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World Famous Women

Maya Pillai
Women have proved that they are on par with men in the fields of governance, literature and also as entrepreneurs. In this article, we take a look at some of the world-famous women of all time.
The strength of a woman is not measured by the impact that all her hardships in life have had on her; but the strength of a woman is measured by the extent of her refusal to allow those hardships to dictate her and who she becomes.
~ C. JoyBell C.
Women have excelled in the fields of arts and literature, politics and governance, and even in the field of science and inventions. Here we look at some famous women who paved the way for women, and have shown that women are on par with men in their accomplishments.


Artemisia (400 BC approx.)

Artemisia was proclaimed the ruler of Halicarnassus (present-day Turkey) after her husband's death. Artemisia helped Xerxes defeat the Greeks in the naval battle of Salamis. She supported Xerxes by sending her men and five of her warships. Artemisia became such a threat to the Greeks that they were ready to reward anybody who could capture her. However, no one succeeded.

Cleopatra (69 BC - 30 BC)

Cleopatra was the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt. Known for her beauty and grace, Cleopatra ruled Egypt - first, jointly with her father, and then with her brothers. Centuries later, Cleopatra remains an icon in popular culture, especially in European and North American countries, and continues to be the inspiration behind many art pieces, sculptures and movies that represent strong, skilled and beautiful women.

Queen Elizabeth I (September 7, 1533 - March 24, 1603)

Queen Elizabeth ruled England from 1558 to 1603. She oversaw military operations in France and Ireland; the British army's victory over an all-conquering Spanish Armada being the most important of them all.
The Elizabethan Era saw the flourishing of English theater, drama and poetry. More importantly, in a phase where all its neighbors (France, Italy, Netherlands) were going through civilian unrest and political trouble, Britain, under Elizabeth I, was relatively peaceful and stable.

Joan of Arc (January 6, 1412 - May 30, 1431)

Born Jeanne d'Arc, she, as a young girl, had visions of angels asking her to free France from the clutches of the English army. Shortly thereafter, the King of France sent Joan with a French army to Orleans, where for the first time, the French defeated the English.
With her help, the French won more battles against the English. However, she failed in capturing Paris, as her army was not given enough resources. Her victories made it possible for Dauphin to be crowned King Charles VII. She was later burned to death at the stake. In May 1920, she was canonized by the Catholic Church.

Queen Victoria (May 24, 1819 - January 22, 1901)

Under Queen Victoria, Britain of the Victorian Era saw rapid progress and flourished economically and socially. Under her rule, Britain annexed the Indian subcontinent as its territory, giving Britain, strategically, politically and economically, the biggest shot in the arm.


Margaret Thatcher (October 13, 1925)

Known as the Iron Lady, Thatcher was the only woman Prime Minister of Britain and remains the longest candidate to have held the post. Her uncompromising politics and strong hand leadership is still hero worshiped.
Thatcher instantiated the privatization of state-owned companies and services, which made efficient utility delivery a possibility in modern-day Britain. Thatcher played a crucial hand in helping Britain recover from the 80s depression.

Susan Anthony (February 15, 1820 - March 13, 1906)

Susan Anthony played a major role in the 19th century women's rights movement. She co-founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) which advocated women's rights, supported harassed women and victims of domestic abuse and encouraged women to achieve economic independence by entering male-dominated trades and occupations.

Corazon Aquino (January 25, 1933 - August 1, 2009)

The first female president for any Asian country, and Philippines' most acclaimed and respected President, survived six political coups to topple her. She advocated democracy and led the People's Power Revolution which toppled Ferdinand Marcos' corrupt and almost-autocratic government.
Under her administration, human rights and democratic freedom in the Philippines got a major boost, and with the introduction of market liberalization, the Filipino economy and infrastructure flourished as well.

Indira Gandhi (November 19, 1917 - October 31, 1984)

India's first female head of government and the world's second, Indira Gandhi was responsible for several reforms which stood out as a sign of strength in an otherwise socialist India, viz. Nationalization of Banks, Green Revolution, Nuclear Program, etc.
Indira Gandhi changed and altered the face of Indian politics forever. Infamous for declaring a state emergency and carrying out operation Blue Star, Indira Gandhi was assassinated on 31st October, 1984 by two of her own bodyguards.

Aung San Suu Kyi (June 19, 1945)

Daughter of the father of modern-day Burma, Suu Kyi is widely recognized as the symbol of pure democracy across Southeast Asia, and also the world over. 
Placed under house arrest and detained several times for her anti-government processes, this strong advocate of democracy is currently the leader of opposition in Burma. She has received several international humanitarian and peace awards alongside the United States of America's highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.


Jane Austen (December 16, 1775 - July 18, 1817)

Although her novels were published anonymously for most part, Jane Austen was much renowned for her sociopolitical commentary. Austen never confirmed to the popular writing style of her era and even had a collection of satirical letters published posthumously which mocked popular novels of their times.
The travesty still remains that Jane Austen was popular only among the elite and literati of her time and scholarly interest and a worldwide cult for her works began to develop only in the 1930s and 40s.

Mary Higgins Clark (December 24, 1927)

Suspense novelist Mary Higgins Clark has written 42 books till date - each of them a bestseller! Clark has a cult following in North America and some European countries. In addition to numerous awards and international honors, Clark's novels have sold a total of 80 million copies worldwide. She is often referred to as the 'Queen of Suspense' and her book 'Where Are The Children' is often considered her best work ever.

Agatha Christie (September 15, 1890 - January 12, 1976)

The mother of detective writing, Agatha Christie never attended school. She was taught by a home tutor and served in a hospital before becoming a novelist. The Guinness Book of World Records has listed Christie as the bestselling author ever.
'And Then There Were None' still remains the world's bestselling mystery novel ever. Christie also wrote for radio and stage plays. While Christie wrote 79 crime novels, which she was famous for, she also has six romantic novels published under a different name, 'Mary Westmacott'.

Ayn Rand (February 2, 1905 - March 6, 1982)

Born in Russia, Rand's liberal philosophy in her writing ruffled quite a few feathers during her time. Apart from several bestselling novels, none of which were critically acclaimed, Rand wrote many dramas and screenplays.
Rand's first success as a writer was 'The Fountainhead', in which she invested seven years of her life, but Rand truly struck gold with 'Atlas Shrugged' - panned by the critics, but loved by the general readers.
Atlas Shrugged, to a large extent, carried and reflected Rand's philosophical thoughts. Rand's line of philosophy came to be known as Objectivism - 'the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute'.

Isabel Allende (August 2, 1942)

The world's most widely read Spanish-language author, Allende is famous for including natural magic realism in her novels. A journalist and magazine editor earlier in her career, her literary aspect came to the fore when she was writing a letter addressed to her 99-year old ailing grandfather. Despite her works being published in Spanish, Allende's fan following is worldwide.


Harriet Hosmer (October 9, 1830 - February 21, 1908)

A master sculptor, Hosmer was basically known for inventing a method to convert Italian limestone to marble. Having lived in Rome and Florence, Hosmer's deep artistic inclination shows in many of her works. 'Beatrice Cenci', 'Zenobia in Chains' and 'Zenobia - Queen of Palmyra' remain her most popular and applauded works.

Sofonisba Anguissola (1532 - 1625)

Anguissola's works are too good to be believed. A master of portraits, Anguissola loved making self-portraits. She had the uncanny knack of picking from nature, scenes, people and conversations and putting it into her drawings. Anguissola had the privilege of painting portraits of many great Italian, Spanish and Dutch rulers.

Yayoi Kusama (March 22, 1929)

Born in Japan, Kusama tasted mainstream success when she moved to New York City around the late 1950s. Kusama is often considered an important voice of avant-garde and her works have covered a wide scope - painting, sculpting, writing and even pop art. Her obsession with polka dots is well known.

Anna Marie Tussaud (1 December 1761 - 16 April 1850)

Anna Marie Tussaud was one of the best French wax sculptors and founder of the famous Madame Tussauds. The museum, initially set up by Anna Marie Tussaud around 1835, displays waxworks of historical figures and famous personalities from around the world.
The Museum today has over 15 locations around the world and its main branch in London pulls 45 million visitors every year. Since its inception, a whopping 300 million visitors have thronged the museum.

Rachel Whiteread (April 20, 1963)

Best known for recreating an entire Victorian house in concrete cast (The House), Whiteread is a well-known sculptor and has a cult following in Britain. While Whiteread could, and in fact, has done a variety of works, her primary focus remained domestic objects. Whiteread's Holocaust Monument received high critical acclaim, although political controversies marred it, and its commissioning to unveiling process took a good five years to complete.


Marie Curie (November 7, 1867 - July 4, 1934)

A Nobel Prize winner, Marie Curie was a torchbearer when it came to research in radioactivity. Curie put forth the fact that radiation happened due to atom action, and not due to molecular action as was thought of earlier. She discovered two highly radioactive elements - polonium and radium - both or either of which form the base for modern-day nuclear technology.

Mary Anning (May 21, 1799 - March 9, 1847)

A British paleontologist, Mary Anning shot to fame for her research and findings in the Jurassic marine fossil beds in the Lyme Regis region in Dorset. Apart from this, Anning is responsible for many more important fossil findings of her time.
Like many great names, an increase in her works shot up only after her death. Only one of her many writings are in print. Despite such great achievements, Anning spent most of her later years in poverty and distress.

Lise Meitner (November 7, 1878 - October 27, 1968)

Another pioneer in the field of radioactivity, Meitner co-discovered nuclear fission. Studying Einstein's E=mc2 equation, Meitner recognized the possibility of an enormous chain reaction explosion.
Although Meitner declined working on a bomb that was based on this principle, she refused to take any blame for it being discovered and even used (by USA against Japan). Her statement was, "I'm sorry the bomb had to be invented, but you must not blame us scientists for the use to which war technicians have put our discoveries".

Irène Joliot-Curie (September 12, 1897 - March 17, 1956)

Much like her celebrated mother, Irène too researched radioactivity. She made turning one chemical to another possible. In 1935, Irène was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize with her husband.

Dorothy Hodgkin (May 12, 1910 - 29 July 1994)

Honored for developing protein crystallography, Hodgkin is also credited with discovering the structures of Penicillin and Vitamin B12. Often regarded as one of the leading scientists in the field of X-ray crystallography of biomolecules, putting forth the structure of the insulin molecule was by far her most significant achievement.


Ada Lovelace (December 10, 1815 - November 27, 1852)

The mother of modern computing; the first software programmer ever; Ada Lovelace created the very first algorithm; for a mechanical machine called the Analytical Engine created by Charles Babbage. Often considered a mathematical genius, the computer language 'Ada' was named in her honor.

Radia Perlman (1951)

The architect of modern communication, Perlman's idea transformed the use of Ethernet from a few short distance nodes to something that could create worldwide networks. She is notable for creating the spanning tree protocol which is used for creating networking bridges
Her contribution to networking is often considered significant in the sense that it virtually dictates the way the world communicates and transports data today. Perlman, who currently works with Intel, has over 50 patents to her name.

Rachel Zimmerman (1972)

Zimmerman transformed the lives of many disabled people with her Blissymbol printer discovery. Charles Bliss, who is credited with the invention of the Blissymbols for disabled people, created it as a method of communication through which they could communicate with the normal world.
Zimmerman's invention made this possible for them without any help. Zimmerman used a touchpad with image keys, which by pressing would be translated on a screen or printed on a paper.

Erna Schneider Hoover (June 19, 1926)

Hoover discovered computerized telephone switching technology, which revolutionized telephone usage and communication forever. It made switching and multitasking possible. Having worked at Bell Labs for over 3 decades, she is often considered to be the one who opened the gates for women in the field of computer science and technology.

Meg Whitman (August 4, 1956)

Whitman is an industry veteran. She has seen the IT revolution and the dotcom boom and has worked with many leading companies in the software and e-commerce industry. Her most significant tenures have been with eBay and Hewlett Packard. eBay transformed from a $4 million dollar company to an $8 billion dollar company in ten years. 
When she took charge, eBay was a Silicon Valley startup with just over 40 employees. eBay today employs 15,000 people around the world. As much a businesswoman as a technologist, Whitman has shown interest in politics and in 2010 she ran for the post of Governor of California, which she lost to Jerry Brown.


Mother Teresa (August 26, 1910 - September 5, 1997)

The mother of poor and deprived people, Mother Teresa, born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, is considered a guiding light of peace and compassion. She founded the Missionaries of Charity, which is present in 133 countries. Members show compassion, relate and help the poorest of poor people as a motto of their life.

Eleanor Roosevelt (October 11, 1884 - November 7, 1962)

A staunch civil rights and women's freedom supporter, Roosevelt was the longest-serving first lady of America. Her works in the field of human rights is widely acclaimed.
She advocated equal civilian rights for African Americans, creation of a helpful atmosphere for World War refugees and a larger role for women in society. Roosevelt is often considered one of the most respected and admired women in the world.

Jane Addams (September 6, 1860 - May 21, 1935)

Addams was a prominent social worker who advocated resettlement for European immigrants and opened the Hull House as a resettlement option for them. Addams was also a strong advocate of women's civil and democratic rights and had once famously said that "if women were to be responsible for cleaning up their communities and making them better places to live, they needed the vote to be effective in doing so".

Clara Barton (December 25, 1821 - April 12, 1912)

Barton founded the American Red Cross, a humanitarian organization which assisted victims of war and helped with disaster relief and similar educational and informational programs. Barton was instrumental in getting a number of women to establish a career in a then male-dominated society.

Edith Abbott (September 26, 1876 - July 28, 1957)

Abbott was a strong voice against immigration exploitation in the 1910s and 1920s. She worked on many reforms that ended such exploitation. Abbott researched and voiced her views in several areas, viz., Jail Harassment, Women Empowerment, Equal Employment for Women and Education for the poor.

Entertainment (Music)

Ella Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 - June 15, 1996)

The 'First Lady of Song' had a vocal range spanning three octaves. She won 13 Grammy Awards in her over five-decade-long career. As a kid, Fitzgerald wanted to be a dancer, but when she was 17, she sang at the Apollo Theater, NY to a packed crowd.
Many kept coming back for her performances, and this started a glorious singing career which spanned 59 years. The purity in her voice and her perfect diction were often acclaimed alongside her singing. Apart from a professional singing career, Fitzgerald secretly supported many charities and donated a chunk of her earnings for the welfare of poor children.

Aretha Franklin (March 25, 1942)

Aretha Franklin is referred to as the Queen of Soul and is credited with popularizing soul music. Apart from soul music, Franklin's range covered everything right from jazz to blues and R&B to rock.
Classically, a soul music artist, Franklin's true character came to the fore when she added elements of modern day funk and rock to her 1984 album 'Who's Zoomin Who?', a fusion that proved successful and also showed how a veteran artist could appeal to a new generation through their sounds.

Whitney Houston (August 9, 1963 - February 11, 2012)

Houston's success came largely from her crossover appeal, an understanding of modern fusion and a desire to appeal to a variable scope of listeners. Towards the latter part of her career, Houston experienced vocal problems. On February 11, 2012, Houston was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel room due to a drug overdose. Many fans rued that a magical voice had left the world much earlier than expected.

Fanny Heldy (February 29, 1888 - December 13, 1973)

Fanny Heldy was a world-famous lyric soprano. Highly acclaimed for her opera-style high pitched voice, Heldy performed in many Opera Theaters around the world. She was a regular at the Royal Opera House, London and La Scala, Milan and gained international recognition and a dedicated audience for her performances at these venues.

Madonna (August 16, 1958)

300 million records sold, 2 Golden Globes, 7 Grammy Awards and a whopping 49 Billboard Music awards is no mean achievement. For Madonna, often considered the most powerful woman in the American entertainment business, fame and recognition have come from all quarters.
Even her harshest critics have admitted that her ability to keep re-inventing herself and her music to sync with the newer standards of audiences is her biggest strength. Rich, famous, beautiful and powerful - Madonna's is a life everybody wants to live.

Entertainment (Movies)

Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926 - August 5, 1962)

Norma Jeane Mortenson had a difficult childhood. She had as difficult an adult life. Known to the world as the most beautiful woman there ever was, Marilyn Monroe put on the mask of an all-desirable sex symbol to cover the hardships she went through.
She had a troubled personal life even when her star as a Hollywood icon was shining bright. Monroe continued being the object of desire for many, and played to the gallery. She lived through a horrible personal life to enjoy the pleasure her professional life gave her.
Apart from unprecedented admiration, Monroe was easily the most successful female star of her time. Monroe lived as an icon. Monroe died as a mystery. Several theories compound her death, none of which can be verified. The cause of her death stayed a mystery wrapped in the mystical beauty the woman herself was.

Audrey Hepburn (May 4, 1929 - January 20, 1993)

Hollywood's beauty with brains. Wise, balanced, beautiful, fashionable and extremely talented - Hepburn was a rare combination. Hepburn regularly topped, in fact still tops, most of America's 'best-dressed' and 'most-fashionable' lists.
She was an on-screen legend and nothing justifies it more than the fact that Hepburn is one of the few Hollywood personalities to have grabbed all the prestigious acting awards at least once - Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony.
Apart from her beauty, talent and fashion sense, Hepburn will forever be remembered for her path-breaking charity work in the impoverished areas of South America and Africa.

Elizabeth Taylor (February 27, 1932 - March 23, 2011)

Born in London, Taylor is widely considered as the most talented female actress Hollywood has ever witnessed. Taylor started working as a child actor in many MGM movies and grew up to be a successful actress who went on to star in many successful films.

Meryl Streep (June 22, 1949)

Considered to be the greatest living film actress, Streep's filmography is a study in variety. She has played a plethora of roles - ranging from a distressed mother on the verge of divorce to the strongest Prime Minister Britain had ever seen.
Her glorious career was punctured with a lull in the late eighties and mid-nineties, but Streep bounced back, playing roles that suited her age. Streep also has the unique ability to wear accents and dialects as a part of preparation for her role.

Vivien Leigh (November 5, 1913 - July 8, 1967)

Leigh was born in Darjeeling, India - a highly unlikely place for a Hollywood actress to begin her life! By her own admission, the widespread adulation her beauty got, often made it difficult for audiences and critics alike to take her seriously as an actor. 
To a large extent, that stood true. Leigh was a terrific actress, often making an impact only after being cast as the pretty face for a film. Apart from films, Leigh was a prolific theater performer. Her theater career spanned nearly three decades.


Babe Didrikson Zaharia (June 26, 1911 - September 27, 1956)

Didrikson was one of her kind - she originally started out as a basketball player and eventually evolved into a world-class golfer. She regularly participated in Mens Open tournaments and displayed high success rates. Didrikson played basketball, softball, golf and various track and field sports. She has 2 Olympic golds and a silver to her name.

Sarah Hughes (May 2, 1985)

Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes is known to be a proficient figure skater. Hughes began performing at the age of three and has since capped many achievements. Although Hughes could never bring home significant titles, many attribute it to her retiring at the peak of her career.

Martina Navratilova (October 18, 1956)

Tennis legend Billie Jean King once famously called her "the greatest singles, doubles and mixed doubles player who's ever lived." Navratilova has won the Women's single title at Wimbledon nine time - a standing record. Navratilova set the record for the longest winning streak of 74 matches - a record still unbroken.

Stefanie Graf (14 June 1969)

Arguably the greatest women's tennis player of all time, Steffi Graf's career is marked with a unique talent of being a proficient tennis player across any surface. Graf has 22 singles titles, including a calendar year Golden Slam, a record which stays unsurpassed till date.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee (March 3, 1962)

Kersee is often regarded as the greatest athlete ever in heptathlon. Kersee holds 3 Olympic golds, 1 silver and 2 bronze medals in heptathlon and long jump. Kersee has been voted the greatest female athlete of all time by numerous sports magazines and websites.


Coco Chanel (August 19, 1883 - January 10, 1971)

Coco Chanel redefined the way women dress. She transformed American and European fashion from traditional corsets to chic skirts and trousers. Chanel is often considered to be the brain behind the 'little black dress'.
The Chanel bag too, became a fashion icon of its own. Although Chanel was highly criticized by many for her Nazi links during World War II, her re-entry into the fashion world post World War II proved highly successful and was more significant than her earlier stint.

Martha Stewart (August 3, 1941)

Stewart is a business magnate and media mogul. She is a one-of-her-kind woman in a space usually dominated by men. Stewart's ventures span from grocery stores to magazines to websites to TV shows. In their May 1995 issue, New York magazine termed her "the definitive American woman".

Cher Wang (September 14, 1958)

Wang is the co-founder and presently the chairperson of HTC corporation - an electronics giant who specializes in smartphones.
With a net worth of $8.8 billion, Wang is the richest person in Taiwan.

Sandra Lerner (September 1955)

Co-founder of Cisco Systems, Lerner is the brain behind one of the world's leading networking equipment manufacturer. After leaving Cisco, Lerner now co-runs a cosmetics company called Urban Decay.

Debbi Fields (September 1956)

Mrs. Fields is one of the largest retailers of specialty cookies and brownies in America today and Debbi Fields is the brain behind it. From setting up a small bakery in Palo Alto to expanding to over 600 retail bakeries across the country, Mrs. Fields has become a name to reckon with in the cookie world!
By her own admission, 'quality over quantity' has been the company's motto ever since it started franchising in 1990. Mrs. Fields' is a story less of a dream, more of an indication of what a combination of serious talent and hard work can do.

On the Other Side of the Law

While plenty of women have used their beauty, intelligence, skills and talent to enamor the world with their achievements, there are others who used precisely these very qualities to give being the good-girl a miss. The law wanted them and the public hated them to the extent that they became mini-celebrities unto themselves.

Presenting a list of women who've been more infamous than famous:

Bonnie Parker (1910 - 1934)

A pop con icon - Bonnie Clyde's life on the run was surreal. So much so that it even spawned a Hollywood biopic - Bonnie and Clyde - based on her crime adventures with her partner in crime and life, Clyde Barrow.
Bonnie and Clyde went on a robbery spree across America in the late twenties and early thirties, spawning toonish depictions of them being portrayed by the press. Bonnie and Clyde became almost legendary even when they lived. Many experts believe Bonnie supplied the 'oomph' that was needed for Clyde's devilish mind to carry on their notorious activities.

Aileen Wuornos (February 29, 1956 - October 9, 2002)

Wuornos had a troubled life since she was a child. She was abandoned by her mother when she was 4, had bouts of rage by the time she turned nine, was indulging in sexual activities in exchange of drugs, cigarettes and money in school at the age of 10, had become a prostitute at 11, and by the time she was in her thirties, she had murdered seven people and become a professional robber. Wuornos was hanged in 2002.

Countess Elizabeth Báthory (August 7, 1560 - August 21, 1614)

Known to be the most prolific serial killer in the history of mankind, Báthory is known to have killed over 600 poor farmer girls, although she could be convicted of only 80 killings. Báthory was accused of tempting young pheasant girls in her castle in lieu of good work and money and then physically torturing and killing them.
There are many other names which have conquered the imagination of the general public with their combination of talent, skills, intelligence and beauty. It's practically impossible to compile a list of all women who have made a difference to the society and the world in general through their achievements, but the above-mentioned names are some of the shining lights of female contrivance and accomplishments.