List of women from the 20th Century who broke barriers

7 minute

When women show immense courage to achieve something in this world, it fills my heart. Girls who had numerous flaws and who faced many obstacles in life created their own rules. They tried to shut the people who hindered their growth. These famous women were normal people like you and me but became the most famous women in the world to inspire others because they knew what it felt like to be outcasted by other half of the world. They have encouraged others, worked for women's empowerment, independence, confidence, and strength. Everything we’ve gained has been hard-won by those great women who were willing to risk everything. If you want to be inspired by these famous women in the world who broke barriers for the greater good, then here are few women to know about.

1. Marie Curie


( 7 November 1867 -  4 July 1934 )

Marie Curie, a Polish physicist, and a  chemist who is probably one of the most famous women in science. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, but also the first person to win it twice, in two different sciences - physics and chemistry. This laid grounds for her to be one of the most famous females in the world during her time.

She was denied proper education and work solely because she was a woman. But her rebellious self endeavored to stay and to continue to work in Paris where she met physicist Frenchman Pierre Curie (her future husband ). Eventually, they discovered two new elements - Polonium and Radium for which they were given a Nobel prize. She established the first on-site radiology centers during the second world war to help doctors in the field. She established two Curie Institutes, in Paris and Warsaw for medical research. Is that enough to be inspired already?

2. Helen Keller

(27 June 1880 -1 June 1968),

If I need to name any one of the famous women that changed the world, it would be Helen Keller.

Helen Keller, a mischievous deaf-blind child from a wealthy Southern family in Alabama, turned her life to be listed among the famous women in American history. Helen Keller became the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor’s which left her a name among iconic females. she also published many books among which The Story of My Life (1903), Optimism (1903), The World I Live In (1908), Light in My Darkness and My Religion (1927), Helen Keller’s Journal (1938), and The Open Door (1957) have caught attention from all over the world. She was an American author who advocated disability rights, She co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  She was the one to give a new vision to the rest of the world.

3. Sarojini Naidu

(13 February 1879 -2 March 1949)

A woman could be more than one thing when she is given a chance. A perfect example of that is Sarojini Naidu. She was one of the greatest female historical figures in India who contributed immensely to the development of Indian English poetry. Through her words, she brought vast changes in Indian society and dedicated her life to the upliftment of the weaker community. She was an Indian political activist who worked for civil rights. Besides that, Sarojini Naidu wrote inspiring words for fellow Indians to overthrow Britishers from India. Her modest life is an example in itself.

4. Anna Chandy

(4 May 1905 - 20 July 1996)

Growing up in a conservative society like India where women were prevented from pursuing higher education is quite challenging. Though the 20th century encouraged male-centric professions, few women like Anna Chandy, made a pathway for themselves to achieve the unachievable. Through their sheer hard work and courage they became famous leading ladies in India who inspired thousands of women to believe in themselves and stand up on their two feet.

Anna Chandy became India’s first female judge. Besides that, she was the first woman to be a high court judge among the commonwealth nations. She was the best example of a woman who broke barriers in the 20th century.

5. Frida Kahlo

(6 July 1907 - 13 July 1954)

If you want to find some inspiration to create something creative, look up to Frida Kahlo, who is one of the inspirational female celebrities. Frida's extraordinary art resonates with most of us. Her mesmerizing self-portraits placed her among the most iconic women in history. Frida Kahlo struggled throughout her life and was in constant pain as she contracted polio at a very young age, endured fatal injuries that forced her to go through numerous operations. She displayed her pain through self-expression and entertainment. Frida Kahlo's raw and rebellious work voiced the strengths and struggles of millions of women.

6. Rosa Parks 

(4 February 1913 -24 October 2005) 

Don't they say - only if you could show courage in the face of uncertainty, anything would be possible in life and who could be a better example than Rosa Parks. 

When you talk about famous female leaders in American history, Rosa Parks' name always comes up. On one not-so-fine day, Rosa Parks was traveling in a bus (Montgomery, Alabama ) and she was asked to give up her seat to a white man on the bus just because she was black. However, she fought for what's right, and look how her life turned out to be. Though it cost her life threats and a good job, Rosa Parks didn't cease to work for racial injustice. Rosa Parks, a national hero and the face of the civil rights movement worked until she breathed her last breath.

7. Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi 

(19 November 1917–31 October 1984) 

Many categorized Indira Gandhi among famous female leaders in Indian history. She became India’s first female prime minister and second longest-serving Indian prime minister after Jawaharlal Nehru (her father). Though she walked into the footsteps of her father (ex-Pm of India) but Indian Politics did no favors to her in any way. She struggled to introduce reforms in India but eventually, she made India a self-sufficient country. Even when the war broke in 1971, Indira Gandhi took a stand and supported East Pakistan. Without her support then, you might have never come across Bangladesh as a newly independent country. These works got into the books of famous women leaders as well.

Fun fact: She was best friends with Margaret Thatcher who was also one of the greatest female leaders.

Isn't she iconic?

8. Maya Angelou


(4 April 1928- 28 May 2014)

Maya Angelou's name was heard along with inspirational female celebrities during her time. Growing up as a black woman wasn't easy. Maya Angelou turned her life from working several odd jobs to a recipient of over 50 honorary degrees. She wrote over 30 books, among which people banned a few of her works while other books became New York best sellers. Maya Angelou learned choreography and became a performer, which led her to many places. In later years, she worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and fought for justice. Her name was echoed along with the most influential women in American history. Besides her social work, she also became the first African-American woman to pen a screenplay for a film, Georgia (Pulitzer Prize-nominated). Isn’t that something to be inspired about?

If you listen to 'Still, I Rise' by Maya Angelou, you will never stop coming back to it.

9. Reita Faria Powell

(23 August 1943  - Present)

Inspirational female celebrities like Reita Faria Powell weren't among the ones who would abide by society's unsaid rules and sacrifice their dreams. However, Reita Faria Powell originally enrolled in the beauty pageant as a joke, but destiny had different plans for her. She won Miss World 1966 and embraced the title. She represented India for the first time and became the first woman to win the title in entire Asia. To reach the top and stand firmly among the most famous women in the world isn't a simple job. Reita Faria Powell had to wear a bikini with utmost confidence but wearing Bikini was/is highly inappropriate in India. However, she broke the barrier and didn't care about anybody's remarks about how a woman should behave or what a woman should wear.

10. Kalpana Chawla

( 1 July 1961 -1 February 2003)

Every kid dreams about traveling into space or becoming an astronaut even before he/she learns to spell 'Astronaut'. She was one of the most inspirational women in India and continues to be for thousands of Indians.

Kalpana Chawla was an American astronaut and an engineer. She first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist but little did she know, this event could implant dreams in Indian kids to be space citizens someday. Kalpana Chawla became the first woman of Indian origin to go to space, but her second journey ceased to be an unfortunate event. This famous woman in the Space Shuttle Columbia burned to ashes during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere and took Kalpana Chawla's life along with the other six crew members. Though she might have left us early, but her life surely encouraged and will encourage thousands of Indians to achieve their dream

Here's a video of great women leaders we cherish to date. 


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