It’s no secret that the entrepreneurial and online biz space are male-dominated. But those numbers have been shifting. More and more women have transitioned into entrepreneurship and business over the last several years. The numbers aren’t balanced yet. So it’s even more important to stop and appreciate the important inspiring women in history who are paving the way for more equality and societal balance.
After all, women are powerful creators and have the ability to make positive change that ripples out for generations to come. Whether they’re alive now or have graced the earth over the last century, we think these 24 inspiring women will leave you feeling lit up. Their stories can be appreciated any time of the year, not just during International Women’s History Month. Read on to learn more about these female role models!
Inspirational female leaders in history
1. Rosa Parks
Would any list of women who made history be complete if it didn’t start with Rosa Parks? This gem of a woman is largely known for refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white patron. And for sparking the pivotal Montgomery Bus Boycott. What’s lesser known is that she and her family were activists leading up to and throughout the Civil Rights Movement.
2. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
An icon in and of herself, RGB was the first Jewish woman (and only the second woman in general) to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. During her time serving on the court between 1993 and 2020, she wrote the majority opinion for some historical U.S. cases. And was an ongoing advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. Her work has made her one of the most notable women in American history.
3. Michelle Obama
As a lawyer, author, and the first African American first lady, she’s certainly one of the most motivational women in history. She worked hard to bring improvements to nutrition, health, and physical education to millions of children all across the U.S. She continues to remain an inspiration to people all over the world. With her bestselling book “Becoming,” and even launching her podcast, “The Light” to delighted fans everywhere.
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4. President Ellen Johson Sirleaf
She was the first woman elected head of state in Africa in 2005 when she was appointed by the people as president of Libera. In 2011, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in bringing more women into the peacekeeping process. She’s truly paving the way for women in leadership in Africa, and leading by example for the whole globe.
5. Wilma Pearl Mankiller
As the first woman elected to lead a major native tribe, she served as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1985 until 1995. And she worked with the U.S. Government to create a self-governed agreement for the Cherokee Nation. She protected and honored Cherokee customs as well as revolutionized the healthcare system in this part of Indian Country.
6. Tammy Duckworth
She is the first Thai American woman elected to Congress, as well as the first woman with a physical disability elected into Congress. Before her time as a politician, Duckworth served in the Army National Guard and lost both her legs when the Army helicopter she was piloting was struck down by an Iraqi Insurgent grenade. She’s a true example of resistance and determination!
7. Toni Morrison
Although not in politics, Morrison was a leader in her own right. An American Novelist and advocate, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her fictional novel “Beloved.” And she was awarded the Nobel Laureate for her nonfiction work on race in the literary canon. Her perspectives, stories, and eloquent writing skills make her a leader when it comes to shedding light on some of the more nuanced and insidious aspects of race and identity in American culture. And how those aspects can be rewritten for the future.
Underrated women in history
8. Judith Heumann
Affectionately known as “the mother of the Disability Rights Movement,” she worked with the government, NGOs and nonprofits to create significant improvements to accessibility and the development of human rights legislation. Her contributions made it possible for many with disabilities to have more independence and autonomy in day-to-day life.
9. Grace Hopper
She was a trailblazer in computer programming and a brilliant computer scientist, mathematician, and U.S. Navy rear admiral. Hopper was pivotal in shaping coding as we know it today. She invented “COBOL,” high-level programming that continues to be in use even decades after her passing in 1992.
10. Patsy Mink
Patsy Mink was the first woman of color and Asian-American woman elected to Congress. Mink worked tirelessly for gender equality, women’s rights, and access to education. After being denied entry into twelve different medical schools, she pivoted to studying law. And she still faced numerous challenges to practicing law, including being barred from taking the exam as a Hawaiian resident and then being denied employment because she was a mother. But she continued undeterred and started her own practice. Talk about the embodiment of resiliency!
11. Rita Levi-Montalcini
Neurobiologist and Nobel Prize Winner, Levi-Montalcini made leaps and bounds in the world of science and medicine by jointly discovering Nerve Growth Factor with her colleague Stanley Cohen. As if discovering life-altering brain factors isn’t enough, she also served on the Italian Senate.
Inspiring women in business
12. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw
With a passion for biotechnology, she started her business out of her garage in 1978 and grew her company to a global scale. Making medicines affordable and available to millions of people worldwide. As a first-generation entrepreneur, she truly built her empire from scratch.
13. Oprah Winfrey
No list of inspirational women is complete without featuring the one and only Oprah. Besides her wildly successful and long-running “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” she’s also a television producer, actress, author, and philanthropist. Her accolades and awards are too numerous to write here without this turning into a full-blown novel. But it’s safe to say her work has played a vital role in shaping culture and bringing inspiration and healing to the collective.
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Although she’s probably most notably known for her talents as a musician, Rhianna is a force to be reckoned with. She’s not only a chart-topping pop star, but also runs the widely successful Fenty Beauty. In 2022, she became the youngest self-made female billionaire. Not to mention she’s a mom, too!
15. Sara Blakely
Working in the hot Florida heat, Sara really disliked pantyhose but did enjoy the shaping and contour that the top of the tights gave her. From this need, she invented Spanx. And pitched her creation to several hosiery CEOs (all of who were men) before one finally saw the potential of the product. She was still working her day job when she went on to found her own company. It made $4 million in sales during the first year alone. She also launched a philanthropic foundation that supports women as entrepreneurs and in business. She’s certainly one of the women who made it to the top!
Famous women in sports
16. Florence Griffith Joyner
Flo-Jo, as she was affectionately known, was a world record-holding track and field athlete. She won three gold medals in the 1988 Olympics, plus other medals she won in different Olympics. And besides being a renowned athlete, she was known for her edgy style and as being a pop culture icon of her time.
17. Raven Wilkinson
While there’s some debate about whether dance qualifies as a sport, there’s no doubt that Wilkinson was a talented and powerful athlete. She was the first African American woman to be signed for a classical ballet company. After she was denied entrance into multiple well-known ballet companies despite her talent, she gave up on dancing for a few years. Before returning back to it with a renewed determination, and before long was accepted by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Breaking the color barrier for so many future women to come.
18. Megan Rapinoe
As co-captain of the U.S. soccer team that brought home gold and won multiple FIFA women’s world cups, Rapinoe is not only a skilled athlete but also a gracious leader. When she’s not dominating the field, she’s an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. And she even received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Biden in 2022. She’s truly an inspiration for young girls and rising athletes everywhere.
19. Serena Williams
Largely regarded as the best female tennis player to ever live, and one of the world’s best athletes ever is Serena Williams. Williams holds several world records, including the most Grand Slam singles titles, as well as a Career Golden Slam in both singles and doubles. That’s for males and females! She’s also the world’s highest-paid female athlete of all time. During her time dominating the tennis game, she also gave birth and even raked in some victories while she was pregnant. A powerhouse of an athlete!
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Inspiring women today
20. Shonda Rimes
Having been listed by Time as one of the 100 most influential people in the world three separate times, Rhimes is a famous screenwriter. She’s probably best known as the creator of “Grey’s Anatomy.” As well as for her work on “Scandal,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” and several other wildly popular TV shows. She’s also a mama of three even as she continues to build her career.
21. Greta Thunberg
She’s cemented herself as one of the notable female historical figures. She claimed that spot when she made global news as a teenager who challenged prime ministers and world leaders to make immediate changes related to climate change. Her passion for advocating for the earth fueled her to lead school strikes. Which spread on social media and led students across the globe to strike every Friday in order to bring attention to the climate crisis. She has received many honors and awards and has even been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize four times. We bet it’s only a matter of time before she is awarded this honor. Which she clearly deserves for the work she’s done!
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22. Malala Yousafzi
One of the most influential women in history. Her story starts with tragedy and progresses into inspiration and a catalyst for positive change. When she was only a teen, she was shot by a Taliban gunman while on a school bus. All for the simple fact that she was a girl determined to receive an education and was still attending school despite the Taliban’s opposition to it. She co-authored an autobiography, “I Am Malala.” And she established the Malala Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group for girls’s education. She is globally recognized for the positive impact she made despite the adversity she faced at such a young age.
23. Meghan Markle
Her love story with Prince Harry and the ensuing ripples it caused with the royal family have made headlines numerous times. She faced racism and backlash as the first Black Woman to marry into the royal family. A former actress, and having stepped away from royal duties, she now runs a nonprofit with her hubby and is a mom to two. Her resilience and grace in the face of so much media turbulence are surely a testament to her strength and love for her family.
24. Margaret Atwood
Most famously known for her iconic novels turned hit TV series, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Atwood is not just a writer but also an environmental activist and teacher. Her works really bring to the forefront the intersection of environmental issues, gender topics, and politics. While entertaining, they also facilitate thought-provoking and much-needed discussion on the future of civilization as a whole based on our current trajectory.
Inspirational quotes for women
“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.” – Michelle Obama
“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” – Malala Yousafzai
“Knowing what must be done does away with fear.” – Rosa Parks
“I think the most powerful thing a woman can have is confidence.” ― Rowan Blanchard
“When I’m not feeling my best I ask myself, “What are you gonna do about it?” I use the negativity to fuel the transformation into a better me.” ― Beyonce
“If you don’t know what your passion is, realize that one reason for your existence on earth is to find it.” – Oprah
“I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” – Toni Morrison