International Women’s Day is Sunday, March 8th. In celebration, we wanted to shine the spotlight on some of the most amazing women of our time. There’s just one little problem. The world is filled with wonderful, empowered, inspiring women who have made (and continue to make) their mark on history. How could we possibly winnow a list down to just ten names?
The truth is, we couldn’t. Instead, we’ve combed through the history books as well as recent headlines and have chosen ten women who deserve to be seen, heard, and known. We recognize that this is only a drop in an ocean of deserving women. You will recognize some of the women on our list, but we also tried to highlight women who haven’t gotten their fair share of acclaim. As International Women’s Day approaches, here are just a few of the game-changing women we’re celebrating:
The whole argument with the anti-suffragists, or even the critical suffragist man, is this: that you can govern human beings without their consent.
The very first suffragette, Emmeline was a fierce advocate for women’s rights. Born in 1858 in Manchester, England, she founded the Women’s Franchise League, which sought to give women the right to vote. No shrinking violet, Emmeline and her followers were known for smashing windows and setting buildings on fire to gain attention for the cause. As a result, Emmeline was arrested numerous times and staged frequent hunger strikes. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act gave women over the age of 30 the right to vote. Emmeline’s true victory, however, came just before her death in 1928 when the United Kingdom lowered the voting age of women to 21, finally giving them equal voting rights with men. Learn more about Emmeline Pankhurst.
The air is the only place free from prejudice.
In the early 1900s, flight was just taking off but only for a certain few. Bessie Coleman dreamed of flying, but there were two problems. She was a woman and she was African American. After being denied entry into flying schools in the United States, she moved to France (after teaching herself French) where she became the first African American woman to earn her pilot’s license. Making her way back to the United States, she wowed crowds with aerial tricks and parachuting stunts. Nicknamed “Brave Bessie,” her greatest trick of all was defying all the odds to pursue her dream. In 1926, she died tragically in an aerial stunt accident at age 34. Learn more about Bessie Coleman.
On the surface, Virginia Hall may have seemed like an unlikely spy and resistance fighter. In 1932, a hunting accident required the amputation of her left leg below the knee, giving her a permanent limp. The injury didn’t stop Virginia from dreaming of serving the United States. She applied to work for the Department of State during World War II but was denied due to her disability. Undeterred, she went to work for a fledgling British secret service organization called the Special Operations Executive (SOE).
Over the course of two stints behind enemy lines in occupied France, Virginia recruited networks of resistance fighters, broke 12 captured agents out of an internment camp, called in airdrops, blew up bridges, and more. She did this while under constant threat of capture, torture, and death. She became known by her supporters and pursuers as “The Limping Lady of Lyon.” After the war, Virginia became the first and only woman to ever receive the US Distinguished Service Cross. Learn more about Virginia Hall.
A woman is like a teabag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.
Even in the long shadow of her husband, Eleanor Roosevelt created a legacy all her own and redefined the role of the First Lady of the United States. She used her position to stake out bold positions to support women’s rights, the civil rights movement, and anti-poverty efforts. Eleanor was the first lady to give a press conference. She traveled around the country and gave first-hand reports to her husband, Franklin Roosevelt, who was crippled by polio and even visited American troops overseas during World War II. After her husband’s death, Eleanor continued her advocacy and served as chair of the U.N.’s Human Rights Commission. She considered her greatest achievement to be helping to write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today, many first ladies follow in her footsteps, using their position to raise awareness for their chosen causes. Learn more about Eleanor Roosevelt.
I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear.
Sometimes the smallest actions can spark a revolution. In 1955, Rosa Parks, a seamstress and secretary, refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. Her arrest led to the Montgomery bus boycott and to the rise of an inspiring young pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. In 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Montgomery’s segregated seating unconstitutional, ending the boycott. Rosa Parks challenged the country and the world to see her as a human, worthy of the same equality as her white peers. For her brave stance, she was forever known as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement. She died in 2005. Learn more about Rosa Parks.
To me, involvement with news is absolutely inebriating. It’s what makes my life exciting.
Katharine Graham grew up working in news, including on the editorial staff of The Washington Post, owned by her father. Eventually, her husband became the publisher of the Post, but after his sudden death, Katharine took over as president of the Washington Post Company. Under her leadership, The Washington Post became one of the most important papers in the country, known for its hard-hitting investigative journalism, including the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 and the Watergate investigation in 1972 – 1974. In 1972, Katharine became the chief executive officer of the Washington Post Company, making her the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She wasn’t done yet, earning a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for her autobiography, Personal History. Katharine died in 2001 at the age of 84. Learn more about Katharine Graham.
As a girl, Susan Solomon loved watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Her interest in science bloomed, and in 1981, she started working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado. In 1986 and 1987, she led expeditions to Antarctica where her team helped discover the chemicals that were depleting the ozone layer. Her work helped pave the way for bans on ozone-depleting chemicals that have helped renew the ozone layer. In 1999, Solomon received the National Medal of Science. She currently works as a professor of climate science at MIT. Learn more about Susan Solomon.
They thought the bullets would silence us, but they failed.
As a young girl, Malala publicly defended her right to go to school after the Taliban took control of her Pakistani village and banned education for girls. In 2012, a gunman boarded her school bus and shot her in the head. Malala survived the assassination attempt, and after a long recovery, she continued her fight to make education a right for girls around the world. Before her eighteenth birthday, Malala established the Malala Fund, a charity that supports educational opportunities for girls, and became the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Today, Malala is studying philosophy, politics, and economics at the University of Oxford while continuing to fight for girls’ educational rights around the world. Learn more about Malala Yousafzai.
I am not the first woman to multitask.
At age 28, Jacinda Ardern became the youngest member of New Zealand’s House of Representatives, but that was only the start of her historic and meteoric rise in politics. Campaigning on a platform of free university education and anti-poverty programs, Jacinda impressed voters with her charisma, optimism, and down-to-earth nature. After a close election in 2017, Jacinda became the island nation’s youngest prime minister in modern history at age 37. A year later, she gave birth to her first child, a daughter, showing that women can be mothers and leaders. After the tragic terrorist attack at two mosques in Christchurch in March of 2019, Jacinda gave solace to her people while unequivocally asserting that hate has no place in New Zealand. Learn more about Jacinda Ardern.
You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. We will be watching you.
In 2018, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg made a decision. She stood alone outside of Sweden’s Parliament holding a simple sign that read “School Strike for Climate.” She did not stand alone for long. Soon, thousands of students around the world stood with her, demanding that the world take notice of the climate crisis and do something about it. Since then, the unrelenting Swiss teenager has spoken in front of the UN Climate Conference, chastising the world’s leaders for not doing enough to protect her generation from climate change. She was also named Time’s Person of the Year in 2019. Until the leaders of the world wake up to the threat of climate change, Greta’s protest for a better world will continue. Learn more about Greta Thunberg.
We hope the stories of these ten incredible women have given you a little inspiration for International Women’s Day. If you want to celebrate the day, share your stories about the women in your life who inspire you!