34 Powerhouse Moms Who Deserve to Be Celebrated Today & Every Day

Kaitlin Stanford | Mar 20, 2019 Being a Mom
34 Powerhouse Moms Who Deserve to Be Celebrated Today & Every Day
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An image compilation of Melinda Gates, Waris Diries, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
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Women's History Month is one of those rare times each year when we pause to honor influential women who paved the way for us all. They are the bold few who defied convention and dared to dream beyond what many of us could even imagine. But it's 2019, people! Women are running for president. We're commanding board rooms and launching start-ups. We're working from home and creating flexible schedules that help us raise our families. We're getting involved in male-dominated fields such as math, science, tech, and engineering. All around us, women are kicking butt and taking names in so many ways, and that deserves to be celebrated, today and every day. 

Of course, we've still got a long way to go. The gender pay gap still holds us back. We're still fighting for fair maternity leave and better treatment in the workplace. But we're inching closer and closer to that finish line. And as Hillary Clinton once said after losing the Democratic primary in 2008, "Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time ... it's got about 18 million cracks in it. The path will be easier next time." As we continue to keep smashing it, let's remember the countless women who tested the limits and broke barriers for the rest of us in all sorts of ways. Some became living icons; others fell through the cracks of history, only to be recognized years later for their achievements. But all led extraordinary lives in extraordinary times. Scroll on to learn more about 34 inspiring women that have left their mark on history, in big ways and small. 

  • Tammy Duckworth

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    Tammy Duckworth smiles while entering Congress with her baby nestled to her chest in a baby wrap.
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    Though Tammy Duckworth only became a household name in 2016, the 51-year-old Illinois native had been quietly blazing a trail for years. The Iraq War veteran served in the Reserve Forces for an incredible 23 years before retiring in 2014 as a lieutenant colonel. During her military service, she even earned a Purple Heart after the Blackhawk helicopter she was piloting was hit and she lost both her legs and partial use of her arm. 

    Still, that didn't stop her. After retiring from the military and recovering from her injuries, Duckworth was appointed by President Obama to the position of assistant secretary for Veterans Affairs in 2009. There, she became especially devoted to the cause of ending veteran homelessness, as well as the unique challenges facing female and Native American veterans. Today, she serves as a US senator, working tirelessly for the people of Illinois while also raising her two young daughters, Abigail and Maile. 

  • Harriet Tubman 

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    Harriet Tubman stands for a portrait in black and white.
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    Anyone who’s heard the incredible story of the Underground Railroad has heard of the indomitable Harriet Tubman. Born a slave in 1820, Harriet escaped to freedom in the North in 1949 and spent years helping others escape, too.

    By using the Underground Railroad -- an elaborate system of safe houses set up throughout the South -- Harriet was able to lead hundreds of family members and other slaves to freedom in the dark of night. She also reportedly worked as a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War, and emerged by the end of her life as one of the leading figures of the abolitionist movement. It's for these reasons and more that she's remembered today as one of the bravest women in US history.

  • Melinda Gates

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    Getty Images smiles while sitting on stage during a press event.
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    We all know Bill Gates as the creative genius behind Microsoft, who rose to prominence within the tech world during the 1980s. But few know the story of his wife, Melinda Gates.

    Melinda was born in Texas in 1964 to a mother who emphasized education above all else, after being denied the right to attend college herself. Interested in math and science from a young age, Melinda went on to study computer science at Duke University and later earned a master's degree in business administration before she landed a job at Microsoft, where she worked her way up and oversaw such projects as Expedia and Encarta, 

    There, she met her new boss and future husband, Bill, and after marrying in 1994 after six years of dating, the pair launched the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to address global poverty and health issues. Today, the foundation is her main focus, and her work there has led to a variety of amazing achievements, including funding the studies of disadvantaged youth and improving access to birth control for women in third-world countries.

  • Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

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    Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis smiles while standing in her office.
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    Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis may still be best known for her marriage to John F. Kennedy and for creating such iconic fashion style as first lady, that we're still drooling over it some 50 years later. But the truth is, there was so much more to Jackie O. than just her fashion.

    Born into New England society in 1929, the Newport debutante married JFK in 1953 after working as a photo-journalist. After her husband's assassination in 1963, Jackie became a national symbol of strength as she bravely walked behind his casket, just days after he was shot while siting beside her. And despite never needing to earn a paycheck, the 49-year-old returned to work in 1978, working as a book editor in Manhattan until her death in 1994. But despite the many titles Jackie earned in her lifetime, none were more important than being a mother to her two children, Caroline and John Jr. In fact, she once famously said, "If you bungle raising your children, I'm not sure whatever else you do matters much."

  • Wilma Mankiller

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    Wilma Mankiller poses while standing in front of a lake.
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    Born in Oklahoma in 1945, Wilma Mankiller rose to prominence within the Cherokee Nation where she was raised and gained attention throughout the country when she became its first female leader in 1985. Once appointed, Wilma set her sights on improving health care, education, and government within the nation, and she became immensely popular to the Cherokee people, all while raising two young children.

    Under her leadership, the Cherokee Nation set up mobile health clinics, launched job training programs, established ambulance services, created early and adult education programs, and so much more. Even after Wilma stepped down as principal chief, she continued to live a life of activism until her death in 2010 and was even awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1998.

  • Madam CJ Walker 

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    Madam CJ Walker sits in the driver's seat of an expensive car at the turn of the century.
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    Madam CJ Walker was an African-American businesswoman, philanthropist, and civil rights activist at a time when black women could only dream of such things. Born in 1867 as Sarah Breedlove, Walker suffered for years with a scalp condition that caused her to lose most of her hair -- until she invented a line of hair care products that restored her confidence and (quite literally) saved her life.

    In 1905, Walker began traveling from city to city, giving talks and selling her hair care line to other African-American women, until she eventually was able to set up her own laboratory. In fact, her efforts were so successful that she's since been recognized as one of the first female self-made millionaires in the US. That success soon bred generosity, as Walker began making large donations to many public causes, including the Harlem Renaissance in New York City, of which she was a major supporter.

  • Maya Angelou

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    Maya Angelou smiles while standing behind a podium at a speaking event.
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    When Maya Angelou was just 8 years old, her life was turned upside down by one singular tragic act: She was raped by her mother's boyfriend, and when she told her uncles what had happened, they kicked the man to death. The young girl from St. Louis, Missouri, spent the next five years of her life in silence, scared to speak. 

    In those years, she fostered her self-expression, and eventually grew to love singing, dancing, and writing poetry. It was this passion for literature and performing that carried her through her difficult childhood, accidental pregnancy at 16, and years spent working in nightclubs trying to make ends meet. 

    Eventually, Angelou clawed her way out of poverty by winning a role in a traveling production of Porgy and Bess and beginning a writing career. Her coming-of-age autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was published in 1969, and it has gone on to win numerous awards and sell millions of copies worldwide.

  • Lucretia Mott

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    Lucretia Mott sits for a portrait in the 1800s.
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    Lucretia Mott was an unapologetic trailblazer at a time when women simply weren't allowed to be. Born in 1793, she was one of the earliest feminist activists on record, and strongly advocated for the end of slavery in America. Supported by her like-minded husband, Mott joined William Lloyd Garrison's Anti-Slavery Society in the 1830s, which led her to speak out publicly in favor of abolition and become a founding member of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. 

    Her activism soon led her to befriend Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which simultaneously awakened her passion for the cause of women's rights. In 1848, they organized the Seneca Falls Convention together, which drew such notable abolitionists as Frederick Douglass. It was here that Stanton presented the famed Declaration of Sentiments, which demanded rights for women and cemented both women in the annals of history. 

  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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    Ruth Bader Ginsburg sits for a SCOTUS portrait.
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    Long before she earned the nickname "Notorious RBG," became an indisputable feminist icon, or was turned into some of the best memes the Internet has ever seen, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was just a girl from Brooklyn with big dreams. Known for being clever and bookish, she graduated high school at just 15, went to Cornell soon after, and later enrolled in Harvard Law -- where she was just one of only nine women in a class of 500 men.

    Yet despite her prestigious education, Ruth still found it hard to get a job after law school in a male-dominated profession that often discriminated based on gender. This experience later led her to co-found the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which championed more than 300 different gender discrimination cases in the 1970s. 

    "Women will only have true equality," she once said, "when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation."

    By 1980, her impressive body of work led her to be appointed to the federal bench, and in 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court, where she's served ever since.

  • Michelle Obama

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    Michele Obama smiles while speaking to a crowd at a Christmas event.
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    Michelle Obama will no doubt go down as one of the coolest first ladies in history, thanks to her laid-back style, trademark sense of humor, and penchant for dancing like nobody's watching on Ellen. Before becoming the first African-American first lady in 2009, Michelle graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law and later practiced law in Chicago, where she was born and raised. In the years leading up to her time in the White House, she worked at the University of Chicago Medical Center as the vice president of community and external affairs while also raising her two daughters, Sasha and Malia.

    Once in the White House, Michelle championed her Let's Move! campaign, which was geared toward ending childhood obesity in American within a generation, and focused on several other passion projects aimed at helping veterans, military families, and young people interested in seeking higher education.

    "Never view your challenges as obstacles," she once told a graduating class at The City College of New York -- a tenet she has always tried to live by herself.

  • Sheryl Sandberg

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    Sheryl Sandberg smiles in a navy blue dress while standing on stage at a speaking event.
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    Is there a woman out there who hasn't read Lean In from cover to cover, writing in the margins and dog-earing every page? (I didn't think so.) Sheryl Sandberg worked as an executive at Google before moving over to Facebook in 2008, where she became its COO and the first female on the board of directors. Her experiences climbing the business ladder as one of the only women in the room are what ultimately led her to sit down and put pen to paper. 

    Those words became Lean In, a 2013 bestseller and New-Age bible for women striving to realize their professional ambitions. In it, Sandberg reminds us all that we deserve that we not only deserve a seat at the table, but we also deserve to speak our minds when we get there. 

    "In the future, there will be no female leaders," she writes. "There will just be leaders."

  • Margaret Thatcher

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    Margaret Thatcher speaks before a crowd.
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    Margaret Thatcher may have been a somewhat controversial figure during her lifetime, but she was nothing if not fascinating. Born in Grantham, England, in 1925, Margaret was an exceptionally bright student who eventually got into Oxford, where she studied chemistry under the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dorothy Hodgkin. Though she went on to become a research chemist shortly after graduation, a nagging love of politics led her to run for office just two years out of college. She was unsuccessful but not deterred.

    Soon after, Thatcher put aside her political ambitions to marry and become a mother -- but she didn't sit still for long. She enrolled in law school, became a barrister, and won a seat in the House of Commons in 1959. She then worked her way up in power within the Conservative Party, and in 1979 -- by then the party leader -- she became Great Britain's first female prime minister. 

    Perhaps best known for her grit and determination, she once famously said, "You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it."

  • Sandra Day O'Connor

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    Sandra Day O'Connors its in a chair in her supreme court justice robe while posing for the camera.
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    Born in 1930 in El Paso, Texas, Sandra Day O'Connor spent much of her childhood roaming her family's ranch before taking off to California and enrolling in Stanford University to study economics. She then followed that up with a law degree and graduated third in her class. (NBD!)

    But once she graduated, Sandra found herself in the same predicament most female lawyers did in those days: unable to find work, thanks to the gender discrimination that often plagued the male-dominated profession. She eventually began working without pay for the county attorney, until she landed the role of deputy county attorney. From there, she continued to rise: In 1969, she was appointed to a state senate seat and by 1974, she was running for a judgeship -- which she won. Then, in 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the role of a lifetime: Supreme Court justice. After receiving unanimous approval, she was soon sworn in as the first female Supreme Court justice in history -- a position she held until her retirement in 2006. 

  • Sojourner Truth

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    Sojourner Truth is captured in a black and white photo, in a long dress, shawl, and holding a cane.
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    Sojourner Truth was born a slave in New York in 1797, endured years of abuse at the hands of her master, and was bought and sold several times until she bravely escaped at age 29. In doing so, she was forced to leave behind four of her children in what must have been a heartbreaking decision.

    Once free, Sojourner converted to Christianity and, believing it was her duty to preach equal rights for all, became one of the most well-known abolitionists of her time. In fact, it was during these years that Sojourner gave her infamous "Ain't I A Woman?" speech during a women's convention in Ohio. During the Civil War, she helped recruit black soldiers for the Union army and became so instrumental in the abolitionist movement that she even won an audience with President Abraham Lincoln.

  • Eleanor Roosevelt

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    Eleanor Roosevelt smiles while looking over her shoulder in a car.
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    Eleanor Roosevelt was actually born Anna Eleanor Roosevelt in 1884, though she would go on to be known by her middle name for the rest of her life. By all accounts, she was a shy and awkward child who felt starved for both love and affection -- especially after both her parents died during her childhood.

    In 1903, at just 19 years old, Eleanor became engaged to a distant cousin -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- in a marriage that would prove fateful. Soon after they were wed in 1905, she established herself as more than just FDR's wife, but also as his sort of political right hand. Once her husband was elected president in 1933, Eleanor became a new kind of first lady, holding press conferences, traveling across the globe, giving lectures, and even writing op-eds in a syndicated newspaper column titled "My Day."

    As she once famously said, at just the age of 14, " … no matter how plain a woman may be if truth and loyalty are stamped upon her face all will be attracted to her … "

  • Princess Diana

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    Princess Diana appears in a red and white hat at an official royal event in the 1980s.
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    From the moment the world first caught a glimpse of Lady Diana Spencer, we were hooked. And by the time she married England's Prince Charles in 1981, we were all collectively swept up in what looked to be a real-life fairy tale. In the years that would follow, we would sadly learn the fairy tale had ended almost as soon as it had begun. Yet during her 16 years in public life, Princess Diana managed to devote an incredible amount of time and effort to a wide variety of charitable causes, which live on as her legacy, even now, more than two decades after her death.

    From campaigning for a worldwide ban on land mines to changing the world's perception of HIV/AIDS through her work at the National AIDS Trust, Princess Diana established herself as a new kind of royal -- or as Prime Minister Tony Blaire later put it after her death in 1997, the "people's princess."

  • Marie Curie

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    Marie Curie sits in her laboratory in a black and white photo.
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    Marie Curie lived during a time where scientists were rare -- let alone female scientists. But convention wasn't really her thing. The famed physicist, who was born in Warsaw, Poland, spent hours in her laboratory each day conducting research with her husband, Pierre, while also raising her two daughters. 

    Curie rose to fame in the early 20th century for the incredible work she did with Pierre, which led to the discovery of radioactivity and the further development of X-rays. She later became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize and the first person to ever win it twice. 

  • JK Rowling

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    JK Rowling smiles while wearing a navy blue dress and earrings while at a movie premiere.
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    It's hard to believe that just over 20 years ago, J.K. Rowling (real name, Joanna Rowling) was a single mom on welfare, struggling to make ends meet. Today, she's a bestselling novelist, whose net worth is more than the Queen of England.

    Rowling penned the first book of her bestselling Harry Potter series from a coffee shop and was rejected several times before a publisher finally bit -- and gave her a whopping $4,000 advance. What followed was a multibook deal, a wildly successful movie franchise, and a worldwide obsession with the wizarding world of Harry Potter

    "I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized, and I still had a daughter who I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea," Rowling once said. "And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life."

  • Ada Lovelace

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    A painted portrait of Ada Lovelace from the 19th century shows the mathematician in a silver gown.
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    Didn't think computer programmers existed in the 19th century? Think again. Ada Lovelace was the brilliant mathematician and daughter of the poet Lord Byron, who was born in London in 1815. After showing signs of a passion for math at an early age, Ada's mother made sure she had access to some of the best minds out there,  including Mary Somerville, a Scottish astronomer and mathematician who tutored her as a young girl.

    In 1842, Ada translated an article by Italian military engineer Luigi Menabrea on what was known as the calculating engine, and added elaborate notes and theories. Her groundbreaking notes later came to be considered the first computer program, or algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine, and are considered a major part of early computer history.

  • Queen Victoria

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    Queen Victoria smiles while riding in the back of a horse-drawn carriage.
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    Before Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Victoria was the longest-reigning monarch in the British royal family, having sat on the throne for an impressive 64 years before her death in 1901. 

    She ascended to the throne at just 18 years old, and during her reign -- now known as the Victorian period -- she oversaw unprecedented expansion and advancement within Great Britain. So devoted was she to her husband, Prince Albert, that the couple went on to have nine children together, and she was so devastated by his death in 1861 that she wore black and stayed in mourning for the duration of her life. 

    As a leader, she was a strong-willed and steadfast monarch who became emblematic of the time she reigned, which reaffirmed Great Britain as a superpower among foreign nations. She was also seen as fiercely courageous, after surviving several different assassination attempts on her life during a 40-year span.

  • Josephine Baker

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    Josephine Baker poses while wearing an elaborate costume with feathered headdress.
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    Many remember Josephine Baker as the popular singer and dancer who warmed her way into the public's heart during the 1920s and '30s. She did, in fact, rise to fame in France during the jazz age, and became one of the most popular female performers in Europe during that time. (Believe it or not, it's said that her wild popularity even led to a whopping 1,000 marriage proposals.) 

    But when she came back to the United States -- her home country -- and performed in the famed Ziegfield Follies, she was shocked by the blatant racism she was met with as an African-American entertainer. Baker returned to France soon after, married several times and had children, and by the 1950s, began adopting 12 different children from around the world in what she called her "rainbow tribe." 

    She spent the last two decades of her life fiercely devoted to civil rights, walking with Martin Luther King Jr. in the March on Washington and even appearing as one of the event's noteworthy speakers. Baker was later honored for her efforts when the NAACP named May 20 "Josephine Baker Day."

  • Irena Sendler

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    An elderly Irena Sendler smiles while sitting in a wheelchair at a public event.
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    Irena Sendler may not be a household name but it should be. During World War II, the Polish social worker helped an estimated 2,500 Jewish children escape from the Warsaw Ghetto by placing them in convents or with nonJewish families to evade detection. 

    When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, Sendler was overseeing the city's "canteens," which provided assistance to those in need. Within the next year, the Nazis had forced more than 400,000 Jews into the ghetto, where they were falling ill and dying in mass quantities from disease and starvation. While working in the ghetto, she joined a council called Zegota that devoted itself to aiding the Jewish population and helping to rescue as many children as possible -- which they did in secret by carrying them out in caskets and potato sacks, and sometimes through underground tunnels.

    In 1943, Sendler was caught and almost killed in prison for her actions, but incredibly, members of Zegota bribed several prison guards and eventually freed her. She eventually married and had children of her own, and was honored some two decades later for her heroic actions by Israel's Yad Vashem, who honored her as "Righteous Among Nations," and she subsequently given many humanitarian awards.

  • Candy Lightner

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    Candy Lightner speaks before a crowd at a rally in the 1980s.
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    Many of us have heard of the national organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). But few know the story,and the face behind it. MADD was founded by California mother Candy Lightner following the death of her 13-year-old daughter in 1980, who was killed by a drunk driver on her way to church. The organization's main goal? To raise awareness of the issue and push for tougher laws to prosecute offenders.

    Soon after Lightner's daughter was killed, she learned that the driver wasn't just drunk behind the wheel at the time -- it also wasn't his first offense. After hearing that his sentence would likely be light, Lightner channeled her rage into forming MADD and becoming a lifelong activist for drunk driving victims everywhere.

     "Death caused by drunk drivers is the only socially acceptable form of homicide," she once told People magazine in an interview; and she's fought tirelessly to change that ever since.

  • Waris Dirie

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    Waris Dirie smiles while wearing a white head scarf.
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    Born in Somalia in 1965, Waris Dirie has had several impressive titles added to her resume over the years while working as both a successful model and author. But it's her role in women's rights activism that's probably most dear to her heart.

    Dirie was born one of 12 children in a large nomadic family in Somalia, and she ran away to London at age 13 before being forced to marry a much older man. There, she worked as a maid and taught herself to read and write in English before being discovered as a model. It wasn't until 1996 that she spoke out publicly about the widespread practice of female genital mutilation, of which she herself was a victim. Since then, she's used her notoriety to bring the issue of FGM into public view, including launching the PPR Corporate Foundation for Women’s Dignity and Rights.

  • Indira Gandhi

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    Indira Gandhi speaks before a large crowd at an outdoor political event.
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    Indira Gandhi was India's third prime minister, who served over the course of 18 years before she was assassinated in 1984. During her time in office, she oversaw the country during a time of great change, and grew in popularity thanks to her push for advancements in the farming industry and move to nationalize banks. 

    Her life was marred by personal tragedy, having suffered the untimely deaths of her husband and one of her sons, and she was a controversial political figure for much of her life. But eventually, history would look upon her more kindly, and she has since been honored for her strong connection to the poor.

    As one follower from Bangalore once told The Hindu Times: “She was a strong and enterprising woman. I admire her immensely. They don’t make leaders like her anymore.”

  • Betty Friedan

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    Betty Friedan stands behind a podium, holding up the
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     What would the women's revolution have been like without Betty Friedan? It's kind of impossible to imagine. The writer, feminist, and women's rights activist is perhaps best known for authoring The Feminine Mystique in 1963, which argued that American women were suffering from an identity crisis due to the idealized image of domestic "bliss" mothers were supposed to feel. As a result, the book urged women to find personal success and growth outside of their households. 

    Much of Friedan's inspiration for the book came straight from her own life -- after the birth of her first child, she went back to work but was let go after becoming pregnant again. She found herself restless and unfulfilled by staying at home, and she set out to see if other women felt the same, interviewing graduates of her alma mater, Smith College. It turned out, she was far from alone -- and so, the basis for The Feminine Mystique was born.

    In the years that followed, Friedan became a force for change within the women's movement, co-founding the National Organization for Women (NOW), NARAL Pro-Choice America, and the National Women's Political Caucus.

    "Men are not the enemy, but the fellow victims," she once famously said. "The real enemy is women's denigration of themselves."

  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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    Elizabeth Cady Stanton poses for a black and white photo portrait.
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    She may have been born to a privileged and wealthy family, but Elizabeth Cady Stanton was anything but entitled. In fact, the New York native fought tirelessly for years for the abolition of slavery -- despite being raised in a slave-owning family -- and a woman's right to vote, making her one of history's greatest human rights figures.

    Stanton's passion for both causes was stirred within her early, after her father, who was a lawyer, began exposing her to law studies as a young girl. The experienced caused her to think deeply about the inequality among men and women, which never left her mind. After moving with her husband to Seneca Falls, she became devoted to civil rights causes, working behind the scenes to organize such events as the infamous Seneca Falls Convention and writing the Declaration of Sentiments, which laid out what the rights of American women should be. (And she did this all while raising six kids!)

  • Erma Bombeck

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    Erma Bombeck made a name for herself finding laughter in the everyday, beginning with a humor column geared towards suburban housewives in the 1960s titled "At Wit." Her heartfelt and funny missives often left readers bowled over laughing (or crying) about the common frustrations of mid-20th century parenting, which at the time, was a refreshing change of pace.

    It wasn't long before her writing took off in other ways too, and she soon found herself writing for major publications like Good Housekeeping and McCall's, authoring several books, and in later years, even landing a TV career.

    Bombeck's keen observations on life, love, and parenting still live on in her many works, so it's no wonder why we're still quoting her. Perhaps above all else, she understood that "There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt," as she once said.

  • Mary Kay Ash

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    There isn't an '80s or '90s kid out there who didn't rifle through their mom's makeup drawer and come across a treasure trove of Mary Kay cosmetics to play with. And that's all thanks to Mary Kay Ash, who created the business empire Mary Kay Inc. that we now know today.

    A natural born saleswoman, Mary Kay first began her career in 1939 for Stanley Home Products, often hosting little parties at home to sell various items. In fact, she was so good at her job that another sales company eventually poached her, and she worked there for another decade before quitting after watching a man she once trained being promoted above her.

    Armed with her impeccable sales and marketing skills -- and love of beauty products -- Mary Kay launched her own business in 1963, starting with skin lotions. Today, Mary Kay Inc. has 1.6 million salespeople working for the business, which continues to thrive even after her death in 2001.

  • Julia Ward Howe

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    A black and white photograph of Julia Ward Howe in her later years, sitting at a writing desk.
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    In her incredible lifetime -- which spanned nearly 100 years -- Julia Ward Howe became a notable activist, published author, and songwriter, perhaps best known for writing the words to the poem "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

    Howe was born in 1819 in New York City, and by all accounts was an outspoken and gifted writer right from the start. Once she was married, Howe formed the abolitionist newspaper The Commonwealth with her husband Samuel and raised six children. It was during this time that she also became an active member of the early women's rights movement, despite her husband's disapproval and "traditional" views of what a woman's role should be -- both at home and in society. 

  • Hillary Clinton

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    Hillary Clinton stands behind a podium smiling and waving at a Glamour/L'Oreal event.
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    Although Hillary Clinton may remain one of the more polarizing political figures in recent decades, there's no arguing the incredible list of achievements she's accomplished so far.

    Clinton's interest in politics first began as a young teen, when she became active in student politics. By 1968, after hearing a stirring speech by Martin Luther King Jr., she switched parties to register as a Democrat,and took her passion for politics with her to college. In the years that followed, Hillary graduated from Yale Law School, became a practicing lawyer and member of the impeachment inquiry staff during the Watergate scandal, worked on several political campaigns (including Jimmy Carter's 1976 bid for the presidency), and became first lady of Arkansas when her husband, Bill Clinton, was elected as governor.

    In 1992, Hillary became FLOTUS after Bill won the presidency and would continue her push for healthcare and education reform, as well as women's rights, from inside the White House. In 2001, she became the first first lady to ever win a senate seat when she became senator for New York State, and in 2016 she became the first female nominee for president from a major political party.

  • Fanny Blankers-Koen

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    Fanny Blankers-Koen may not be a name one hears often, but trust me -- it's worth remembering. 

    In 1948, at the age of 30, Blankers-Koen competed in the 100-meter dash, the 80-meter hurdle, and the 200 and the 4x100 meter relays during the London Olympic Games -- despite the hefty criticism she received for doing so. Some said she was "too old" to compete; others said she should stay at home with her children [*insert eyeroll emoji here*]. She withstood heckling from the crowd and even reportedly shouted back, "I'll show you!"

    And boy, did she.

    In the end, the suburban mom of two from Holland walked away with four gold medals and a success story for the ages.

  • Abigail Adams

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    A color painting of Abigail Adams, shown with dark hair and pearls around her neck.
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    Born to a wealthy family in 1744, Abigail Adams grew up with a passion for reading, writing, and learning, thanks to her family's extensive home library. Even though she received no formal education herself, Abigail would go on to champion education reform as first lady after her husband, John Adams, was elected president in 1796. 

    "Learning is not attained by chance," she once said. "It must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.

    Though her marriage was considered strong, Abigail raised her four children mostly as a single mother, as her husband's political career and service in the Revolutionary War kept him far from home during much of their childhood. But it was also during this time that she developed a fierce independence and passion for women's rights that would influence her time as FLOTUS.

  • Emmeline Pankhurst

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    Emmeline Pankhurst stands above a crowd of suffragettes.
    Getty Images

    This strong-willed British mum was a passionate and vocal leader of the suffragette movement during the turn of the 20th century, serving as a prominent figure at countless protests, rallies, and women's rights events throughout the UK. In 1903, she founded the Women's Social and Political Union with her two daughters, Sylvia and Christabel, with the goal of campaigning for a women's right to vote. 

    Emmeline's life work was finally realized in 1928, when women finally earned the right to vote in the UK -- but sadly, the law was passed just three weeks after her death.

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