From early recorded history, women have had influential roles in society. Some, like the Egyptian Pharaoh Hatshepsut, played amazing parts in early civilization but were removed from the history books of their time. Others have had a modern impact that will positively affect generations to come. Here is a list of ten of some of the most inspiring women leaders of all time.
1. Queen Elizabeth I
This queen ruled England and Ireland from 1558 to 1603 in a reign that was so prosperous it was called The Elizabethan Era. She never married, claiming that she was married to her country. Elizabeth 1 advocated for religious freedom and the rise of English playwrights and drama. She also advocated for military victories such as the amazing defeat of the Spanish Armada. She was respected and set up diplomatic ties with multiple nations including Russia, many Muslim countries, and France. While the last years of her reign did suffer economic issues, she is still revered today as one of the most inspiring women leaders of all time.
2. Queen Victoria
Another influential queen, Victoria ruled from 1837 to 1901, far longer than any of her predecessor. Her record 63-year reign has since been passed by her own great-great-granddaughter, Elizabeth II. Victoria was responsible for the establishment of a constitutional monarchy and voting reforms. Her reign saw the rise of the military, as well as political, industrial, scientific and cultural growth. Queen Victoria was the subject of several scandals, largely based on unsubstantiated rumors, and advocated for good family values and morality. She survived assassination attempts no less than eight times.
3. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
The first female president of Croatia, Kolinda is also the youngest ever to hold the office. She has only been in office for three years, but she is making great strides in equal rights for the LGBT community, women’s rights, and climate change. She is keeping her country in the diplomatic forefront and continues to make her presence known on the world’s political stage.
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4. Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, is into her fourth term in office. During her tenure, she has implemented maternity leave, overseen energy reform, stopped conscription (the draft), introduced a minimum wage, maintained diplomatic relations across the globe including Russia, and saw her country through an economic boom. She is considered a very important political figure in Germany’s predominantly male-oriented political field. She is widely called the most powerful woman in the world, presently making her one of the most inspiring women leaders on the planet.
5. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
After being exiled from Liberia twice, once by a military coup and the second time for speaking out against it. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first woman to be elected to Africa’s Head of State. She would achieve great things, including the forgiveness of Liberia’s enormous debt. Also, the lifting of trade sanctions leveled against Liberia.
For her citizens, she established free elementary school education for all, demanded women’s equal rights. She also improved many aspects of infrastructure such as roads, mining, and agriculture. Ellen Sirleaf is truly one of the world’s most inspiring women leaders and would be one of three women in 2011 to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her tireless efforts to promote gender equality.
6. Corazon Aquino
In 1983, Corazon Aquino found herself drawn to fight against President Ferdinand Marcos after the death of her senator husband. She became the president of the Philippines in 1986. The first woman to ever achieve the office, and devoted herself to social reform and democracy. Under her leadership, the martial rule constitution that had plagued the country was overturned, replaced by The Freedom Constitution.
Under her presidency, monopolies run by dictators and communist leaders were abolished. She also reforms to agriculture and the economy, which had been left in ruins by her predecessor. Her presidency was rife with interference by the communist party, which hindered trade and industry by orchestrating power blackouts and attempting multiple coups. She would go on to elect a new Congress, placing some power back in the hands of her constituents. Corazon never sought re-election, and when her term was over, she drove off in her less than spectacular Toyota Crown rather than take the expensive, the government purchased a car that was given to her. From housewife to reluctant leader, Corazon Aquino is an impressive female figure.
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No list of inspiring women leaders would be complete without listing Cleopatra, the last ruler of the Egyptian Ptolemaic Kingdom. Aside from her notorious relationship with Mark Anthony, she was a linguist, diplomat, naval commander, and medical author.
Cleopatra is credited for the construction of many temples across all religious sects and tackle many problems during her reigns such as the great famine and multiple wars. After a devastating military loss at the hands of her rival Octavian, Cleopatra would take her own life rather than be a symbol of his success in Rome. Her cause of death has historically been the bite of a cobra, but no poisonous snake was found with her remains. She did, however, have puncture wounds that would have been consistent with a snake bite or injections of poison.
8. Borte Ujin
Behind every great conqueror stands an equally great woman. You may never have heard of Borte Ujin, but she was the wife of the infamous Genghis Kahn. Having been rescued after being kidnapped by a rival tribe, Borte was the Mongol ruler’s first wife and would ultimately be crowned Grand Empress. While her husband was busy conquering the world, Borte would remain behind and continue to rule his empire through a prosperous time. Borte would also become Genghis’ confidante and advisor.
9. Margaret Thatcher
The much-loved female prime minister of England served in office from 1979-1990. She was well known for her leadership style; uncompromising and tough, Margaret Thatcher earned the nickname of “The Iron Lady”. The first female to head a political party in the UK, as well as the first woman elected as a head of government in all of Europe.
Margaret Thatcher encouraged free market enterprise and privatization of previously government-owned entities to ensure competition. She would go on to reduce the grip of the tyrannical trade unions of the time, lowered taxes and inflation, and implemented programs that would allow her citizens to purchase affordable homes. Margaret guided her country through the military crisis, such as the Cold War, the Iranian Embassy Crisis, and the Falklands War. She is widely considered one of the UK’s most influential politicians. She can be called one of the most inspiring women leaders of all time.
Theodora, the Empress of the Eastern Roman Empire, ruled from Byzantine from 527-548AD. From the humblest of beginnings, with a father who trained bears and a mother who was an actress, she would rise to be venerated as a saint. She convinced her husband, co-regent Justinian I, to remain and stand strong in the face of deadly rioting and worked to prohibit the harassment of religious sects of her time. She rebuilt Constantinople, fought against governmental corruption, and fought for women’s rights. To help the women of her time, she declared rape to be punishable by the death penalty.
Theodora freed many prostitutes from brothels and gave them a safe building to rebuild their lives, and made killing an adulterous wife illegal. In addition, she fought for the rights of unwanted babies by making it illegal to leave them exposed to the elements until they died. For all intents and purposes, Theodora wore the proverbial pants of the Empire; her husband accomplished nothing after her death.
All throughout history, inspiring women leaders can be found as advisors, politicians, influential spouses, corporate owners, and more. This list is only ten; there are many more, each as influential as the next.