Powerful women should be celebrated all year round, but this International Women’s Day is especially important to highlight them. Though history books are filled with the deeds of powerful men, women rarely get the same shine. That’s why I’ve put together this list of ten women whose deeds deserve to be more widely recognized.
Enheduanna – The First Published Author
This Akkadian woman is considered the first author to be known by name. She was the daughter of Sargan of Akkad and was the first woman to serve as the high priestess of the temple of Sumer. Enheduanna is credited with developing the “paradigms of poetry, psalms, and prayers,” which are still in use today. Her three hymns, Inninsagurra, Ninmesarra, and Inninmehusa, are thought to have instrumental in providing context to the Akkadian gods under Sargon’s rule and helped “provide religious homogeneity.” Enheduanna’s passionate and original work has made her a remarkable woman of history.
Hatshepsut – Power In The Ancient World
Hatshepsut ruled as Pharoah from 1479 – 1458 B.C. She was the sixth ruler of the eighteenth dynasty. Though she was not the only female ruler, she is often considered the most successful. Her reign was marked by a period of prosperity and artistic renaissance. However, the way Hatshepsut acquired power has been considered controversial by some over the years. After her husband, Pharoah Thutmose II died, she was named regent, holding down the throne for her stepson, Thutmose III. After seven years of dutifully performing these duties, Hatshepsut declared herself Pharoah and began having all artwork depict her as a man. Though some scholars (mostly men) viewed her actions as that of a conniving, shrewish woman, others contend that Hatshepsut’s move was done to protect the throne After a long and successful reign, not unmarked by controversy, Hatshepsut died in 1458. Thutmose III, either as an act of personal revenge or a misogynistic political move, had virtually all records of his stepmother removed. Thankfully, many of the monuments Hatshepsut had erected still stand.
Boudica – The Celtic Savior
The Romans conquered Britain in 43 AD, and when they did, most Celtic tribes had to swear fealty. But the Iceni tribe, led by King Prasutagas and Queen Boudica, was initially left alone as a (forced) ally for the Empire until Prasutaga’s death in 60 AD. Since there was no male heir to the throne, the Romans took over. They publicly humiliated Boudica, flogging her and raping her daughters. When Gaius Suetonius Paulinus (the provincial governor at the time) marched into Wales, Boudica and an army of Celts defeated the Roman Ninth Legion. Boudica’s army ravaged Roman strongholds, destroying the Roman capital of Britain and marching to London. Though her final battle with the Romans ended in defeat, Boudica is still hailed as a national heroine.
Tomoe Gozen – A Warrior Worth A Thousand
Born circa 1157, she was one of the Onna Musha, part of the female warrior class. She was an accomplished archer and a master of the long sword who fought in the Genpei War. The Genpei war, which was a Game of Thrones-style fight for the throne between the Taira family and the Minamoto family, raged from 1180-1185. During the war, Tomoe established herself as such a badass, that Lord Kiso no Yoshinaka named her as the commander of his army. This probably because Tomoe led a group of 300 soldiers in a battle against the Taira army (which numbered in the thousands) and emerging as one of five survivors. Or possibly it was that she collected the heads of seven Taira mounted soldiers in one battle.
Florence Nightengale – The Lady With the Lamp
Florence knew from a young age that she wanted to be a nurse. Despite her family’s staunch disapproval, Florence left England to study at the Kaiserswerth hospital in Dusseldorf, Germany. She became a nurse and was promoted to Head Nurse after only a year. She was known for her work to improve sanitation processes, so Florence was contacted to help with the harsh conditions of the Crimean War. Florence saw that more soldiers were dying from disease and infection than injuries sustained in battle. She got to work cleaning the hospital, procuring clean linens, and nurturing the patients. Her work reduced the mortality rate by two-thirds. During the Civil War, she was consulted on how to improve sanitation conditions on the war front.
Harriet Tubman – The Conductor
Harriet was born into slavery in 1820. When her owner died in 1849, Harriet escaped slavery and fled to Philadelphia. Instead of remaining safely in the free state of Pennsylvania, Harriet helped her family make the journey to Philadelphia, starting with her niece, Kessiah, and her family. In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law was passed, making an escape from slavery more perilous for black Americans. As a result, Tubman routed the Underground Railroad to Canada. She helped hundreds of slaves escape to freedom, and during the Civil War, she acted as a spy for the Union Army.
Claudette Colvin – The Trailblazer
Before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, there was Claudette Colvin. Claudette was born in 1939 in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1955, at just 16, Claudette refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. She was arrested and served as one of four plaintiffs in the case Browder vs Gayle, a case that ruled Montgomery’s segregated bus system unconstitutional in 1956. Though Claudette was instrumental in changing this law, her contribution to the start of the Civil Rights Movement is little known. After she had her first child, Claudette and her son moved to New York, where she served as a nurse until retiring in 2014.
Shirley Chisholm – The Game Changer
In 1968, Shirley became the first black American congresswoman. Prior to serving in Congress, she received a Master’s degree from Columbia, served as director of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center, and as an educational consultant for New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare. She made history in 1968 when she began the first of many terms in the House of Representatives, serving New York. Shirley also helped form the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969 and also ran for the Democratic nomination for President in 1972. Though it was George McGovern who ultimately received the nomination, Shirley’s run made history once again.
Billie Jean King – All She Does Is Win
Billie Jean was a tennis star, an advocate for pay equity, and one of the first openly gay athletes. From an early age, Billie Jean had a love of sports. She played softball until age 11 when she took up the tennis racket. In 1966, she won her first major championship at Wimbledon. By 1968 she became the world’s No.1 female player. Her 1973 match with player Bobby Riggs, a talented but sexist player, secured her place in history. The match was dubbed the Battle of the Sexes, and Billie Jean beat Bobby before an estimated 90 million viewers. In 1981, after being sued by a former assistant and lover, Billie Jean came out. She divorced her husband and settled down with her longtime partner, Ilana Kloss.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg – The Notorious R.B.G.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the second female appointed to Supreme Court Justice. Born in Brooklyn in 1933, Ruth went on to graduate from Cornell University and then Columbia, where she earned her degree in law. In 1980, Ruth was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals and served until 1993, when former President Bill Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court. In her role as Supreme Court Justice, Ruth has established herself as a staunch feminist and advocate for social justice. She was a key decider in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. RBG passed away in October 2020, leaving a long and wonderful legacy behind.
History is filled with so many more amazing women. What women do you look up to?