in Nigeria and West Africa.

Funmilayo Ransome Kuti  is one of the most powerful women in history
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti

In 1944, she established the Abeokuta Ladies’ Club (later renamed the Abeokuta Women’s Union), a Union dedicated to defending women’s political, social, and economic rights. Thereafter, she became one of the twentieth century’s most influential women’s movements.

Her passion led her to take part in politics, which became most notable in the 1946 pre-independence constitutional negotiations. She continued to break barriers and became one of the prominent leaders of her generation. She was even awarded the Vladimir Lenin Peace Prize in 1970.

Funmilayo gave birth to a son who was as passionate as herself, Fela Anikulapo. His activism led to various attacks on himself and his mother until 1977 when armed Nigerian soldiers attacked her. They threw Funmilayo from a second-floor window, and she fell into a coma. Shortly after then, she died (April 13, 1978, at the age of 77).

Due to her contributions to education in Africa, she was one of the most powerful women that played groundbreaking roles.

Harriet Tubman – American (1822-1913)

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery that got her freedom by traveling through the Underground Railroad. She retrieved her family members, including her parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. Afterwards, she graduated to setting free around 300 enslaved people in the following years.

Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman worked for the Union during the Civil War, serving as a spy and a nurse before organizing the daring Combahee Ferry Raid that set more than 700 slaves free. Later, she became a prominent voice in the abolitionist movement and fought for women’s voting rights. She contributed to groundbreaking changes from slavery and discrimination towards justice in the United States.

Rosa Parks – American (1913-2005)

During the 1950s, in the era of the US society segregation between Black and White citizens, including public transport, Rosa Parks acted as a hero. Her choice and effort paved the way for many others.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. After she was arrested, Parks called on the NAACP (National Association for Advancement of Coloured People) to boycott buses. This was meant to raise awareness of the cruel segregation laws in the southern states.

Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks stood with courage and challenged the law. Her courage eventually saw her to victory. She remained a vocal and inspiring figure in the civil rights movement. And her act of resistance was what gave the cause its start. She continued her advocacy after the triumph, which helped her leave a lasting legacy in the struggle against injustice and prejudice.

Maya Angelou – American (1928-2014)

Maya Angelou was a memoir, poet, and civil rights, activist. She is widely known as one of the most important people in modern American literature. Maya Angelou has severally recounted her childhood sexual abuse and trauma, which led to being unable to speak for years, as documented in the National Women’s History Museum. Later, she found her voice through writing. When she became an adult, she got involved in the civil rights movement and made friends with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou

In 1969, Maya Angelou published what later turned out to be her most known work, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” It is a fiction that describes her experience as a young Black woman in America.

Kamala Harris – American (1964-Present)

Kamala Harris is the incumbent Vice president of the United States. We can all agree she is one of the most powerful women today. Harris made history in 2021 when she emerged as the first black person, the first woman, and also the first Asian American to hold the nation’s second-highest office). Not only is she the vice president, but she is also a lawyer, and she began her career as an American politician serving as a law clerk before her election as attorney general of California in 2010.

Kamala Harris is one of the most powerful women
Kamala Harris, USA VP

As a lawyer, Kamala Harris specialized in prosecuting child sexual assault cases. She fought for foreclosure settlements and against predatory for-profit education while serving as California’s attorney. Additionally, her White House biography states she championed marriage equality, the Affordable Care Act, and the environment.

Before You Go…

We cannot mention all the powerful women in the world in our blog. However, this gives you an idea of some of your heroes. We hope you enjoyed the article. Before you go, let me tell you a little bit about Nicholas Idoko Technologies. We help businesses and companies build an online presence by developing web, mobile, desktop, and blockchain applications.

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