German-Jewish teen Anne Frank hid from the Nazis in an Amsterdam attic for two years during World War II until her family was betrayed. In 1945, Frank died of typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany. The diary detailing her family's plight, published by her father after the war, has touched millions of readers ever since and personalized the horrors of the Holocaust.
She became famous as the leggy blonde who penned a 1963 exposé of her stint as a Playboy Bunny at the New York Playboy Club and soon became the face of modern feminism. In 1972, Steinem co-founded MS. magazine, and for over 50 years she has been an advocate of women's rights and human rights as a writer, lecturer, political activist and organizer.
Susan B. Anthony
The first woman depicted on U.S. currency—the dollar coin first minted in 1979—helped found the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890, which merged with the National Council of Women Voters to form the League of Women Voters in 1920. That same year, women were granted the right to vote by the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, the crowning achievement of Anthony's life's work.
Exhausted after a long day's work in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, seamstress Rosa Parks refused to move to the "colored section" in the back of the bus…and ignited a national outcry. Parks received a Congressional Gold Medal in 1999, the highest award bestowed by the U.S. legislature, paying tribute to the "Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement."
Diana, Princess of Wales
She was beautiful, young and shy, yet she grew into the graceful but outspoken "People's Princess." Diana, Princess of Wales, took her adolescent sons, Princes William and Harry, to soup kitchens and McDonalds, hugged people with AIDS, spoke of mental illness, and campaigned against land mines. Her life, and her tragic death in a 1997 car crash, changed both the perception and the reality of the British monarchy.
A fugitive slave, Harriet Tubman helped hundreds of fellow slaves reach freedom through the Underground Railroad in the 1850s. Although famous as an ardent abolitionist, Tubman was also a nurse and Civil War spy for the Union Army.
Deaf and blind since childhood, Helen Keller became the first such person to earn a Bachelor's degree (in 1900, from Radcliffe College). She worked tirelessly as a humanitarian, author, and political activist. Keller learned to speak so she could lecture around the world, and she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920.
Venus Williams' younger sister has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, more than any other female tennis player. Throw in a handful of Olympic gold medals—and now motherhood while still competing—and you have the athletic phenomenon that is Serena Williams.
Indira Gandhi was the first—and, thus far, only—female Prime Minister of India. She nationalized the country's banks, reformed agriculture (making India self-sufficient in food grains), authorized nuclear development, liberated Bangladesh, squashed dissent and rebellion with military force, and was assassinated in 1984 by Sikh militants at age 67. Gandhi was the daughter of India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the mother of another Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, who was also assassinated in office, in 1991.
As a famed cultural anthropologist, writer and speaker, Margaret Mead helped usher in the1960s sexual revolution with her insights on societal attitudes toward sex and religion. Her many books, starting with "Coming of Age in Samoa" in 1928), as well as countless articles, lectures and even a Redbook column argued that cultural conditioning, rather than heredity, was more critical in the development of personality—that is, nurture over nature.
Marie Curie won two Nobel Prizes—one in Physics (1903), one in Chemistry (1911)—making her the first woman to ever win the prestigious honor and the first person to win two. With her husband Pierre, she discovered two elements, radium and polonium, and coined the word "radioactivity." She died in 1934 at age 66 due to radiation exposure, and today her papers (even her cookbook) are so radioactive they must be kept in lead-lined boxes.
Initially a model and movie star, the beloved redhead found immortality as a television comedian. "I Love Lucy," which aired on CBS from 1951-57, starred Ball as the mischievous but endearing wife of Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz, her real-life husband. Together, they revolutionized the three-camera sitcom. Ball also became the first woman to own her own studio, Desilu Productions.
Believing that "Every child should be a wanted child," Margaret Sanger conceived of the term "birth control" at the turn of the 20th century and started the organization that would eventually become Planned Parenthood. As a nurse and sex educator, she considered birth control a fundamental right of women, but she opposed abortion, which she did not consider a right.
Talk show host. Actor. Activist. Journalist. Publisher. Philanthropist. Bibliophile. Producer. Abuse survivor. Billionaire. What isn't Oprah Winfrey? From her beginnings in rural Mississippi in 1954, she has reached such dizzying heights—the richest African-American, the greatest black philanthropist in U.S. history, arguably the world's most influential woman—that she is now almost universally recognized by one name only: Oprah.
The wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt transformed the role of First Lady from that of White House hostess to a powerful political advocate. Roosevelt supported the League of Women Voters and stumped for children's causes. After her husband's death, President Harry Truman appointed her as a delegate to the U.N. General Assembly, where she helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Sandra Day O'Connor
The first woman ever to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. A staunch Republican, Justice O'Connor was a moderate conservative voice on the bench for 24 years, until her retirement in 2006. She was the deciding vote on the Bush v. Gore case in 2000, which allowed George Bush to become president, and the pivotal vote in 1992's Planned Parenthood v Casey, which upheld abortion rights that had been granted back in the landmark 1973 court ruling of Roe v Wade.
Field nurse Clara Barton was nicknamed "the angel of the battlefield" during the Civil War. In 1871, she founded and became the first president of the American Red Cross.
By association with her husband Bill, Hillary Rodham Clinton was First Lady of Arkansas and the United States. By vote, she was Senator from New York and first-ever female Democratic nominee for President. By appointment of President Barack Obama, she was U.S. Secretary of State. As the ultimate Rorschach test, HRC has long been either revered or reviled by most Americans.
Sally Ride was the first American woman to fly in space in 1983. An astrophysicist from Stanford University, Dr. Ride was one of only six women to join NASA's initial class of female astronauts in 1977, beating thousands of candidates. Twice she flew on the shuttle Challenger and, back on Earth, she championed science education until her death in 2012.
Mary Kay Ash
Passed over for a promotion that was given instead to a man she had trained at Stanley Home Products, Mary Kay Ash "retired" at age 45 and, in 1963, started Mary Kay Cosmetics with a $5,000 investment from one of her sons. The Mary Kay business model has since provided women worldwide with an opportunity to achieve success and financial independence.
In October 1991, the Senate held confirmation hearings regarding the appointment of Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Anita Hill, a law professor and Thomas's former employee at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accused him of sexual harassment. Though her charges were ignored and Thomas was appointed, Hill remains a forerunner of the modern #MeToo movement.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias
Mildred Ella "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias won her nickname when she hit five home runs in one baseball game during her childhood. At the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, she earned two gold medals and a silver in the 80-meter hurdles, javelin and high jump, respectively. She then went on to become the greatest woman golfer of all time, winning 10 LPGA major championships.
Born in Austria, Hedy Lamarr made her Hollywood debut in 1938's "Algiers" with Charles Boyer and is perhaps best known for her co-starring role opposite Victor Mature in 1949's "Samson and Delilah." But the exotic beauty's true claim to fame is the 1942 invention of a remote-controlled torpedo that could evade detection and jamming. Her scientific discoveries led to the invention of Bluetooth, WiFi and GPS.
For over 50 years, Barbara Walters has been shattering glass ceilings as a television journalist. The first female co-anchor of an evening network news program—"The ABC Evening News," with Harry Reasoner in 1976— she has interviewed personalities and newsmakers ranging from Margaret Thatcher to Monica Lewinsky.
By creating the fantastical world of Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling made reading irresistible again for fans young and old. The seven HP volumes published from 1997-2007 constitute the best-selling series in publishing history. Transitioning from struggling single mother on welfare to rich and successful doyenne of all things Potter, Rowling's life story is as magical as her plots.
In 1952 obstetrical anesthesiologist Dr. Virginia Apgar invented the Apgar score, a quick way to assess the health of a newborn less than five minutes after birth. The five components, rated on a scale of zero to two: A—Appearance (skin color). P—Pulse. G—Grimace (irritability). A—Activity. R—Respiration. A low score signified a baby in dire need of immediate medical attention, which forever changed the infant mortality rate around the world.
Born in Czechoslovakia and a naturalized American citizen, Madeleine Albright is a diplomat, professor and politician. President Bill Clinton appointed her as the first-ever female U.S. Secretary of State in 1997, making Albright the highest-ranking woman in U.S. government up to that time.
Grace Murray Hopper
After earning a Master's degree and PhD in math at Yale University in the 1930s, Dr. Grace Murray Hopper became both a computer pioneer and a rear admiral in the Navy. She predicted a bright future for the fledgling computer and spearheaded the development of computer language.
Whether James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins "stole" their discovery of the double helix structure of DNA from biophysicist Rosalind Franklin is open to question. What is certain is that Franklin survived the sexism of pre-war Cambridge and post-war King's College/London to conduct groundbreaking research in the molecular formation of DNA, RNA, coal, viruses and graphite, research that was crucial to cracking the puzzle of DNA.
The first East African woman to earn a doctorate (in veterinary anatomy), Wangari Maathai was a Kenyan environmentalist and activist who founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 to reforest her ravaged country and promote women's rights. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for "her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace."
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