Throughout history women’s voices have been marginalized and, to some degree, still continues today. In fact, even one of the most famous and inspirational women of the 21st-century generation, J.K. Rowling, doubted her ability to sell the Harry Potter series with her full name on the cover. Instead, opting to use her androgynous initials rather than her first name when publishing Harry Potter. Sadly, boys today still are less likely to pick up a book about wizards if it’s written by a woman. Even long after J.K. Rowling proved her ability to produce captivating tales. Seem ridiculous?
Young people today, all over the world, are pretty unique. Young people (and young women in particular) are fighting to have their voices heard. So, today, we’re celebrating the many inspirational women throughout history whose perspectives have been overshadowed by their male counterparts. You may not know all of the inspirational women listed here. But, regardless, each has made a significant contribution. Through their words, these women have become a symbol of inspiration to all of us. An inspiration which I hope will inspire you to use your own words to change the world positively!
18 Kick-Ass Inspirational Women who Weaved Wonder with their Words
Sappho (probably 630 BCE-570 BCE)
Ancient Greeks and Romans describe Sappho, one of the earliest female authors, as one of the great poets of the classical world. Much of her work survives only in fragments, though some complete poems remain. Sappho’s works are difficult to translate because the poems don’t rhyme—therefore rather relying on the rhythm and sound of the words. Acknowledged as an ‘expert’ in describing beauty and feelings of love, Sappho is an ongoing inspiration to women writers today (where would our romance writers of today and tomorrow be without Sappho?).
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
Hildegard was a medieval nun but, accomplished lots more as a worldly writer. She not only put her spiritual visions down on paper but, also composed music and wrote two books on botany and medicine. Perhaps her most famous piece is Ordo Virtutem (Play of the Virtues), a morality play. It includes singing parts for the Soul and the Virtues and a speaking role for the Devil. Hildegard also makes the inspirational women list largely due to her work in composing more than 70 pieces of music which are still known today. Her Physica and Causae et Curae books describe the medicinal qualities of plants and animals and, instructions on how to treat a range of ailments. While many women would have had this knowledge in the Middle Ages, few of them would have been able to write it down, making Hildegard’s voice incredibly unique.
Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
Teresa was a Christian mystic whose books have inspired thousands on their path to developing a spiritual life. Her works include an autobiography, The Life of Teresa of Jesus, as well as The Way of Perfection, and The Interior Castle. Although she was part of the Carmelite Order, which like other religious orders has a routine of communal prayer, Teresa was one of the most influential advocates of mental prayer and contemplation, in which the individual seeks her or his own relationship with God.
Aphra Behn (1640-1689)
Aphra was one of the first women to be publicly celebrated as a playwright. While her early life is a mystery, she is known to have worked as a spy for the King Charles II of England (a 007 perhaps?). It seems as though she was poorly compensated for this (if she was paid at all), and so she turned to writing to earn money. After limited success initially, she began writing popular comedies and poems as entertainment. Her story Oroonoko, about an enslaved African prince, is recognized as one of the earliest English novels.
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)
An early women’s rights advocate, Mary wrote her Vindication of the Rights of Women. Mary argued that the only reason women were thought to be inferior to men was that they were routinely denied opportunities. Her Thoughts on the Education of Daughters also advocates schooling for girls, and her novels emphasize the importance of female friendships across social classes. She died shortly after giving birth to her daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Or, better known as Mary Shelley—the author of Frankenstein!
Margaret Fuller (1810-1850)
An advocate for female equality, Margaret was one hell of a fighter. As the Editor of The Dial, she serialized her work The Great Lawsuit, which was later published under the title Woman in the Nineteenth Century. A significant milestone in the history of feminist thought. Fuller was the first female to be allowed to use Harvard Library, the first American female full-time book reviewer and, the first female correspondent for the New York Tribune.
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
Harriet changed the way that many people thought about slavery through her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Originally subtitled The Man That Was a Thing, it humanized the people who were, at that time, seen as possessions. It helped readers to understand the consequences of slavery, and not only the effects on those who were enslaved, but also on society as a whole. Stowe actively helped escaped slaves, met with Abraham Lincoln and, in later life campaigned for women’s rights. While her husband was also a critic of slavery, it’s Harriet who is remembered, thanks to her amazing book.
Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)
Louisa wrote some of the first books about girls, for girls—what now is called teen fiction. Wanting to support her poverty-struck family, she said: “I will make a battering-ram of my head” to make her way in the world. Her 1868 novel, Little Women, (a tale of inspirational women) was one of the first in which a teenage heroine is seen to act independently, rather than being a caricatured moral example or a passive object for a male hero. The character of Jo still inspires many young women all over the world today.
Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940)
Selma was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. She wrote many novels, often with a serious, spiritual element to them. Her literature work is probably best known for—The Adventures of Nils. The Swedish National Teachers’ Association asked her to write a geography book. But, rather than producing a textbook, she wrote the story of a boy called Nils who traveled around Sweden learning about important landmarks. This way of presenting information to children has been widely copied and is still used today.
Helen Keller (1880-1968)
A childhood illness left Helen deaf and blind, but it didn’t stop her from achieving great things. After learning to communicate again—first through sign language and then speech, Helen gave talks and lectures and wrote several books. Her autobiography, The World I Live In, introduced the experience of disability to the wider public. She helped found the American Civil Liberties Union, but her socialist views were unpopular. Despite doctors advising her disabilities had made her intellectually undeveloped, she became the first deafblind person to receive a bachelor of arts degree. Her story is immortalized in the play—The Miracle Worker.
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)
Eleanor was the longest-serving First Lady of the USA. Beyond supporting her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, she often gave speeches on his behalf when he was ill with polio. Certainly one of the most inspirational women of history, Eleanor was the First Lady to have her own press conferences and her own newspaper column. One of her greatest legacies is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she helped write while serving as Chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights.
Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973)
Brought up in China, Pearl wrote English stories. which are firmly influenced by Chinese ideas. Something which clearly resonated with people, as her novel The Good Earth won the Pulitzer Prize. In 1938 Pearl received the Nobel Prize for Literature. An unusual occurrence for a woman to win at the time. In her acceptance her speech, she explained that, unlike Western ideas about writing as an art form, she wanted to be like Chinese writers—telling the stories that people wanted to hear. Pearl campaigned against racist attitudes. Particularly for Asian and mixed-race babies put up for adoption.
Margaret Mead (1901-1978)
Margaret was an anthropologist, whose pioneering 1930s books, changed the way people thought about social and gender roles. Her famous works include; Coming of Age in Samoa and Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. Despite people criticizing her work, Margaret began the discussions about the roles of nature and nurture that continue today. Margaret helped to lay the foundations for modern feminism and the sexual revolution.
Grace Hopper (1906-1992)
Grace’s legacy isn’t in English but in computer code. A Rear Admiral in the United States Navy, “Amazing Grace” was also a highly talented computer programmer in the 1940s. In those days computers could do calculations but, needed instructions fed into them. Grace invented the first compiler, which opened the door for today’s computers. She then led the team that developed COBOL, one of the first, and still one of the most widespread, computer languages.
Maya Angelou (1928-2014)
Maya was one of the first black women to write publicly about her own life and her experience of poverty, racism, and oppression. She wrote seven volumes of her autobiography, beginning with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Her books mainly address sex and violence. Which some criticize as being ‘unsuitable’ for study in schools. Despite this, Maya continues to inspire countless people through her resilience and character.
Anne Frank (1929-1945)
As one of the most inspirational women in history, Anne never knew the effect that her writing would have. She kept a diary from June 1942 to August 1944. Recording not only her development from a girl to a young woman but, her experience of hiding from Nazi persecution. Anne and her family died at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Yet, her diary remains which has inspired hundreds of thousands of people. John F. Kennedy said:
“Of all the multitudes who throughout history have spoken for human dignity in times of great suffering and loss, no voice is more compelling than that of Anne Frank.”
Germaine Greer (born 1939)
Regarded as a well known as a feminist author and lecturer. Germaine has written for satirical and political magazines and appeared on many popular TV shows. Her first book, The Female Eunuch, published in 1970, argued that most women don’t realize that men hate and fear them. She fights for female liberation, not equality. She believes that the goal of feminism is not for women to have the same rights as men, but to no longer be measured against men’s rights and achievements at all.
Wangari Maathai (1940-2011)
A Kenyan activist and author, Wangari founded the Green Belt Movement. A movement which empowered thousands of women to participate in small-scale environmental projects. In her memoir, Unbowed, she documented her work towards becoming the first woman in East and Central Africa to gain a doctoral degree. Her later work, Replenishing the Earth, called for traditional spiritual values to heal personal and environmental problems. Wangari received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
See also: 5 Inspirational Be Yourself Quotes to Boost Your Confidence.
Today, millions of women can write and record their ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Still, however, feminism is an ongoing revolution. But, to change that, female writers today are following the example of their predecessors. Inspirational women like those listed here who’ve made a remarkable impact on the world.