History has shown us time and time again that women can be every bit as successful as men but despite the things women have accomplished, discovered or invented, famous women in history don’t seem to be quite as well known as their male counterparts. The famous women in history on this list have done some truly incredible things and while you may recognize their names, you may not recognize what they’ve done. I’d like to help change that. Below, you’ll find not just the names of some of the most famous women in history but also their accomplishments. You won’t just learn that they were important but you’ll learn why they were important.
Now, I want to explain the women I chose. There are many, many famous women throughout history who deserve a spot on this list but I had to choose a number and stick to it or this could’ve easily become the longest list in history. I went with women whose names you might know but perhaps aren’t sure why you know the name or women you probably haven’t heard of. I also chose a few women I personally find incredibly inspiring. At the same time, I tried to avoid choosing actresses, musicians, models etc unless they achieved something especially worthy of note as most of us are already familiar with who they are or what they’ve accomplished. Some of the women I chose to exclude but deserve mention all the same include (their names all link to their Wikipedia page if you want more information about them):
- Billie Jean King
- Catherine the Great
- Emily Dickinson
- Eva Peron
- Georgia O’Keefe
- Jackie Joyner-Kersee
- Jane Austen
- Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Louisa May Alcott
- Mahalia Jackson
- Marie Antionette
- Maya Angelou
- Mother Theresa
- Queen Ann
- Queen Elizabeth I
- Queen Victoria
The women are ranked in alphabetical order by their first name, not by their importance or by their accomplishments. Finally, a note about quotes. I wasn’t able to find memorable quotes for all the women on this list. I really wanted to stick to quotes that have been definitively tied to the woman in question and sometimes that’s not easy to do on the internet. If I wasn’t able to find proof, I didn’t include a quote. Some of the women have multiple quotes because I wasn’t able to decide on a favorite.
40: Susan B. Anthony – suffragist, woman’s right’s advocate
Born: Susan Brownell Anthony on February 15, 1820 in Adams, Massachusetts
Died: March 13, 1906 in Rochester, New York at age 86
Notable Accomplishments: Co-founder of the Women’s Temperance Movement, co-founder of The Revolution (women’s rights journal), advocate for the women’s rights movements and the right of women to have rights in the laws of the American government.
Memorable Quote: “Men – their rights and nothing more; women – their rights and nothing less.”
39: Sojourner Truth
Born: Isabella Baumfree in 1797 in Swartekill, New York
Died: November 26, 1883 in Battle Creek, Michigan at age 86
Notable Accomplishments: escaped slavery in 1826 and was the first woman to take a white man to court to recover her child. Became a vocal supporter of women’s rights and often spoke passionately about women’s rights, abolition, prison reform and capital punishment (which she was against). Truth also helped recruit black men for the Union Army during the Civil War.
Memorable Quote: “You may hiss as much as you please, but women will get their rights anyway.”
38: Sally Ride – physicist, astronaut
Born: Sally Kristen Ride on May 26, 1951 in Encino, California
Died: July 23, 2012 of pancreatic cancer in La Jolla, California at age 61
Notable Accomplishments: first American woman to enter low orbit, yougest American astronaut to enter space, founded Sally Ride Science, co-authored five science books for children, only person to serve on the investigative panels for both the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters
Memorable Quote: “I did not come to NASA to make history.”
Born: 1788 (unknown date) in Lemhi River Valley (near where Salmon, Idaho is today)
Died: December 20, 1812 (not certain)
Notable Accomplishments: accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition in their exploration of the Western United States acting as an interpreter and guide
36: Rosalind Franklin – biophysicist, x-ray crystallographer
Born: Rosalind Elsie Franklin on July 25, 1920 in Notting Hill, London
Died: April 16, 1958 of ovarian cancer in Chelsea London at age 37
Notable Accomplishments: played a critical role in helping to understand the fine molecular structure of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal and graphite. Her work on the x-ray defraction images of DNA helped lead to the discovery of the double helix and following this work, she pioneered work on the tobacco mosaic virus and the polio virus.
35: Rosa Parks – civil rights activist
Born: Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama
Died: October 24, 2005 in Detroit, Michigan at age 92
Notable Accomplishments: received several honors for her work in the field of civil rights including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, a statue at the United States Capital’s National Statuary Hall (honor received posthumously) and lies in honor at the Capital Rotunda, making her the first woman and the second non-US government official to earn that honor.
Memorable Quote: “Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.”
34: Rachel Carson – marine biologist, conservationist, environmentalist, author
Born: Rachel Louise Carson on May 27, 1970 in Springdale, Pennsylvania
Died: April 14, 1964 of a heart attack in Silver Spring, Maryland at age 56
Notable Accomplishments: her book, Silent Spring, raised awareness of environmental concerns and led to the reversal of national policies on pesticides and also inspired the movement that led to the creation of the Enviomental Protection Agency. Carson also received the Presidental Medal of Freedom.
Memorable Quote: “The control of nature is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it is supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man.”
Born: 1595 in Werewocomoco, Virginia
Died: March 1617 in Gravesend, Kent, England
Notable Accomplishments: saved the life of John Smith, an English captive of Indians
32: Maya Lin – architectural designer
Born: Maya Ying Lin on October 5, 1959 in Athens, Ohio
Died: not applicable
Notable Accomplishments: Lin’s design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, submitted while she was a 21 year old undergraduate, beat out 1, 441 other possible designs and was chosen the winner for the competition. The monument was completed in October of 1982 and dedicated on November 13, 1982.
Memorable Quote: “I try to give people a different way of looking at their surroundings. That’s art to me.”
31: Mary Edwards Walker – surgeon
Born: November 26, 1832 in Oswego, New York
Died: February 21, 1919 in Oswego, New York at age 86
Notable Accomplishments: crossed enemy lines to treat wounded civilians during the American Civil War and was arrested on suspicion of being a spy. She was kept as a prisoner of war until she was released as part of a prisoner exchange. She is currently the only women to receive the United States Armed Forces’ highest decoration for bravery, the Medal of Honor. Although it was rescinded it was restored in 1977.
30: Mary Church Terrell – teacher, activist
Born: Mary Church on September 23, 1863 in Memphis, Tennessee
Died: July 24, 1954 in Annapolis, Maryland at age 90
Notable Accomplishments: one of the first African-American women to earn a college degree. Church-Terrell became the first African-American woman to be appointed to the Board of Education in the United Stated and was appointed president of the National Association of Colored Women. Founded the National Association of University Women.
29: Marie Curie – physicist, chemist
Born: Maria Salomea Sklodowska-Curie on November 7, 1867 in Warsaw, Poland
Died: July 4, 1934 of aplastic anemia (possibly due to long term radiation exposure) in Passy, Haute-Savoie, France at age 66
Notable Accomplishments: the first woman to with a Nobel Prize, only woman to win a Nobel Prize in two fields, only person to win a Nobel Prize in multiple sciences. Curie was also the first female professor at the University of Paris and the first woman to be entombed at the Pantheon by her own merits.
Memorable Quote: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.”
28: Margaret Thatcher – chemist, barrister, politician
Born: Margaret Hilda Roberts on October 13, 1925 in Grantham, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom
Died: not applicable
Notable Accomplishments: first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and also the longest serving Prime Minister to date.
Memorable Quote: “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”
27: Margaret Sanger – nurse, sex educator
Born: Margaret Higgins on September 14, 1879 in Corning, New York
Died: September 6, 1966 in Tuscon, Arizona
Notable Accomplishments: credited with popularizing the term ‘birth control’ and was a vocal supporter and activist for women’s reproductive rights. Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States and established Planned Parenthood. Sanger’s work also contributed to the United States Supreme Court case that legalized contraception thoughout the country.
Memorable Quote: “When motherhood becomes the fruit of deep yearning, not the result of ignorance or accident, its children will become the foundation of a new race.”
26: Margaret Fuller – writer, journalist, critic, activist
Born: Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli on May 23, 1810 in Cambridgeport, Massachusettes
Died: July 19, 1850 off the coast of Fire Island, New York after the cruise ship she was aboard sank. She was 40
Notable Accomplishments: Fuller’s book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, is considered the first major feminist work in the United States. She was the first woman allowed to use the Harvard library. Her work and support of prison reform, emancipation of slaves and a woman’s right to education and employment inspired others, including Susan B. Anthony, to work for the same things.
Memorable Quote: Margaret Fuller is the source of many of my favorite quotes – quotes that have inspired me and help me get through my dark times. I’m going to include just a few of my favorites:
- Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.
- I am suffocated and lost when I have not the bright feeling of progression.
- If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.
- A house is no home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as for the body.
- The character and history of each child may be a new and poetic experience to the parent if he will let it.
- It is astonishing what force, purity and wisdom it requires for a human being to keep clear of falsehoods.
- Nature provides exceptions to every rule.
25: Margaret ‘Molly’ Brown
Born: Margaret Tobin on July 18, 1867 in Hannibal, Missouri
Died: October 26, 1932 of a brain tumor in New York City, New York at age 65
Notable Accomplishments: became known (posthumously) as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” after she survived the sinking of the Titanic by securing a place on Lifeboat No. 6 and convincing the crew manning the lifeboat to return to search for survivors. Brown helped establish the Colorado branch of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and worked in soup kitchens to aid the families of miners. She also ran for senate twice and worked to help women improve their lives through education and philanthropy.
Memorable Quote: “I decided that I’d be better off with a poor man whom I loved than a wealthy man whose money had attracted me.”
24: Mae Jemison – physician, professor, astronaut
Born: Mae Carol Jemison on October 17, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama
Died: not applicable
Notable Accomplishments: served in the Peace Corps from 1985-1987 until she was chosen by NASA to become an astronaut. As part of the Endeavor crew, she became the first African-American woman to enter space. She holds nine honorary doctorates in science, engineering, the humanities and letters. After resigning from NASA, she formed a company that researches how technologies can be applied to every day life.
Memorable Quote: “The best way to make dreams come true is to wake up.”
23: Madam C.J. Walker – entrepreneur, educator
Born: Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867 in Delta, Louisianna
Died: May 25, 1919 from complications from hypertension in Irvington, New York at age 51
Notable Accomplishments: considered the first female self-made millionaire in the United States after founding the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company that developed and marketed beauty products for black women. She was also a charitable woman, donating considerable sums of money to the causes she believed in.
22: Lucy Stone – activist
Born: August 13, 1818 in West Brookfield, Massachusettes
Died: October 19, 1839 in Boston, Massachusettes at age 75
Notable Accomplishments: the first woman from Massachusettes to earn a college degree and the first woman in recorded history (at least recorded American history) to retain her own last name after marriage. Stone established and promoted Woman’s Journal for which she frequently wrote about women’s rights. She also had a hand in initiating the first National Woman’s Rights Convention and she helped sustain it so it could be an annual event.
Memorable Quote: “Now all we need is to continue to speak the truth fearlessly, and we shall add to our number those who will turn the scale to the side of equal and full justice in all things.”
21: Josephine Baker – actress, dancer, musician
Born: Freda Josephine McDonald on June 3, 1906 in St. Lewis, Missouri
Died: April 12, 1975 in Paris, France at age 68
Notable Accomplishments: considered the first African-American woman to become a world-famous entertainer and is credited as the first African-American woman to star in a major motion picture (1934’s Zouzou). Baker was also the first African-American woman to integrate an American concert hall.
Memorable Quote: “I wasn’t really naked. I simply didn’t have any clothes on.” “The things we love stay with us always, locked in our hearts as long as life remains.”
20: Jeanette Rankin – politician
Born: Jeanette Pickering Rankin on June 11, 1880 in Missoula County, Montana
Died: May 18, 1973 in Carmel, California at age 92
Notable Accomplishments: the first woman in the United States Congress. Rankin was considered a pacifist and voted against World War 1 in 1917 and against declaring war on Japan after 1941’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the only member of Congress to do so.
Memorable Quote: “I may be the first woman member of Congress but I won’t be the last.”
19: Jane Addams
Born: September 6, 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois
Died: May 21, 1935 in Chicago, Illinois at age 74
Notable Accomplishments: co-founded Hull House in Chicago, Illinois; the first settlement house in the United States. Her work on various social and world issues earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931; making her the first women to receive the honor.
Memorable Quote: “Civilization is a method of living, an attitude of equal respect for all men.”
18: Indira Ghandi – politician
Born: Indira Priyadarshini Nehru on November 19, 1970 in Allahabad, United Provinces, British India
Died: Assassinated on October 31, 1984 in New Delhi, India at age 66
Notable Accomplishments: second longest serving Prime Minister of India and the only female Prime Minister India has ever had. A poll by India Today ranked Ghandi the greatest Indian Prime Minister. She was also named the “Woman of the Millennium” by a poll conducted by the BBC in 1999.
Memorable Quote: “I am alive today, I may not be there tomorrow. I shall continue to serve till my last breath and when I die, every drop of my blood will strengthen India and keep a united India alive.” – her final speech given the day before she died
17: Helen Keller – author, activist, lecturer
Born: Helen Adams Keller on June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama
Died: June 1, 1968 in Easton, Connecticut at age 87
Notable Accomplishments: first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree and an Alabama Woman’s Hall of Fame inductee. Throughout her life, Keller was a supporter of women’s suffrage, labor rights and various other causes.
Memorable Quote: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched – they must be felt with the heart.”
16: Harriet Tubman – activist
Born: Araminta Harriet Ross in 1820 in Dorchester County, Maryland
Died: March 10, 1913 in Auburn, New York at age 93
Notable Accomplishments: conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, Tubman embarked on 13 missions to rescue more than 70 slaves after escaping slavery herself. Later on, Tubman helped recruit men for the raid on Harpers Fairy, an event that served as a catalyst for the Civil War.
Memorable Quote: “I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had the right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.”
15: Gwendolyn Brooks – writer, poet
Born: Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks on June 7, 1917 in Topeka, Kansas
Died: December 3, 2000 of cancer in Chicago, Illinois at age 83
Notable Accomplishments: won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950, appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1986 and Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1985.
Memorable Quote: “Art hurts. Art urges voyages – and it is easier to stay at home.”
14: Gloria Steinem – writer, journalist
Born: Gloria Marie Steinem on March 25, 1934 in Toledo, Ohio
Died: not applicable
Notable Accomplishments: became the media spokeswoman for the women’s liberation movement, has founded many organizations focusing on women’s rights and various other issues and has received many awards and honors for the works she’s done throughout her lifetime.
Memorable Quote: Steinem is another woman that has almost endless memorable quotes to choose from. Listed are the quotes I personally find most inspiring.
- Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities.
- Some of us are becoming the men we wanted to marry.
- The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.
- It is more rewarding to watch money change the world than watch it accumulate.
- We need to remember across generations that there is as much to learn as there is to teach.
- A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.
13: Florence Nightingale
Born: May 12, 1820 in Florence, Tuscany
Died: August 13, 1910 in Park Lane, London at age 90
Notable Accomplishments: considered to be the founder of modern nursing. Nightingale established her school of nursing at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London in 1860, an event thought to have laid the foundation for modern nursing. Today, nurses take the “Nightingale Pledge”, named in her honor and International Nurses Day is celebrated each year on her birthday.
Memorable Quote: Nightingale is one of my favorite famous women in history simply because she inspires me to want to be a better woman. Some of my favorite Florence Nightingale quotes include:
- I attribute my success to this – I never gave or took any excuse.
- How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.
- I think one’s feelings waste themselves in words; they ought all to be distilled into actions which bring results.
12: Ella Baker
Born: Ella Josephine Baker on December 13, 1903 in Norfolk, Virginia
Died: December 13, 1986 in New York City, New York at age 83
Notable Accomplishments: an important woman in the civil rights movement, Baker worked behind the scenes with civil rights leaders such as A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall and mentored activists like Bob Moses, Diane Nash and Rosa Parks.
Memorable Quote: “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.” “Give light and people will find the way.”
11: Elizabeth Blackwell
Born: February 3, 1821 in Bristol, England
Died: May 31, 1910 in Hastings, England at age 89
Notable Accomplishments: the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States and the first woman on the Medical Register in the UK. She was an active and vocal supporter and promoting of women receiving education in medicine.
Memorable Quote: “If society will not admit of woman’s free development, then society must be remodeled.”
10: Eleanor Roosevelt
Born: Anna Eleanor Roosevelt on October 11, 1884 in New York City, New York
Died: November 7, 1962 in New York City, New York at age 78
Notable Accomplishments: her many human rights accomplishments throughout her life
Memorable Quote: Perhaps one of the most quoted famous women in history on this list, it would be impossible to just choose one memorable quote for her. My favorites Eleanor Roosevelt quotes are below:
- Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.
- With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.
- The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
- No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
- A woman is like a teabag. You can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.
- In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die and the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.
- You must do the things you think you cannot do.
- It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.
- We are afraid to care too much for fear that the other person does not care at all.
- It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.
- It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
- The giving of love is an education in itself.
09: Dorothy Dandridge – actress, singer
Born: Dorothy Jean Dandridge on November 9, 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio
Died: September 8, 1965 in West Hollywood, California at age 42. Cause of death was rules either an overdose or an embolism.
Notable Accomplishments: the first African-American performer to be nominated for an Academy Award
08: Clara Barton – teacher, patent clerk, nurse
Born: Clarissa Harlowe Barton on December 25, 1821 in North Oxford, Massachusettes
Died: April 12, 1912 in Glen Echo, Maryland at age 90
Notable Accomplishments: founded the Red Cross
Memorable Quote: “The surest test of discipline is its absence.”
07: Charlotte E. Ray
Born: January 13, 1850 in New York City, New York
Died: January 4, 1911
Notable Accomplishments: first female African-American lawyer in the United States, first woman to graduate from the Howard University School of Law, first woman allowed to argue in the Supreme Court.
06: Barbara McClintock – scientist
Born: Eleanor McClintock on June 16, 1902 in Hartford, Connecticut
Died: September 2, 1992 in Huntington, New York at age 90
Notable Accomplishments: one of the world’s most distinguished cryogenticists. She received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1983.
05: Barbara Jordan
Born: Barbara Charline Jordan on February 21, 1936 in Houston, Texas
Died: January 17, 1996 in Austin, Texas at age 59
Notable Accomplishments: first African-American elected to the Texas Senate and the first Southern African-American female elected to the United States House of Representatives. Jordan also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and became the first African-American woman to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery.
Memorable Quote: “For all of its uncertainty, we cannot flee the future.”
04: Aphra Behn
Born: Aphra Johnson on December 14, 1640 (date of baptism, date of birth unknown) in Harbledown, Kent
Died: April 16, 1689 at age 48
Notable Accomplishments: considered the first female English professional writer
Memorable Quote: “Love ceases to be a pleasure when it ceases to be a secret.” “There is no sinner like a young saint.”
03: Annie Oakley
Born: Phoebe Ann Moses on August 13, 1860 in North Star, Ohio
Died: November 3, 1926 in Greenville, Ohio at age 66
Notable Accomplishments: widely recognized as the first American female superstar thanks to her time on Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Her talent was sharpshooting and it was a talent she used to break many records throughout her life, even well into her sixties.
02: Anne Frank
Born: Annelies Marie Frank on June 12, 1929 in Frankfurt am Main, Weimar, Germany
Died: at age 15 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp sometime in early March, 1945
Notable Accomplishments: Anne may not have any real accomplishments of her out but she’s certainly one of the most famous women in history, even if she was just barely a woman when she died. Her diary, Diary of a Young Girl, has been adapted into numerous films and plays and has been read by millions of people world wide.
Memorable Quote: “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.”
01: Amelia Earhart
Born: July 24, 1897 in Atchison, Kansas
Died: disappeared on July 2, 1937 and declared dead in absentia on January 5, 1939
Notable Accomplishments: Even though Amelia Earhart is most well known for her disappearance, she set many aviation records and was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Memorable Quote: Amelia was really quite a remarkable women and you really only need read over some of the things she said to get a true glimpse of that. Some of my favorite Amelia Earhart quotes:
- The most effective way to do it is to do it.
- Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.
- Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others.
- The woman who can create her own job is the woman who will win fame and fortune.
- I want to do it because I want to do it.