In honor of National Women’s History Month, I’m sharing inspirational quotes from some of history’s strongest and most empowering women. I hope they inspire you as much as they do me!
Along with being National Women’s History Month, March honors our roles in the world with other holidays. This month is also “Expanding Girls’ Horizons in Science & Engineering” Month. On March 8th, we celebrated Day for Women’s Rights & International Peace and International Women’s Day. So, it’s a great time to remember the women who fought to give us the rights we have now, and to renew our fight against those who would see them all taken away again.
Inspirational Quotes from Some of History’s Most Influential Women
From advocating for women’s rights to writing women’s literature to revolutionizing science, from the distant past through more modern eras, there’s no denying that the women behind these inspirational quotes had a major impact on history.
These 25 astounding women below appear in no particular order. Every one of them made an equally important impact on the world in their own ways. No act is too small to make a difference.
FYI, I’m trying to keep this a political-free zone, but it’s kind of hard when we’re talking about women’s rights. Besides, take a look around. I think it’s easy to see where I fall on the political spectrum even if I don’t come right out and say that I’m a Democrat through and through. 😀
1. Mother Teresa
Even those of us who aren’t religious can’t deny that Mother Theresa was one of the strongest and most empowering women role models of the 20th century. My grandparents had the honor of spending time with the Nobel Peace Prize winner and they said she was every bit as kind, generous and caring in person as she was in the media. They also said she had an amazing sense of humor!
2. Jane Austen
Jane Austen paved the way for women in literature by becoming a best-seller during a time when writing was a man’s club. Within the pages of her novels, she brought us strong female role models, like Emma, Elizabeth (Pride & Prejudice), and Catherine (Northanger Abbey).
If you’re interested in learning more about her impact on women’s history, check out Bustle’s piece on 5 Feminist Lessons from Jane Austen’s Heroines.
3. Queen Elizabeth I
” I do not want a husband who honours me as a queen, if he does not love me as a woman. “
While there have been many influential queens throughout history, Elizabeth I was about as bada** as they come. The simple act of not taking a husband (or a king) was revolutionary during her time. As far as history goes, she taught us that women truly can conquer the world.
Check out Why Was Queen Elizabeth I So Important on the English Heritage website to learn more about her impact.
4. Sojourner Truth
Abolitionist and women’s rights champion Sojourner Truth was undeniably one of the strongest and most powerful women in all of history. She’s best known for her powerful speech, “Ain’t I a Woman,” in which she made one of the boldest proclamations of her time: women are equal to men.
Learn more about this extraordinary woman on the National Women’s History Museum site.
5. Harriet Beecher Stowe
It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.– Harriet Beecher Stowe
According to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, upon meeting Lincoln, the 16th president said to her, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” While it’s unlikely that Uncle Tom’s Cabin actually started the war, it definitely helped open our ancestor’s eyes up to the truth about slavery.
Her impact didn’t just help encourage others to speak up against slavery in the United States. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a best-seller in Great Britain, too, selling over 1.5 million copies there during its first year in publication.
6. Elizabeth Cady Stanton
We women can thank Elizabeth Cady Stanton (among many others, of course) for the fact that we can cast a vote in the upcoming 2020 election…or in any election for that matter. She was one of the leading activists in the women’s suffrage movement. I recommend checking out the full text of the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions of 1848, of which she was a primary author.
7. Florence Nightingale
“Women never have a half-hour in all their lives (excepting before or after anybody is up in the house) that they can call their own, without fear of offending or of hurting someone. “Florence Nightingale
Underpaid and overworked as they are, nurses are the true heroes of the medical world. From watching over our preemies 24/7 in the NICU to advocating for us when a doctor is nowhere to be found to just plain making sure we’re still breathing every waking moment of a hospital stay, without nurses we’d probably all be dead. Well, without Florence Nightingale, we wouldn’t have nurses! Or at least not in the sense that we have them today.
8. Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart is best known as the woman who vanished into thin air during her attempt to fly around the globe, but she’s much more than just a juicy mystery. Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic in an airplane, proving that girls really can do anything guys can! She’s an inspiration to generations of girls in science and engineering fields.
9. Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton was the very first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize, back in 1921, for her novel The Age of Innocence. Many women writers (including screenwriters) cite her as one of their greatest influences. Her award-winning novel itself inspired countless adaptations in film, on stage, and even in other novels.
10. Emily Dickinson
“The Soul selects her own Society — Then — shuts the Door — To her divine Majority — Present no more —”
Dickinson didn’t become the household name that she is today until after her death, but it’s not her poetry that inspires me. Honestly, I’m not a fan. However, I have great respect for the style, as she basically said, “Screw convention and tradition, I’ll make my own rules!”
Okay, so she probably didn’t say it quite like that. In fact, I doubt she even gave a second thought to tradition and convention. Dickinson did what she wanted, even if everyone thought she was crazy. You have to admire that.
11. Frances Perkins
Frances Perkins was the first ever female member of the Presidential cabinet. She served in Franklin D Roosevelt’s administration and advocated for worker’s rights. Even before her monumental first, Perkins defied social norms of the time by going to college.
12. Sandra Day O’Connor
Sandra Day O’Connor made history when she became the first woman confirmed to the Supreme Court in 1981. Unfortunately, she remains one of only four women to ever break into the “stodgy good old boy’s club” that is our highest judicial court in all the land.
13. Aretha Franklin
“We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right.”– Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin made women’s history by becoming the first female to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Like the Supreme Court the R&RHoF remains primarily a boys club. According to NPR, out of the 888 inductees, only 69 are women. That’s a mere 8%. Still, a little better than the measly 3.5% (ish, I rounded) of women Supreme Court Justices.
14. Marie Curie
If there’s one woman we can point to and say, “Wow, she really changed the world when it comes to encouraging girls to pursue science fields,” it has to be Curie. Hailed as the Mother of Modern Physics, Curie may not have been the first woman in science, but she was definitely the first well-known one. She was also the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.
15. Coco Chanel
While it may seem like a fashion designer doesn’t belong on a list with the likes of Mother Teresa and Sojourner Truth, Chanel actually played a major role in women’s rights. She took traditional men’s clothing and made it feminine in a time where girls still couldn’t wear pants in public without scorn.
I recommend checking out this piece on Reuters for more about Chanel’s impact on women’s rights.
16. Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn wasn’t just a Hollywood darling, she was a great humanitarian as well. She dedicate the last years of her life to helping kids in need all around the world as a Good Will Ambassador with UNICEF. Learn more about her extraordinary work – including articles, photos and more- here.
17. Hillary Clinton
“I believe that the rights of women and girls is the unfinished business of the 21st century.”–Hillary Clinton
I know she’s not the most beloved woman of our time, but even her haters have to admit that she’s pretty darn strong and empowering. In 2016, Clinton became the first woman to win the presidential nominee of a major party. As First Lady, Clinton was also a champion for women’s rights.
18. Eva Peron
I demanded more rights for women because I know what women had to put up with.– Eva Peron
Eva Peron, who inspired the movie (and I think a musical) Evita, died tragically young. However, during her short 32 years on this earth, she became Argentina’s most beloved First Lady of all time (and unarguably, one of the world’s most beloved First Ladies). She was a champion for both the poor and for women’s rights.
19. Mary Jackson
Mary Jackson is one of NASA’s “Hidden Figures,” the women who helped the space exploration agency make history even though it took years for them to receive proper recognition. Jackson was NASA’s “human computer,” a brilliant engineer during a time when very few women-especially women of color- were found in any of the STEM careers.
20. Anne Frank
We’ve all read The Diary of Anne Frank, either willingly or because our teachers made us do so. Her words, which range from funny to frightened to downright heartbreaking- showed us what life – and ultimately death- was like for the victims of the Holocaust.
While all good people instinctively know that killing millions just because you don’t agree with their religion or heritage is wrong, Frank’s diary helped us connect those faceless millions with a very real human being.
21. Helen Keller
Helen Keller started her life with her vision and hearing intact, but at 19 months, she lost both. I can’t even imagine how she felt, plunging into darkness and silence at such a young age. The fact that she overcame enormous challenges and learned to communicate with others is inspirational enough.
Keller didn’t stop there, though. She championed for the rights of the blind and deaf, became a writer and a lecturer (with the help of an interpreter), and basically became one of history’s strongest and most empowering women ever.
22. Oprah Winfrey
Out of every television talk show host in the (albeit) short history of morning shows, Oprah has to be the most benevolent ever, and not just because she regularly surprised her audience with goodies tucked beneath their seats! Oprah speaks out for the rights of all humans AND puts her money where her mouth is. She’s supported the rights of women, children, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and many more.
23. Princess Diana
I think the biggest disease the world suffers from in this day and age is the disease of people feeling unloved. I know that I can give love for a minute, for half an hour, for a day, for a month, but I can give. I am very happy to do that, I want to do that.-Princess Diana
Princess Diana wasn’t just a media darling who made headlines when she divorced Prince Charles and that later when she died tragically in a tunnel in France. She was also an incredible humanitarian. During her time as a Princess, she promoted social reform and human rights.
Later, she became passionate about stopping the use of land mines. Did you know that there are millions of live ones left all over the world right now? That’s terrifying!
I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny – a thousand things, before ‘thin’.-J.K. Rowling
Rowling changed the face of children’s literature (and by extension children’s literacy) when she introduced the world to a magical little orphan with a scar on his forehead. Seven books totaling 4,100 pages later, she became one of the wealthiest women in the world. Pretty amazing considering she started out even broker than I am right now.
If we consider Rowling’s contribution to children’s literacy alone, she’s a pretty strong and empowering role model. However, like so many other women on this list, Rowling is a passionate champion of orphan’s rights, single parents’ rights (thank you, Rowling), and of finding a cure for Multiple Sclerosis.
25. Malala Yousafzai
Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, born in 1997, survived an assassination attempt when she was just 15. Why? Because someone wanted to shut her up and keep her from speaking out against the Pakistani Taliban’s laws preventing girls from getting an education. Even after that, she kept speaking out, using her fame from winning the Nobel Peace Prize to garner more attention for women’s rights in general, and the right to an education specifically.