In most cultures around the world, women have been second-class citizens up until recently. Despite significant barriers to success, great women in history have managed to make their mark and change the world.
Women have been world leaders, innovators, and cultural influencers for thousands of years. With hundreds and thousands of fascinating and inspiring women, it’s not fair to say only a few of them are “top” women in history.
Ranking the top women in history is not only difficult but perhaps not necessary. Each woman has provided her own unique contribution to the world. Even small efforts can create ripples effects that lead to large changes down the line.
5 Unique, Fabulous, and Great Women in History
In no particular order, and not because these women are more important than others not on the list, here are just a few great women in history:
1. Harriet Tubman
Born into slavery in 1820, Harriett Tubman escaped in 1849. She then dedicated her life to freeing other slaves. She did this as a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was not a literal railroad but a network of abolitionists, white and black, who sheltered and helped escaped slaves. Tubman helped hundreds of slaves escape.
She was also a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war ended, she focused on helping former slaves in poverty.
2. Juana Inés de la Cruz
Juana Inés de la Cruz was a 17th century Mexican nun who was a writer, playwright, and poet during a time when women were not encouraged to read or write. She was the author of a famous letter, La Respuesta (The Answer), which argues that females should receive an education. This made her one of the first voices of her time to advocate for educating women and girls.
Born in 1788, Sacagawea was a Native American from the Lemhi Shoshone tribe. She is most famous for her contributions to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which explored the Louisiana Territory. As part of her travels with the expedition, she established connections with various Native American groups and acted as an interpreter.
Sacagawea’s actual time of death is somewhat uncertain. While some history indicates she might have died in 1812 of an unknown illness, she may have lived to old age. She had been married off to a white man at age 13.
In the romanticized extended story of her life, she left her arranged husband and traveled across the Great Plains. She then settled down and married in a Comanche tribe. In this version of her life, she lived until 1884.
4. Clara Barton
Clara Barton founded and ran the first American Red Cross society. She was a schoolteacher and the first woman to serve as a US Patent Office clerk. During the Civil War, she nursed soldiers and transported supplies to the wounded.
“I have an almost complete disregard of precedent and a faith in the possibility of something better,” Barton once said. “It irritates me to be told how things always have been done …. I defy the tyranny of precedent. I cannot afford the luxury of a closed mind. I go for anything new that might improve the past.”
5. Wu Zetian
In the West, we see a woman ruling a country as a major step forward. Other than Cleopatra, what famous women heads of state do we know of in the ancient world? Yet, China had its own female emperor back during the beginning of the European “Dark Ages.”
Wu Zetian (624-705) is a name not generally known outside of China. Zetian was the only female emperor of China out of more than 400 throughout China’s long history. She is credited for stabilizing the Tang dynasty. She had a reputation for being ruthless but highly effective.
Women Continue to Make Waves in the World
From women breaking ground in technology to the most popular female entertainers such as Beyonce, women have and will continue to make a tremendous impact on the planet. Not all women are great or even good, some of that impact might not be the best. But most of the women who are setting the pace are doing great things. We can not only cheer them on, we can join them and follow our own dreams.