Throughout all times, cultures and countries, the systematic oppression of women has been a constant. Like opponents in their own ranks, they were often excluded from power, knowledge and the right to self-determination. All the brighter are the protagonists of this list. Women who stepped out of the shadows, shaped the world view or their epoch and left a rich inheritance are to be remembered here.
Ada Lovelace – Mathematician and Computer Pioneer (1815-1852)
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was an English mathematician and the only legal child of the poet Lord Byron and his wife Anne Isabella. King became world famous for her work with her mathematician colleague Charles Baggage and their joint achievement, the Analytical Engine. In 1843 she translated an article on the Engine written by the Italian Luigi Menabrea. She added her own executive notes, and it was from these notes that the first algorithm for a machine to work emerged. King has since been the world’s first computer programmer. Without these groundbreaking developments, the world of technology today could look very different.
Wu Zetian – Empress of China (624-705 A.D.)
Wu Zetian was empress of the Zhou dynasty. She began her “reign” by supporting her eldest son first and her youngest son later, who had to succeed their father, emperor Gaozong, after his death in 683. In lengthy proceedings, the Empress removed her hostile minister from the government and replaced them with her confidants. In 684 she tried to renew the administration. She continuously expanded the empire, moved the capital to Luoyang and promoted civil servant examinations as a countermeasure to the established nobility. In 690 she finally ascended the Dragon Throne herself and found more and more approval among the population, although she was a woman. Unluckily, in 703 Wu Zetian became seriously ill, thus allowing the family of her first son to carry out a coup. As a result, Wu had to abdicate and died a few months later.
Marie Curie – Nobel Laureate in Physics and Chemistry (1867-1934)
Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in two categories (one she shared with her husband Pierre, who died in a tragic accident). She discovered two elements, radium and polonium, coined the term “radioactivity” and was the first to propose radiotherapy for cancer treatment. Marie Curie revolutionized the fields of chemistry, physics and medicine, with a strong headwind from the prejudiced men of science.
Joan of Arc – French Heroine and Catholic Saint (1412-1431)
Joan of Arc, the “Virgin of Orleans”, was born in the small village of Domrémy. She is the French national heroine: at the age of 18, she led the French army to victory over the British in the Battle of Orléans. A year later she was captured and burned as a heretic by the British and their French collaborators. 500 years later, the Catholic Church canonized her.
Amelia Earhart – Aviation Pioneer and Women Rights Activist (1897-1937)
The American Amelia Earhart was the first pilot to cross the Atlantic alone and to receive the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross. She was also a member of the National Women’s Party, one of the first women’s rights activists and supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1937, she was reported missing on a round-the-world flight. Although she never returned from this trip, she has set groundbreaking records in how high women can ascend into the air.