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International Women's Day: 16 Trailblazing Women Who Changed the World

History is full of strong, brilliant, powerful women who broke barriers, inspired movements and changed the world for the better.

Here are 16 women you should have learned about in school.

Margaret Hamilton

Margaret Hamilton was NASA’s lead software engineer for the Apollo Program – in fact, it was her work that helped create the term “software engineering.”

She and her team wrote the code that took humanity to the moon – by hand.

Susanna Salter

In 1887, a group of men put Susanna Salter’s name on a mayoral election ballot as a joke. They were hoping to discourage women from voting.

What did she do?

She won by a landslide and became the first female mayor in the United States.

Rosalind Franklin

Two male scientists are often credited with the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, but it was Rosalind Franklin’s work that made it possible.

She produced a photo that clearly showed a DNA molecule, which was later stolen and used in further research.

Marie Curie

In 1903, Marie Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and is the only woman to have won one twice.

Marie discovered radium and created mobile x-rays. Millions of people are alive today because of her.

Yusra Mardini

Yusra Mardini is a Syrian refugee. When her boat capsized while trying to reach Europe, she and three others swam to Greece - pulling the boat alongside them for three hours. She went on to become an Olympic swimmer and flag-bearer at the Tokyo Games.

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth was born into slavery and separated from her family when she was nine. She escaped and became the first Black woman to win a lawsuit against a white man – to be reunited with her son.

She was the first African American woman honored with a statue at the US Capitol.

Jackie Mitchell

Jackie Mitchell was 17 when she struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gherig – one right after the other.

Grown men were so afraid of her skill that just a few days later, women were declared unfit to play professional baseball.

Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson started university at 15 and became one of the first Black women to work as a NASA scientist.

She was the only woman on an all-male flight research team and she did all her calculations by hand.

Today, NASA has a research facility named after her.

Sampat Pal Devi and the Gulabi Gang

In India, a villager named Sampat Pal Devi saw a man beating his wife. When he wouldn’t stop, she returned the next day with five women to confront him. They called themselves the Gulabi Gang and wore bright pink saris.

Today, they have thousands of members protecting women.

Susan La Flesche

When she was eight years old, Susan La Flesche watched a young Indigenous woman die because white doctors refused to treat her. She used it as motivation to help her community and became the first Indigenous woman to earn a medical degree.

Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai became the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a Ph.D. As an environmentalist, she was harassed, ridiculed and even put in jail.

She became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and today, more than 51 million trees have been planted thanks to her.

Fatima al-Fihriya

In the ninth century in Morocco, Fatima al-Fihriya inherited a great fortune from her father. Instead of spending it, she designed and built the world’s first university – the University of al-Qarawiyyin.

It still exists today.

Billie Jean King

In 1973, Billie Jean King was the top women’s tennis player in the world. She threatened to boycott the US Open unless women were paid the same.

It was a bold move, but she refused to back down – and it worked.

Thanks to her, all four Grand Slam tournaments offer the same prize money to women and men.

Ada Lovelace

Many people know Ada Lovelace’s father, the poet Lord Byron – but Ada’s story is much cooler.

Raised by her mother and grandmother, she is regarded as the world’s first computer programmer. She came up with the process of looping, which is used in every computer programming language today.

Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr was known as one of the greatest actresses of all time, but what many people don’t know is that she was also an inventor.

Taking inspiration from a piano, she and her partner developed a frequency-hopping system – the same technology that would one day be the basis for Wifi, GPS and Bluetooth communication systems.

Malala Yousafzai

This list couldn’t be complete without Malala Yousafzai. When she was 15, she was shot in the head for speaking up for women’s rights. She survived and went on to become the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Today, her foundation helps millions of girls stay in school.

The world is filled with women who have shaped the very foundation of our lives – the list is never ending. Today – and every day – we celebrate them and all those who will come after them.



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