Powerful women throughout history. Biography
A selection of powerful female leaders throughout history. These women played a pivotal role in politics, society and civil rights.
Hatshepsut (1478-1458 B.C. 18th Dynasty) Hatshepsut was the second known female ruler of Egypt and is considered to be one of the most successful Egyptian pharaohs, ruling for 23 years and overseeing a major expansion in trading routes and also many major building projects. After a few initial military victories, her reign was also characterised by comparative peace with her neighbours.
Helen of Troy (c. 3200 BC) In Greek mythology, Helen of Troy was the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. She left her husband in Sparta to be with Prince Paris of Troy. This precipitated the Trojan War She was considered the most beautiful woman in the world and was either kidnapped or seduced by Prince Paris of Troy.
Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (1370 – c. 1330 BC) Nefertiti was an Egyptian Queen, the consort of Akhenaten. She ruled Egypt during a period of great wealth and religious revival. Nefertiti was immortalised in a bust by sculptor Thutmose created in 1345 B.C.
Cleopatra (69 BCE–30 BCE) The last Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt. Cleopatra formed relationships with two of Rome’s most powerful leaders, Marc Anthony and Julius Caesar. For a time, she was a pivotal figure in world affairs, until the defeat of her ally Marc Anthony.
Boudicca (1st Century CE) Boudicca led several British tribes in revolt against the Roman occupation. Initially successful, her army of 100,000 sacked Colchester and then London. She nearly succeeded in driving the Romans from Britain.
Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122–1204) The first Queen of France. Two of her sons Richard and John went on to become Kings of England. Educated, beautiful and highly articulate, Eleanor influenced the politics of western Europe through her alliances and influence over her sons.
Joan of Arc (1412–1431) Joan of Arc inspired a French revolt against the occupation of the English. An unlikely hero, at the age of just 17, the diminutive Joan successfully led the French to victory at Orleans. Her later trial and martyrdom only heightened her mystique.
Catherine de Medici (1519–1589) Born in Florence, Italy, Catherine was married to the King of France at the age of 14. She was involved in interminable political machinations seeking to increase the power of her favoured sons.
Elizabeth I (1533–1603) Queen of England during a time of great economic and social change, she saw England cemented as a Protestant country. During her reign, she witnessed the defeat of the Spanish Armada leaving Britain to later become one of the world’s dominant superpowers.
Catherine the Great (1729–1796) One of the greatest political leaders of the Eighteenth Century. Catherine the Great was said to have played an important role in improving the welfare of Russian serfs. She placed great emphasis on the arts and helped to cement Russia as one of the dominant countries in Europe.
Marie Antoinette (1755 – 1793) Wife of King Louis XVI. Marie Antoinette was seen as a symbol of Royal decadence and profligacy, which sparked the French revolution.
Queen Victoria (1819–1901) British Queen. Presiding over one of the largest empires ever seen, Queen Victoria was the head of state from 1837 – 1901. Queen Victoria sought to gain an influence in British politics whilst remaining aloof from party politics. She came to symbolise a whole era of Victorian values.
Empress Dowager Cixi (1835 – 1908) A concubine of Xianfeng Emperor – after his death, she became a powerful figure gaining political power – ‘ruling from behind the curtain’. She supported moderate reforms to the Chinese economy and state. After the failed Boxer rebellion, she began a policy of changing China into a constitutional monarchy.
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962) Wife and political aide of American president F.D.Roosevelt. In her own right Eleanor made a significant contribution to the field of human rights, a topic she campaigned upon throughout her life. As head of UN human rights commission she helped to draft the 1948 UN declaration of human rights.
Golda Meir (1898-1978) One of the founders and fourth prime minister of Israel. Meir was considered one of the strong, uncompromising leaders of the new nation of Israel.
Rosa Parks (1913–2005) American civil rights activist. Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama, indirectly led to some of the most significant civil rights legislation of American history. She remained an influential civil rights activist.
Jiang Qing (1914-1991) Jiang Qing or Madame Mao, was the fourth wife of Chairman Mao and a leading figure in the Chinese Communist Revolution. She played a key role during the Cultural Revolution. She was one of the ‘Gang of Four’ who had the most influence on policy. But, after the death of Mao in 1976, she was arrested and imprisoned.
Sirimavo Bandaranaike (April 1916 – 10 October 2000) The first female Prime Minister in the world, Bandaranaike was the first non-heredity head of state in the modern world. She served three times as Prime Minister for Sri Lanka 1960–1965, 1970–1977 and 1994–2000.
Indira Gandhi (1917–1984) First female prime minister of India. She was in power from between 1966–77 and 1980–84. She was a pivotal figure in the Gandhi dynasty which held significant power in India. She was assassinated in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards, in response to her storming of the Golden Temple.
Margaret Thatcher (1925–2013) The first female Prime minister of Great Britain, she governed for over ten years, putting emphasis on individual responsibility and a belief in free markets. She developed strong relationships with President Reagan (US) and President Gorbachev (Soviet Union) during the period towards the end of the Cold War.
Queen Elizabeth II (1926– ) Since ascending to the British throne in 1952, Elizabeth has become the longest serving British monarch. She has witnessed rapid social and economic change and has been a unifying influence for Britain and the Commonwealth.
Sandra Day O’Connor (born March 26, 1930) She was the first women to be appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States. She served from 1981 to 2006. During her career she was often the decisive swing vote which influenced Supreme Court rulings.
Benazir Bhutto (1953–2007) The first female prime minister of a Muslim country. She helped to move Pakistan from a dictatorship to democracy, becoming Prime Minister in 1988. She sought to implement social reforms, in particular helping women and the poor. She was assassinated in 2007.
Angela Merkel (1954 – ) Merkel has been chancellor of Germany since 2005 and the de facto leader of the European Union during the European financial crisis and also increasing the role of Germany in foreign affairs. Since the Trump Presidency, some have given Merkel the label ‘Leader of the free world’
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (1989 – ) A Democratic activist, Ocasio-Cortez was elected to the House of Representatives in 2019. She has become a leading political figure promoting a new progressive agenda of a “Green New Deal,” universal health care, higher taxes on the rich and a new approach to foreign policy.
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Powerful women Leaders”, Oxford, UK. www.biographyonline.net Published 4 March 2019.
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