10 Influential Women in history

Apr 01, 2022   |   Chia Jia En

Share this post:

Every year, International Women’s Day (IWD) falls on March 8. On this day, we commemorate the various achievements of women, celebrating us being one step closer to gender equality and greater women’s empowerment.  The theme for IWD this year is “Break The Bias” [1], which encourages women to step out of the stereotypes and gender norms in their communities.

This article will highlight 10 women who have made a difference in their communities and even the world, with their outstanding achievements, sheer bravery and pure humanity. Their professions range across various fields, from math and sciences to the arts and humanities, where they left their marks for the many generations to come.


Jane Austen (1775-1817)

Portrait of Jane Austen, from the memoir by J. E. Austen-Leigh

Jane Austen was an English writer and is one of the most famous writers in English Literature, having only written 6 novels, including her most popular novel Pride and Prejudice. Through her literary works, she was an important social commentator [2] and one of the first writers to introduce a new style of writing. Today, her books are read all over the world and have been made into many adaptations.


Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)

Watercolor portrait of Ada Lovelace by Alfred Edward Chalon around 1838

Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician and in 1843, she became the world’s first computer programmer [3]. She worked with Charles Babbage on his very early mechanical computer, the Analytical Engine, by writing the world’s first machine algorithm for it [4]. Her work is especially visionary and inspiring as women lacked access to education at that time, let alone education for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Today, she is world-famous and is also known as a pioneer of modern computer science.


Marie Curie (1867-1934)

Portrait of Marie Curie

Marie Curie was a Polish and French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She is remembered for the discovery of radium and polonium and also for her contributions to finding treatment for cancer [5]. She was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize award and in total won two Nobel Prize awards in her lifetime. Her efforts put into the Physics, Chemistry and even Medicinal field were not left unnoticed and today, she is seen as the woman who changed Science.


Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

Photo of “Maya Angelou at York College” by York College ISLGP under license CC BY 2.0

Maya Angelou was an activist, journalist, actor, dancer and poet [6]. Today, she is a world-famous author. She is known for her autobiographical style and for using her work to empower the African American community. Her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, made a huge impact on the literary world and opened doors for African American authors and women [7]. Through her fights as a civil rights activist, she has inspired many people and women to aim for a better future [8].


Katharine Graham (1917-2001)

Katharine Graham, guest at a meeting of the Dutch Newspaper Press, 22 May 1975

Katherine Graham was the chairman of the board of The Washington Post Co. for 20 years, which she led to be one of the top newspapers in the United States, most notably when it published The Pentagon Papers and reported on the Watergate scandal [9]. She was the first woman CEO of a Fortune 500 Company[24] and was also one of the first female publishers of U.S. newspapers.  In 1998, She won a Pulitzer Prize[10] for her autobiography, Personal History.


Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Crimean War: Florence Nightingale with her lamp at a patient’s bedside. Coloured lithograph after H. Rae.” By Henrietta Rae under CC BY 2.0

Florence Nightingale was an English social reformer, statistician[14] and the founder of modern nursing.  In 1854, during the Crimean War, she was appointed to a military hospital to aid wounded soldiers coming back from the frontlines, where conditions were dreadful. Despite that, she was compassionate in her work [11] and was nicknamed “the Lady with the Lamp”, as she would carry a lamp and check on the soldiers at night [12]. She also played a part in making hospitals a safer and more sanitary place for patients by improving hygiene practices [13]. Her strong will and compassion were recognised and inspired many. Today, International Nurses Day is held annually on her birthdate of 12 May, in honour of her [14].


Helen Adams Keller (1880-1968)

Helen Keller in profile, 1904

Helen Adams Keller was an American author, disability rights advocate, political activist and lecturer[15]. At 19 months old, she lost her ability to see and hear after getting a high fever. Despite those challenges, she never gave up and proceeded to learn how to sign and talk. Her perseverance and her many achievements have touched and inspired many people. She also played a huge role in advocating for education and equal rights for people with disabilities, giving speeches around the world and raising awareness of sight and hearing health [16]. In 1915, She co-founded an organization “Helen Keller International”[17], dedicated to preventing blindness and helping those who are blind, which remains an important organisation today.


Junko Tabei (1939-2016)

Photo of “Junko Tabei at Communism Peak in 1985” by Jaan Künnap under license CC BY-SA 4.0

Junko Tabei was a Japanese mountaineer, author, and teacher.[18] She was the first woman to conquer Mount Everest and climb the highest peak of every continent, the Seven Summits [19]. She wrote a book, Honouring High Places, containing her memoirs and experiences, inspiring others with her willpower and compassion. In 2000, she returned to school to get degree in Environmental Science [25] and was passionate about protecting the natural environment, especially around Everest. She eventually became the director of the Himalayan Adventure Trust of Japan.


Hajjah Fatimah (1754-1852)

Photo of Hajjah Fatimah Mosque “The minaret of the Masjid Hajja Fatimah, Singapore” taken by Jacklee under license CC BY-SA 3.0

Hajjah Fatimah was a tradeswoman and philanthropist. She came to Singapore in the 1800s from Malacca and married a Bugis prince from the Celebes. She often gave back to society and was also known to help build homes for the poor. She even donated her land to build a mosque, now known as Hajjah Fatimah Mosque, in Kampong Glam [20]. This is the first mosque in Singapore named after a woman. She was inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame [21] in 2014 for her philanthropy.


Sophia Blackmore (1857-1945)

Portrait of Sophia Blackmore

Sophia Blackmore was an Australian missionary and was sent by the Methodist Women’s Foreign Missionary Society to work in Singapore. In Singapore, she founded two girls’ schools, known today as Methodist Girl’s School and Fairfield Methodist Secondary School [22]. However, this was not an easy feat. At that time, education was not a priority for the Chinese and she frequently went door to door to persuade families to let their daughters get an education. In 1888, with a batch of eight girls, Fairfield Methodist Secondary School started their first lesson. She was also inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame [23] in 2014 for her contributions to Singapore’s progress.

Happy International Womens’ Day!



[1] International Women’s day – march 8. National Today. (2021, December 2). Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://nationaltoday.com/international-womens-day/

[2] So… who is Jane Austen & Why does she matter?: Jane Austen’s House. Jane Austens House. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://janeaustens.house/who-is-jane-austen/

[3] Longley, R. (2021, February 19). Biography of Ada Lovelace, First Computer Programmer. ThoughtCo. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.thoughtco.com/ada-lovelace-biography-5113321

[4] Specktor, B. (2018, July 24). The world’s 1st Computer Algorithm, written by Ada Lovelace, sells for $125,000 at auction. LiveScience. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.livescience.com/63154-ada-lovelace-first-algorithm-auction.html

[5] The nobel prize: Women who changed science: Marie curie. The official website of the Nobel Prize – NobelPrize.org. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.nobelprize.org/womenwhochangedscience/stories/marie-curie

[6] A&E Networks Television. (2021, May 10). Maya Angelou. Biography.com. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.biography.com/writer/maya-angelou

[7] Poetry Foundation. (n.d.). Maya Angelou. Poetry Foundation. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/maya-angelou

[8] Maya Angelou. The MY HERO Project. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://myhero.com/M_Angelou_dnhs_ay_US_2016

[9] WP Company. (2018, April 12). Katharine Graham. The Washington Post. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/brand-studio/fox/katharine-graham/

[10]  (n.d.). Personal History, by Katharine Graham. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.pulitzer.org/winners/katharine-graham

[11] Haynes, S. (2020, May 12). Florence Nightingale’s legacy for nurses: What to know. Time. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://time.com/5835150/florence-nightingale-legacy-nurses/

[12] Alexander, K. L. (n.d.). Florence Nightingale. National Women’s History Museum. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/florence-nightingale

[13] History.com Editors. (2009, November 9). Florence Nightingale. History.com. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/florence-nightingale-1

[14] Desk, I. T. W. (2021, May 12). International Nurses Day 2021. India Today. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.indiatoday.in/information/story/international-nurses-day-2021-history-theme-significance-and-quotes-1801632-2021-05-12

[15] Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, February 23). Helen Keller. Wikipedia. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Keller

[16] Karlins, A. (2017, March 13). Biography: Helen Keller – disability rights activist. The Heroine Collective. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.theheroinecollective.com/helen-keller-disability-rights/

[17] Our history. Helen Keller Intl. (2020, October 21). Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.hki.org/who-we-are/our-history/

[18] Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, February 15). Junko Tabei. Wikipedia. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junko_Tabei

[19] Barronian, A. (2020, December 31). Junko Taibei, the first woman to climb Everest and the Seven summits. Adventure Journal. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.adventure-journal.com/2020/12/junko-taibei-first-woman-climb-everest-seven-summits/

[20] Hamid, E. A. and A. (n.d.). Hajjah Fatimah. Infopedia. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_685_2005-01-12.html

[21] Hajjah Fatimah Binte Sulaiman. Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame. (2021, March 11). Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.swhf.sg/profiles/hajjah-fatimah-binte-sulaiman/

[22] Tan, B. (n.d.). Sophia Blackmore. Infopedia. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1339_2008-10-10.html

[23] Sophia Blackmore. Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame. (2021, March 11). Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.swhf.sg/profiles/sophia-blackmore/

[24 Elizabeth Yuko (15 Jul 2021) 13 Women CEOs Who Made History. Retrieved from Reader’s Digest


[25] Ed Douglas (10 Nov, 2016) Junko Tabei obituary, Japanese mountaineer who was the first woman to reach the summit of Everest. The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/10/junko-tabei-obituary