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Five of the Most Influential Women in History

By Gigi L.

So many women have influenced our society from the beginning of time, from art and science, to literature and entertainment and activism and bravery. Out of the millions of fabulous females of the past, present, and future, here are five women who changed the world.

  1. Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician and is considered the first computer programmer. She was born on Dec. 15, 1815 in London, England. In 1833, Ada was introduced to engineer Charles Babbage and became fascinated with his ideas and machines. In 1843, she translated and annotated an article written by an Italian engineer named Luigi Federico Menabrea about Babbage’s idea for an “Analytical Engine,” which was a machine designed to calculate scientific and mathematical equations. She then developed a code for the engine that could be used to compute Bernoulli numbers. According to Britannica, she said that the Analytical Engine “weaves algebraic patterns, just as the Jacquard-loom weaves flowers and leaves.” This Analytical Engine is known today as the first computer. Ada contributed not only to the development of modern technology, but to women in mathematics and engineering everywhere.

Ada Lovelace, circa 1840. Image Credit: Hulton Archive Getty Images
  1. Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony was an activist and one of the most prominent champions of women’s rights. Her work is even considered to have influenced the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Susan was born on Feb. 15, 1820 in Adams, Massachusetts. As a child, Susan showed incredible intelligence and learned to read and write at just three years old. In 1846, she accepted a position as a teacher at a female academy in upstate New York. She was a strong advocate for African American rights and worked with many famous abolitionists, including Fredrick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. Through her research, she came to realize just how many challenges women faced in society. She began to stand up for women’s rights and in 1868, co-founded a newspaper entitled “The Revolution” with her long-time friend, Elizabeth Stanton. She spread ideas of equality for women and used the newspaper to support the women’s suffrage movement. She became known across the United States. Many were inspired by her courage, but others looked down upon her for being too bold. In 1869, she formed the National Woman Suffrage Association to push for voting rights for women. In 1872, as a protest, Anthony attempted to cast a vote in an election. She was arrested and fined $100. This angered many people and brought national attention to her movement. She spent the rest of her life working for women’s rights, traveling across the country giving speeches and petitioning. Unfortunately, she died in 1906, 14 years before women were given the right to vote. However, her efforts paved the way for the women’s rights movement and inspired many women to stand up for what they believe in.

Image Credit: Jim Dunn-Board member, BCHS
  1. Ida Lewis

Ida Lewis was a lighthouse keeper for the U.S. Coast Guard, and was once regarded as “the bravest woman in America.” She was born on Feb. 25, 1842 in Newport Harbor in California. Her father, Hosea Lewis, was a Coast Guard captain appointed to guard the Lime Rock Station. The lighthouse oversaw the passage of commercial ships as well as military vessels from Fort Adams. In 1857, Hosea suffered a stroke and turned his lighthouse duties over to his wife, Zoradia. However, Zoradia had other responsibilities, such as tending to her sick husband and children. So, teenage Ida helped her mother with the lighthouse. Growing up, Ida was very adventurous and was known for her daring personality. During her first rescue in 1858, she rowed out to sea to save four young men after their boat turned over. Most notably, in 1869, she saved two soldiers from drowning after their boat capsized near Fort Adams. After spotting them in the water, Ida ran down to shore and rowed her own small boat through the frigid waters and pulled the men into her boat. This gained her as recognition as a national hero. She received several military medals, presented by President Ulysses S. Grant. Her image challenged the traditional ideas of gender roles. She was the hero of the story, risking her life to save others. In 1879, Ida was officially appointed as the keeper of the Lime Rock Light Station. She received multiple other awards for other brave rescues, such as the Gold Lifesaving Medal in 1881. In 1924, 13 years after her death, the Lighthouse Service renamed the lighthouse to the Ida Lewis Rock Light Station. Ida is an inspiring example of bravery, courage, and sacrifice.

Image Credit: Library of Congress
  1. Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart was an American aviation pioneer and was the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She was born on July 24, 1867 in Atchison, Kansas. Even when she was very young, Amelia showed an interest in adventure. In 1918, during World War I, she left college to become a nurse’s aide for wounded soldiers. After the war in 1920, Amelia returned home to live with her parents in California. There she went on her first plane ride and instantly became interested. She started taking flying lessons and bought her first plane in 1921. Throughout her life, she set multiple flying records, but the most notable was when she flew solo across the Atlantic in 1932. She became the first woman to complete this journey, and the second person after Charles Lindbergh. According to History.comhen she returned, Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross, a military honor for “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.” She was the first woman to receive this award. Throughout her life, she encouraged women to break societal norms and set new standards. She was and still is a role model of what it means to be brave, bold, and heroic.

Image Credit: National Geographic Historia
  1. Oprah Winfrey

A more recent figure, Oprah Winfrey is a television host, actress, and philanthropist, and is now one of the richest and most influential women in the United States. She was born on Jan. 24, 1954 in Kosciusko, Mississippi. In her early teenage years, she moved to Nashville and later received a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, but she left to pursue a career in television. At 19, Oprah became a news anchor at the local CBS television station. In 1976, she was offered a position as a reporter for ABC in Baltimore, Maryland. She accepted, eventually becoming the co-host of Baltimore morning show “People Are Talking” in 1977. She shined as a talk show personality. In 1984, she moved to Chicago to host the talk show “AM Chicago.” It was a huge success, and it was renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 1985. It quickly became the highest rated show in the U.S. and won multiple Emmy awards. Oprah went on to star in movies, write books, pilot companies, and build an empire of modern entertainment. She is now noted as one of the richest women in America, with a net worth of $3 billion. Oprah is an inspiration and example of hard work and determination.

Image Credit: Harpo, Inc. / George Burns

These and countless other inspiring women have shaped the world. They have paved the way for the newest generation of leaders, learners, thinkers, and creators, and will continue to be examples of greatness for years to come.