Despite their numerous contributions to history, women have been traditionally snubbed for their achievements, both during their lifetimes and in the process of writing history. Doubtlessly, many accomplishments by what should have been famous women in history are forever lost to posterity and are now either unknown or, more likely, attributed to a man. Despite that, many female figures still emerge as being pivotal to our civilization, be them leaders, scientists, artists, singers or athletes and have begun being truly celebrated. In the same spirit, here is a list of 5 famous women in history to teach us both of their individual feats, as well as the countless unsung heroines.
1. Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852)
The daughter of the more famous Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace is considered by many to be first computer programmer in the world. Showing an affinity for mathematics from an early age, Lovelace befriended fellow mathematician and pioneer computer scientist Charles Babbage and have both worked on Babbage’s Analytical Engine. While translating an article by military engineer Luigi Menabrea from Italian, Ada Lovelace supplemented it with an elaborate set of notes, believe by many to contain the first computer program – an algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine. Furthermore, while Babbage and other contemporaries focused merely on the Engine’s ability to crunch numbers, Lovelace envisioned numerous other applications for such a device. Sadly, at the age of 36 she was found dead, the same age as her illustrious father and was buried alongside him.
2. Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954)
Mexican surrealist painter and feminist icon Frida Kahlo is among the most famous women in history or art and for good reasons. While she herself rejected the surrealist label, believing that her work reflected her reality more than her dreams, her art was described by surrealist pioneer André Breton as a “ribbon around a bomb”. Effortlessly beautiful and free-spirited, she came to epitomise the latina woman in an uncompromising and de-exoticized manner, using her myriad of self-portraits to define herself, rather than let herself be defined by others, becoming one of the most recognized figures throughout the Hispanic art world.
3. Angela Davis (born 1944)
A symbol for African-American rights, feminism and the left and the most feared woman in America for the establishment, Angela Davis was one of the most divisive figures of the counterculture movement of the 60s and 70s. She emerged to public attention as the leader of the Communist Party USA and her strong affiliations with the Black Panther Party, as well as her academic career as professor at UCLA, position from which she was fired at the request of then-governor of California Ronald Reagan. Later on she found herself arrested, tried and sentenced to death for an alleged participation in a fatal shooting, being subsequently acquitted, following an international mobilization. Quotes from her famous speeches are still widely spread talked about both within and outside of academia today.
4. Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)
Despite being only fifth in line to the throne when she was born, Victoria became Queen of United Kingdom, later Empress of India, at the age 18 and starter a reign of over 63 years that has seen massive expansion of the empire, as well as huge industrial, cultural, political and scientific changes in the UK and beyond. Routinely considered one of the greatest monarchs to have ever reigned, Victoria’s influence spreads far beyond the eponymous Victorian era, dictating the course of European history for more than a century, being called “the grandmother of Europe”, due to her children and grandchildren occupying almost every throne of the European royal families at one time or another.
5. Wu Zetian (624 – 705)
The only empress of China in its history of over 4,000 years, Wu Zetian was for a long time, like other famous women in history, highly influential without being the actual leader. First the concubine of Taizong, then the wife of emperor Gaozong, Wu Zetian was always a decision maker in the Chinese court, but after the latter was left debilitated by a stroke in 690, she became the absolute leader of the Chinese Empire. Her reign saw major expansions of territory, deep into Central Asia and the conquest of the upper Korean peninsula, as well as an increase of state support of education and literature. Her influence did not end on her death, as three of her kids later became emperors and shaping Asian history for decades to come.