Inspiring women through history you should know

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We take a look at a selection of inspiring and influential women through the ages who have made a uniquely feminine impact on the world.

Inspiring women through history
Here at Handbag we're proud of all things female so we've put together a list of women we think you should know about. From controlling armies and influencing politics to writing novels and campaigning for social justice, these amazing women changed the face of history forever.

Dorothy Parker

American critic, satirical poet and short-story writer, Dorothy Parker was famous for her flashingly malicious wit and acidic one-liners. Some classic Parkerisms: "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy." "The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue." "It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard."

Virginia Woolf

Author, essayist and feminist, Virginia Woolf was at the centre of literary and artistic circle, The Bloomsbury Group, in the 1920s. She also explored women's experience in order to find an alternative to a male-dominated society in texts such as A Room Of One's Own (1929). Troubled with mental illness, Woolf finally committed suicide in 1941, but left behind a rich legacy of work.

Malala Yousafzai

In 2012 Malala was shot in the head and neck by Taliban members as she travelled on a school bus. She was 14 years old. She had been targeted as she had spent the last two years bravely writing about, campaigning for and promoting female education. She survived the attack and is now seen as international figure of female activism.


Forget Xena, this was the original kick-ass Warrior Princess! Celtic tribal leader Boudicca fought the Romans in Britain in 61AD, after they attacked her people, seized her lands, and raped her daughters.

During Queen Victoria's reign, Boudicca was seen as the embodiment of 'Britannia', and her bronze statue, near the Houses of Parliament, is a fitting monument to a truly amazing figure in British history.

Rosa Parks

Dubbed the 'Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement,' Rosa Parks is famous for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in 1950s' America.

Her arrest for breaking segregation laws started a boycott of the city bus line that lasted 381 days. This eventually led to the 1956 Supreme Court ruling declaring segregation illegal on public buses - an amazing breakthrough in racial segregation.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa's selfless, groundbreaking work has been recognised throughout the world. The suffering and poverty she witnessed as a nun in 1930s' Calcutta made such a deep impression on her that she devoted herself to working among the poorest of the poor. In 1950, she started her own order, The Missionaries Of Charity.

She died in 1997, but her legacy lives on today, as the order provides help in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, as well as relief work in the wake of floods, epidemics, famine and for refugees.

Elizabeth I

Politically astute, witty and eloquent, the 'Virgin Queen' reigned for some 45 years and famously refused to marry ('I am already bound unto a husband which is the Kingdom of England').

She also presided over The Golden Age of England, defeating the Spanish Armarda which set England on its way to becoming a supreme naval power.

Oprah Winfrey

Raised in abject poverty, Oprah is the first African-American woman to become a billionaire in American history, as well as the first woman to own and produce her own talk show. She's an accomplished actress, winning an Academy Award nomination for her role in The Colour Purple.

She was instrumental in the passage of the Oprah Bill, in the early Nineties, aimed at stopping child abuse. Let's face it, whatever you think of her schmaltzy chat-show, this is one dynamo of a lady...

Eleanor Roosevelt

America's most influential First Lady blazed paths for women and led the battle for social justice everywhere. Eleanor shattered the mould of the First Lady and reshaped it around her own skills and commitment to social reform.

She gave a voice to people who did not have access to power. She was also the first American woman to speak in front of a national convention and to write a newspaper column.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Militant English suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women's Social and Political Union in 1903 with her daughter Christabel, eventually gaining votes for women in 1928, a few months before she died.

The Suffragettes were famous for their processions and public-speaking rallies, as well as hunger strikes, spells in prison, arson and window-smashing. Emmeline famously wrote, 'We want to gain for women all the rights and protection that laws can give them."

Amelia Earhart

The world's most famous female aviator disappeared in 1937, as she attempted to become the first woman to fly around the world. No trace was ever found. She achieved a number of aviation records, including the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, in 1928.

Earhart refused to don typical flying gear - she wore a suit or dress, a close-fitting hat instead of a helmet. Pure class!

Florence Nightingale

Bright, tough, driven and brilliant, Florence Nightingale is best known as a pioneer of nursing and a reformer of hospital sanitation, but did you know she also invented the Pie chart?! For most of her life, Nightingale pushed for reform of the British military health-care system and helped the profession of nursing to gain the respect it deserved.

Anne Frank

One of the Jewish victims of Nazi persecution during the second world war, Anne and her family went into hiding in 1942 in a house in Amsterdam. After more than two years the group was betrayed and deported. Anne died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945, only a few weeks before it was liberated.

Anne's diary, kept while she was in hiding, graphically describes her isolation and fear of discovery. It has been produced now in 55 languages and remains a fascinating and brave portrayal of a unique young woman's experience.

The Bronte sisters

These three women produced some of the most influential, romantic and poetic literature of the Victorian era. Living in a rectory in Yorkshire with their distant father and alcoholic brother, they were isolated, lonely and suffered frequent bouts of ill health, yet produced a prolific amount of writing.

Their works were published initially under the names Ellis (Emily), Currer (Charlotte) and Acton (Anne) Bell, due to the fact that it was considered unseemly at the time for women to write books. Emily's Wuthering Heights and Charlotte's Jane Eyre remain timeless classics.

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