100 Most Influential Women

// 11 March 2009

There are discussions here and here about lists of the most influential women (in history). Who would you nominate?

Comments From You

Jenny // Posted 11 March 2009 at 4:43 pm

My English lecturer at uni, she’s amazing.

At first when she walked in I thought.. poor dear, she looks lost for life at around 50. Nothing remotely significant or appealing about her. Then she started the lecture and the whole class was in awe. An absolutely amazing woman. She gets respect like no other uni lecturer I know. She’s not ‘in your face’ and walking around the lecture hall brushing her hair back, but completely engaging, a quiet confidence.

One of those women who make you feel you can get past 30 as female and have worth, value and true respect.

Vicky // Posted 13 March 2009 at 2:26 am

Ooh, what an interesting question. Off the top of my head…

Queens: Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria

Authors: Mary Wolstonecraft, Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan

Politics: Rosa Luxemburg, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel

Activists: Rosa Parks, the suffragISTs (arguably, had more influence than their more militant suffragette sisters)

On a personal level I am most inspired by Sophie Scholl, Mother Theresa and my Granny! : )

bea // Posted 13 March 2009 at 2:43 pm

Elisabeth of Spain, (married to Fernando but he didn’t have much political voice) gave the money to Christopher Columbus to go find the Americas. His appeal for cash had been previously rejected by the Italians. I think CC was first in both Americas (I mean whoever found the US did so at a later stage) but I’m not sure, sorry I’m a bit ignorant. Some people though say it was someone called Americo Vespucio (also Italian) hence the name.

Laura // Posted 13 March 2009 at 4:16 pm

Authors: I would broaden it a bit past the explicitly feminist writers. People like the Bronte sisters, who highlighted the inequities faced by women (Emily showed the tragedies that result when husbands automatically control women’s property, Charlotte, particularly in ‘Vilette’, and Anne, who I think is massively underestimated, highlighted the position of governesses and teachers, and the lack of opportunities available for middle class women). I would also nominate Elizabeth Gaskell – again looks at the difficult position of women in society, notwithstanding the moralistic tone she sometimes takes. And Monica Dickens, who wrote about the position of working class women, and was generally utterly kick-ass.

Historical Figures off the top of my head: The Garrett sisters, Emily Davies, who founded the first women’s higher education institution in this country, at Girton, the Pankhursts, and so on, Queens Victoria and Elizabeth, Florence Nightingale (who made nursing an acceptable profession for middle class women and therefore gave them an option that wasn’t being a governess or companion).

Politicians (again off the top of my head): much as I hate to say it, I guess Maggie did a bit by being PM, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (current president of Liberia and first ever elected female head of state in Africa), Hillary Clinton (yes, I know if she hadn’t been married to Bill she’d never have got as far as she did, but she still broke barriers!), Agathe Uwilingiyimana (Rwandan PM, a moderate Hutu, did pretty much everything possible to avert the genocide but was murdered in the early stages, she and her husband surrendering to the Genocidaires to protect their children).

Others: the Mothers of the Plaza del Mayo (can we have collective nominations?), Rosa Parks.

Will think of some more later, this is way more fun than working!

Caroline // Posted 13 March 2009 at 8:25 pm

What about female characters in books? I know this might sound grim and scary but I think of the ideal woman as Regan had in her in the exorcist (the book)!

A powerful demon in us who couldn’t give a crap about oppression, acts how it wants without caring, being the most knowledgable, detestable creature on the planet, knowing 3 languages. There was something about that powerful creature being inside a female. It was a female acting exactly how a female shouldn’t act. Not given some super sexy female powers (X- men girls, Buffy etc), she’s not afraid of being repulsive, but more powerful than any man, not caring about anything, being ironic. Of course we never know if it’s the girl or not, Blatty leaves it open.

Maybe that’s why the movie scared so many people? The only time I can think of a female given power and it isn’t sexy. (Yeah there’s the crucifix masturbation etc, but the character is the main thing, and I feel this scene makes fun at what culture wants to see). The most genuinely scary character of all time, and it’s a girl who isn’t represented as a bad kitten, or a mad nymphomaniac who’s been mistreated by men, or whose super powers have to be a turn- on as she prances in figure hugging leather.

Interesting how she became distant, uncaring, powerful, mocking of a society just as cruel as the demon while it curled up in bed for months on end.

I’m just amazed someone created this character for a female. Why it felt weird reading the book for me.

David // Posted 13 March 2009 at 10:24 pm

Sarah Bernhardt

Alexandra Kollontai

Nancy Wake

Hedy Lamarr [was a pioneer in electrical engineering as well as a renowned actress]

Madeleine Albright

Leni Riefenstahl [one might say infamous, but brilliant in her field]

many others of course…

Bea // Posted 14 March 2009 at 8:01 pm

Hi again,

further contribution as I feel obliged to break the heavy anglosaxon and protestant bias:

Current president (socialist) of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, Eva Peron (never actually made it to PM, but was hugely popular, and for someone who was married to a right-wing president, very benign towards the poor, as she had grown up in poverty herself), Mary Robinson (Ireland), Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (first female president in Argentina, elected in 2007).

Literature: Isabel Allende (left-leaning writer and niece of Salvador Allende, president of Chile until his assasination in 1973), very feminist, I find anyway, female-biased magic realist literature, unfortunately has been overlooked in favour of Garcia Marquez (who in my view is abbetter writer than her, but still…), Rosalia de Castro, Galician author from xix century, was massively influential in later generations of Spanish poets and writers, the daughter of a single mother, rebellious and melancholic, very empathetic towards the most disadvantaged in society, she was always supported by her husband, who was in charge of getting her work published)

Sciencie: Marie Curie, who discovered radium and was the first person ever to be awarded two Nobel prizes.

– and Maya Angelou, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf (read lots of her stuff in my twenties) and Jane Fonda (that police photo shoot as “Hanoi Jane” WOW!)

Tom // Posted 14 March 2009 at 11:49 pm

Countess Constance Markiewicz.. first woman elected to the British House of Commons, the first woman in Europe to hold a cabinet position, leader of rebels in the 1916 ‘easter rising’, repeated political prisoner, hunger striker.. generally ignored by the British, absolute hero!

Ms alison // Posted 15 March 2009 at 8:01 pm


I am not a person to sing on her own trumpet, but I am a person that have educated a lot of people around the world, have been told i have made a small difference in society of bringing acceptance to all. My latest conqest got mentioned in House of commons on the equality bill.

I have written varioios articles & published various stories & have 2 out in the editiuon of Disabiility now magazine. If we make a small impact, then its worth the effort. Take small steps then help 2 change the world. I have managed 2 bring 1 town to its knees to make it sip up & listen & change there views & attitudes.


Charlotte // Posted 18 June 2009 at 8:55 pm

A little late, but never mind :)

I’d have gone for Aphra Behn, who was one of the first women to earn a living as an author in the late 1600s. Also, she wrote one of the first protest books against slavery (Oroonko), and I believe was openly bisexual.

Pity no one seems to have heard of her.

Maggie Jordan // Posted 27 June 2009 at 10:05 pm

Alice Paul

Betty Friedan


Elizabeth I

Joan of Arc

Elanor Roosevelt

Rosa Parks

Mother Teresa

Coco Chanel

Hilary Clinton

Virginia Wolf

Sylvia Plath

Gloria Steinem

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